Putting The Needs Of The User Before The System

Are some countries more innovative than others?

Certainly many have tried to measure it, with the UK being outperformed by the likes of South Korea, Israel and Finland.

As the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla has said, the role of Government when it comes to encouraging innovation is crucial: “We need to make sure that we change the way that we operate so that we can remove bureaucratic processes. Innovation and bureaucracy, like water and oil, they don’t mix well together”.

Government regulations can have both positive and negative effects on the innovation process. How can we get the balance right?

Last week I was in Newport, Wales, hosting a couple of workshops at the Future Generations X Conference.

Wales is a country that is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to innovation and collaboration. It is attempting a seismic shift in the way that public services are required to think and operate.

In 2015 it enacted the Well-being of Future Generations Act which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

The ambition is to take the big ideas in Wales and across the world that can be adopted, shared and advanced across all public services.

That requirement to think differently about the wellbeing of future generations has all sorts of practical impact on day to day decision making.

  • What is the future generational impact of evicting a family from their home?
  • What is the future generational impact of jailing a father?

These are big complex problems and there are no easy answers.

The people attending my workshops spoke of the genuine challenges of collaboration at scale, of moving away from top down funding arrangements and targets where performance indicators drive the behaviors rather than the users.

Changing structures that have been set up with the specific purpose of measuring predetermined outcomes is never going to be easy.

When a target is set by someone sitting in an office who has never met an actual customer how on earth can we expect the outcome to be what the user actually wanted?

However, there is an acceptance from the top of Government that shifting behaviours towards a genuine user focus is the way forward.

The challenge here is simple to say but complex to achieve: putting the needs of the end user before the system.

All of this means investing in people and giving them the space to think differently.
It means giving them permission to challenge preconceived practices and ‘rules’.
It means taking a different attitude to risk and learning from failure

This theme is developed by Russell Webster citing a report by Professors Chris Fox and Kevin Albertson. The recommendations are specifically about probation services but I’d argue apply equally to almost all public sector innovation.  It recommends:

  1. Developing innovative ecosystems where a mixed economy of public, private and Third Sector organisations collaborate together for the greater good.
  2. A collaborative approach where different partners work together in pursuit of shared value.
  3. A co-created and personalised approach both at the system level in terms of service design delivery, and at the individual level in terms of more personalised services.
  4. A system which fosters localism in order to foster innovation.
  5. Greater investment in a broader understanding of evidence.

As I wrote last week pre-emptive change doesn’t lend itself to conventional approaches to governance. It’s likely to need adaptive or visionary models of change, rather than heavy-handed, top-down approaches.

What’s happening in Wales seems like a genuine attempt to move away from ‘simple but wrong’ approaches to public policy. It’s a huge ambition and I’m sure it will be a rocky road but I wish them well.

Putting the needs of the user before that of the system sounds simple but is in fact hugely complex.

But no-one ever thought doing the right thing was easy did they?

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