The trust society: squaring the public service delivery circle?

via The School for Social Entrepreneurs

There’s inevitably more time for reflection during the summer months, as people go on leave and take time out to review where things have got to, organisationally and personally. One thing that’s come up in many conversations for me is the challenge ahead given the inevitable cuts in public spending (regardless of which party is in government), but the continuing (or increasing) need to deliver services that reduce inequality and address social problems and needs. This is particularly interesting in the context of the Conservatives, given their clear support for localism and grassroots-led change by individual social entrepreneurs and their wish to reduce the size of the state and its associated bureaucracy.

Currently, this wish to reduce the size of the state (or, more simply, to reduce costs) has tended to lead to bigger contracts, bigger providers and a return to a simpler, output-based model (this much money in, these outputs out) that may be less nuanced than is currently the case through necessity. This is as true of the current government as it might be of a future Tory one (see the consortia being created around the Future Jobs Fund, for example) and, if you put yourself in those shoes, is pretty understandable and supportable.

But, of course, the local, grassroots social entrepreneur-led organisation may struggle in this context. Diversity, reach and multiple outcomes will still figure, but will power and money go upward into bigger contracts that are inaccessible? Or will there be enough devolution and freedom at local, regional or sub-regional level to work with new innovators and approaches that may change things for the better?

It’s an issue that we wrote about in Social Entrepreneurs and Public Service Delivery (pdf download), and one that is becoming more and more critical as time goes on, and the current outlook for public spending becomes bleaker. So is there a way of encouraging and fostering more grassroots social entrepreneurial activity, with new sustainable and bespoke solutions, whilst also increasing value for money? The answer is yes, but may require a shift from a trust-based to a contract-based society, and that shift may take much longer than the current climate will take to clear. But the broader point is worth raising now.

A recent provocation paper by SSE Chair Charlotte Young discusses the differences between a trust-based and a contract-based society and, more pertinently in this context, the potential roles for the social entrepreneur as initiators, intermediaries and role models & people developers. For those trying to square the circles in the public service delivery space, it’s essential reading.

– Read Can Social Entrepreneurs Make This  A Better Society? (pdf)  on the SSE website.