This post is based on Iain Taylor-Allen’s MSc dissertation, which he completed at INLOGOV earlier this year.
New policy is emerging from a political doctrine espousing the need to re-engage society in governance through the decentralisation of power, responsibility and accountability to the lowest possible level. In addition, fiscal reality serves to accelerate the desire for change. Whilst the new order is still emerging, the extent of reform to date has brought local government organisations front and centre.
Despite an exhaustive review spanning three decades, and covering both the public and private sector improvement literature, I could find little suitably developed theory on sector-led improvement pertinent to the current (or comparable) context of the UK local government sector. In response I designed and undertook an original piece of inductive research with the purpose of establishing an understanding of local government sector-led improvement in the UK, and identifying the key components of a sustainable model of sector-led improvement.
The research revealed a dynamic understanding of local government sector-led improvement, providing a provisional, high level definition of the phenomena focused on three key themes:
- Mutual responsibility for the local government sector to support itself to improve and to share learning and best practice
- Securing effective and value-for-money improvements to achieve better outcomes for service users
- Ownership for improvement with a focus on local priorities.
Following further analysis three headline themes emerged, each comprising of key components identified by interviewees as critical to establishing a sustainable model of local government sector-led improvement:
- Leadership (engagement and ownership)
- Credibility (assurance and improvement
Taken together the themes identified comprise the key components of what is referred to here as a provisional model of sustainable local government sector owned and led improvement, set in an environment that embraces the values identified to support the sector to realise improvement from within.
The model highlights the key components required for sector-led improvement to achieve the primary aim of positive citizen and service user outcomes, and be sustainable. These core components of leadership and credibility must exist within a reciprocally supportive, transparent and action focused environment characterised by a culture of mutual respect and ‘positive’ challenge from within the sector on behalf of the sector. Expressed in terms of establishing engagement as a basis for securing ownership for improvement from within the sector, effective leadership is a pre-requisite for developing and establishing the necessary level of credibility both within and outside the sector for the approach to be sustainable. Here, credibility is understood in terms of a cycle of assurance and improvement, focussed on robust performance base lining as a basis for securing the understanding and confidence to engage in improvement activity.
The findings highlight enthusiasm from within the sector to take on the challenge and responsibility of improvement, as well as drawing attention to the raft of potential benefits of a widespread adoption of the approach. Moreover, it provides researchers and practitioners alike a glimpse of the potential of a local government sector-led approach to improvement to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of local service provision, and hopefully the much needed stimulus for consistent, applied research to develop policy and practice to realise the potential benefits.
Iain Taylor-Allen is an Adult Social Care Performance Manager. He has a keen interest in public management – specifically focusing on leadership, organisational culture and transformation; sector-led approaches to improvement; and the use of qualitative and quantitative measures to drive service/ contract/ organisational performance.