Towards a people-centred language of demand management

Gavin Jones

I’m regularly asked to make presentations to groups of people (the last one being to 22 Deputy Lord Lieutenants!) to set out the issues and opportunities facing local government in the light of increasingly painful budget cuts. Of the pictorial slides I use to tell the story, the one guaranteed to have the greatest impact and make people hold their heads in their hands and mutter depressing words of despair is my ‘motivational’ slide that alarmingly shows demand outstripping resources at a frightening pace – often known as the ‘’ or ‘Map of Misery’.

I’ve often thought that the word demand in this context seems very impersonal and almost dehumanising, whereas what lies behind much of this demand are real people, many of whom are vulnerable and in need of our help. When I am in need (and it is possible my time will come) will I simply be an input to someone’s demand curve? An unhelpful driver of financial pressure? Or instead could I be seen and valued as a human being with capabilities but also in need of some help and support? This, I believe, is the danger of expressing difficult financial circumstances in impersonal corporate speak. Too often the emotionless language of costs and reducing budgets facilitates a culture that ignores or forgets that at the heart of this technically phrased conundrum are human beings – increasing numbers of whom find themselves at the heart of diminishing resources.

This use of de-personalised language, with the current issues often only framed as a financial problem, creates enormous and unnecessary organisational conflict which puts the bureaucrats (tasked with the corporate objective of cutting spend) at odds with the service professionals. One sees it as a financial problem, the other a social one. A dangerous knock-on effect of this is the internal friction that is caused with the resentment of other Council departments that see themselves as financial victims of ‘uncontrolled’ spend by the demand-led services.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that bureaucrats (financial or otherwise) are any less caring or empathetic towards the plight of vulnerable people, but a more intelligent use of language and a considered framing for tackling the issue of rising demand and reducing resources, is more likely to build a sense of organisational collaboration to tackle real issues of how public services can continue to help people to cope with vulnerability with more dignity and independence.

Doesn’t it feel better to talk about the need for organisational change in terms of how a smaller state can be more creative in helping people to age well and to retain their dignity and capability, rather than with a negative rhetoric of cuts and declining spend? I think the former is so much more engaging and invites us to think creatively and positively as opposed to the more defeatist approach of reducing spend and squashing demand.

At the end of the day, using a more people-centred language and approach to ‘managing demand’ is far more likely to result in the design of collaborative sustainability solution to support an ageing population that ‘how do we get the money out and fast?’!


Gavin joined Swindon Borough Council (SBC) in 2004, having previously worked in a variety of private sector organisations and market sectors and has been Chief Executive since 2006. Gavin was listed as one of the top 50 New Radicals in the Sunday Observer’s national campaign for Britain’s most innovative leaders and voted one of the most influential leaders in Local Government. Gavin is a Board Member of the national think tank the New Local Government Network, (NLGN), a Trustee of the Prospect Hospice, a Board Director of Forward Swindon Ltd and a Board Director of SOLACE Enterprises,.

Beyond Nudge is behaviour change and demand management

Catherine Mangan and Daniel Goodwin

A three-fold change to the design and delivery of public services has been taking place over the past decade. Expectations of user choice or personalisation, the drive for localism and most particularly the implications of cuts in public spending, all increase tensions within the public service framework. One key factor underpins all of them: they require fundamental change in the expectations of individuals, communities and service providers if best use is to be made of ever diminishing resources whilst securing public well-being.

Many experts have said that the critical public service challenge of the decade is to encourage behaviour that benefits both the individual and the state, whilst preventing long term expense. They want to discourage behaviour which creates user dependency and attracts further costs. Behaviour change is vitally important, they say, because we can no longer provide the services we have always done, in the way we have always provided them. Various approaches to altering the behaviour of citizens have been outlined in a growing body of evidence.

Councils are navigating within a ‘perfect storm’ of reducing funding and increasing demands from demographic change, public expectations and the rising cost of delivering services.  We know that we cannot continue to meet the level of demand for services in social care and children’s services. Councils’ financial modelling shows that at the current levels of demand, by 2022 the council’s entire budget will not be enough to cover the costs of children’s and adults social care services.

Somehow, the level of citizen demand on services needs to be contained, and reduced. Merely changing the way in which existing services are delivered will not save enough money. For example if the current trend of people needing care continues and the use of personal budgets in their current form is extended, there is a clear risk of double pressures on the public purse, as current services such as day care continue to be provided rather than de-commissioned.

We believe that following simultaneous outcomes will be required in the future, some of which will be the responsibility of public services:

  • Reduced dependence/reliance on state to pick up the pieces.
  • Improved individual well being and resilience.
  • New and improved community/social networks.
  • Sustainability – both in terms of the environment and also the future of public services.
  • A better understanding in the community of the cost of public service and its relation to taxation.
  • A shift in the underlying expectations of individual citizens and communities of the ‘deal’ that they have with the state as to the provision of public services.

There is a need to change the contract between the individual and the state. There has been a range of reports and statements from think tanks and central government departments extolling this approach. The RSA 2020 Public Services final report provides a good summary of many of the more detailed points. It calls for a new ‘social citizenship’ approach where as citizens we should have a duty to contribute as well as a right to receive support. This takes us beyond the simplistic ‘Nudge’ theory towards a better understanding of how to navigate the challenges of the present to achieve a better future.

This blog summarises some of the key messages in:

Beyond Nudge – How can behaviour change help us to do less with less? By Daniel Goodwin and Catherine Mangan in  Staite, C. (ed.)(2013). Making sense of the future: can we develop a new model for public services? (Birmingham: University of Birmingham/INLOGOV).

Portrait of OPM staff member

Catherine Mangan is a Senior Fellow at INLOGOV.  Her interests include public sector re-design, outcomes based commissioning and behaviour change.  Prior to joining INLOGOV she managed the organisational development and change work for a not-for-profit consultancy, specialising in supporting local government; and has also worked for the Local Government Association, and as Deputy Director of the County Councils Network.  She specialises in adult social care, children’s services and partnerships.