Moving to collaborative services: Vigoda’s thoughts

Moving to a different way of running the services that we own and use means we need to know what this means. Vigoda has excellently put together his thoughts on the subject which are worth highlighting. He states that in this new era people have a duty to become engaged in collaborative activities with Government & Public Administration (G&PA) but more importantly that G&PA has the greater duty to create conditions for such involvement by all available means. He has outlined his thoughts on the roles of the different players as follows:

Role of Government & Public Administration:

  • Volunteer programs in the fields of health, welfare service, education and security need to receive national support.
  • Adequate training programs for volunteers as well as volunteer leadership and management need to be developed and implements by professionals
  • Governments will be responsible for coordinating cooperation among different voluntary groups and institutions.
  • Governments to establish public volunteers’ committees to coordinate voluntary activity at the local and national levels.
  • G&PA to maintain advisory position, providing citizens with sufficient conditions and experience to work out their spontaneous ideas.
  • Transform goodwill into effective operations. Investment in the spontaneous behaviour of the people is low cost and economical compared with other reform efforts and thus must be encouraged.
  • All programs of citizen’s involvement will benefit from obtaining continuous evaluation by unbiased professionals.
  • Educational efforts that emphasise the importance of individual-level and organized entrepreneurialism may start in the very first years of school and create awareness in the very young of the high values of citizenship involvement.

He states that citizens, like other social players, serve as socialization agents of partnership. He has put together a diagram of where we are now and where we should be moving towards by having more formal collaborative and partnership links which can be seen in this diagram:

Role of citizens:

  • Active participation in running their lives and managing their communities by individuals, groups or institutions though:
    • Participation in neighbourhood associations or voluntary groups to aid the young, the elderly, or other sections of the population
    • Active involvement in citizens’ committees
    • Involvement in parents’ committees at schools
    • Donating money and time or effort for charity or equivalent social goals
    • Development of community services in various manners
    • Encouraging others to take part in such activities
    • Voice constructive criticism of the public system to encourage a culture of accountability and to provide feedback for politicians and public servants – increasing responsiveness and sense of responsibility
    • Original civic journalism
    • Letters to newspapers, public officials and politicians, radio and television programs
    • Use of computerized media to spread knowledge and attitudes
    • Educational teach youngest to become more involved and to use these methods extensively

He believes that moving to collaborative government/services will be calmer and more effective when the media and academia join in the effort. The positive elements of democracy cannot be achieved without an active, independent and responsible media.

Media role:

  • Effective and reliable communication channel between citizens and governments that promotes collaboration and partnership
  • Power of media can be used to encourage people’s attitudes and opinions towards citizen involvement and participation in a variety of ways but also to consult on relevant policy decisions
  • Encourage public recruitment to collaborative activities by means of educational programs.


  • Pointing out theoretical considerations, conceptual grounding and practical means for cooperation, managerial science promotes the understanding of mutual social efforts
  • Isolating and cultivating the benefits of partnership (and highlighting the advantages over simple state of competition i.e. responsiveness-based interaction)
  • Discussion on collaboration takes priority over other issues in social affairs
  • Public agenda becomes more sensitive to issues of partnership and their growth value. Managerial and administrative sciences also promote legitimization of cooperation and encourage more individuals to participate in public management enterprises.

Reframing Voter Apathy: People need something to vote for with their ‘fair votes’

There are many who believe that there is no reason why people should vote as the likelihood of their vote counting is less than winning the lottery – see here or Feakonomics.

For me, no matter how small my vote may count to the end result, I still want my vote to count and I still want to make a difference to the country that I live in. The issue for me is that it just feels so difficult to make a difference and voting can seem like little consolation to the pain that I had to go through from the effect of ridiculous reforms and new legislation. So when my workload increased in paperwork, new complex and unnecessary computer systems, and a failure of some government organizations to do what I have felt was necessary, many of my colleagues didn’t feel like voting as they didn’t see anything changing.

Some will call it voter apathy for not being interested in politics , some will call it voter fatigue for having to vote too much, others will look for reasons why they don’t vote.

I would suggest that these terms are not helpful and need to be reframed: People are not apathetic, they are interested in politics, and they do want to make a difference, they just don’t see how this is connected to voting yet. This may be understandable when there is little difference in the parties who position themselves for the same votes.

Giving people more say and more power does not necessarily mean that people will then see the need to vote, unless this say and power is meaningful to them and there is a threat that it will be taken away from them. So the question is how do you make having a say and power meaningful to people?

Equal votes and equal constituencies makes logical sense to anyone interested in fairness. But will it mean that people will feel they have more say and more power? I doubt this will change my colleagues’ minds when they continue to struggle with burdensome bureaucracies which feel like they hinder them in doing their job. So something needs to go along with fair votes. Something which will make people feel fair votes is worth something to them.

So there needs to be a change in the way we look at government to complement fair votes which will make people want a fair vote and then more likely to vote. I believe this is change in the bureaucratic system to allow for a collaboration between government and its bodies and the people, see here, here or here.

Governments need to stimulate the environment to allow for (and generate) spontaneous behaviour by individuals and groups. Programs of involvement and collaboration need to be governed by citizens and administered by practitioners who understand them. Public-service practitioners can become citizens’ honest advisors and helpers rather than controllers of public organizations (see here).

Like all movements to achieve social change, power is placed back where it belongs; this is empowerment. The Liberal Democrats have long advocated for empowerment, but so have other parties. It is time to imagine a different world where the government has a different role with its citizens. It is time to imagine this in specifics. It is time to communicate this difference.

Public Service Reform (Tory/Labour vs Lib Dems)

There is much that politicians say that we may all agree on

We wish to change politics itself, to bridge the gap between governed and government and to try to address the deep seated and damaging disaffection with politics which has grown up in recent years

Tony Blair 1996, 14 May, Speech to Charter 88

Real change is not what government can do on its own, real change is when everyone pulls together, comes together, works together, when we all exercise our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, to our communities and to others

David Cameron, 11 May 2010, First Speech as Prime Minister, at 10 Downing Street

But as politicians look for words in speeches which they think we want to hear, they look around to create the action we want to see. There is a debate going on about how to manage public services which was on the fringes of the General Election campaigns. There was talk of forming easycouncils (Tories)  and John Lewis Style Councils (Labour). There has been debate for a while about how to create more responsive public services through offering more choice.  But the issue of forming responsive services has dominated the debate for years.

The UK was supposed to have moved on from the New Public Management (NPM) in government

In the UK … NPM has been challenged since the turn of the century by a range of related critiques such as Third Way thinking and particularly the rise of ideas associated with Public Value Theory which have re-asserted a focus on citizenship, networked governance and the role of public agencies in working with citizens

However, the previous and present government continues along agendas which look remarkably similar to the NPM agenda which relies on the theory of marketplace and on a business-like culture in public organizations. NPM favours massive socialization of business management practices in the public sector to provide governments with better tools for policy implementation, moving decision making closer to the service recipients and restructuring government  to emphasise results rather than processes which all parties seem to want to achieve. These are even the aims for the Obama administration.

However, such an agenda was opposed by the Liberal Democrats at one stage who were concerned that the choice agenda would not produce the results we wanted and this has again been looked at here.

So it is not surprising that Labour and the Tories are looking to business for answers to their questions if they continue to be stuck in NPM thinking. Yet this creates inconsistencies which they fail to see. The Labour Government had a Respect Agenda which sought to get citizens to take up their responsibilities in society, and this is reflected in Cameron’s comments above. The issue is that if you produce services based on the choice agenda, bringing in business practices to make services more responsive, you are giving the people the power of ‘exit’ i.e. you can choose to go somewhere else. This restricts and discourages the productive political voices of the people as they use the passive power of ‘exit’ rather than the progressive power of their ‘voice’ to improve services. This approach therefore ignores the active roles of citizens and their obligations in the community. This is neatly put by the Cabinet Office

User choice is an effective instrument for promoting quality, responsiveness, efficiency and equity in public services. It is in many cases more effective than alternatives, such as voice mechanisms

Responsive services are nice and may meet some people’s needs some of the time but it does not reflect a modern society where people want more say in how things are run and want their voices heard. As politicians look around to create the action we want to see, they fail to see that we are the action we want to see.

I have written about collaboration here and here and this will be a defining issue. Moving from responsive services run by government and public administration (G&PA) to collaborative services between the G&PA and citizens and other social players. The Tories continue to look towards business as do Labour.

The Lib Dems can take some learning from Business but should not define how we want our country and services to be run based on them; we are not a business. We are people in a country where we feel we have little say in how our country is run and our services provided and we would like this to change. We can be on this side of change by embracing a new collaborative way of working with citizens in running, managing, and reforming the services we use if we understand there is an alternative and listen and support the people.

In Praise of the FT: finding strengths in the Lib Dems

A solution focused approach seeks to find what is working at the moment and to amplify this. Here the Financial Times writes about the Lib Dems which is worth repeating:

Yet despite the lack of polling lustre, it is a successful project the Lib Dems are participating in. Forging a coalition to deal with the country’s challenges was the responsible thing to do. Making two parties work together better than Labour did on its own is a big achievement. The record on several fundamental Lib Dem causes, such as civil liberties and engagement with Europe, is impeccable. The Lib Dems are not, however, getting credit for this.

Next Big Development in Politics: Which side will the Lib Dems be on?

We are formal owners of the state by all democratic and business criteria. So ask yourself how involved do you feel in the running of your local police force, school, hospital etc. or national decisions on where tax is spent or even if we go to war. We, as citizens maybe unwilling, and even incapable, of becoming practical owners of the state, yet do we want to continue to be treated as subjects or even as simple voters as is accepted by the current political system?

I do not want the government and its agencies to take on the sole role of managing our lives, even from a businesslike standpoint. We need to make clear that we want a new settlement between the government and the citizens, and one which treats us as equal partners. It is called collaboration. This will be resisted by the old political orthodoxy and embraced by the public.

The leadership of the Coalition government has made some attempts to involve the public but this has not been taken seriously by the ministers who are responsible for utilizing this involvement. After 9500 people gave their opinion on proposed government policy, all voices were ignored. The current administrative-government relationship will lead to growing and serious risks of citizens’ alienation, disaffection, skepticism, and increased cynicism towards governments as this exercise shows. Equally Nick Clegg’s launch of the Your Freedom website poses the same risks.

To turn it into substance will mean being able to show that such a welcome exercise in crowd-sourcing public opinion actually leads to influential input into government policy. This will demand a lot of work, clout, authority and follow-through.

Yet the following quote highlights the difficulty the political class has in seeing public involvement as important:

Although many public administrators view close relationships with citizens as both necessary and desirable most of them do not actively seek public involvement. If they do seek it, they do not use public input in making administrative decisions… and believe that greater citizen participation increases inefficiency… delays and red tape

The Lib Dems have made some headway in the direction towards partnership, as I believe the Liberal philosophy of devolved power fits best with this development and so the movement for people to have some control over schools and police forces are welcome but do not go far enough to develop collaboration and partnership.

There are many challenges facing the development of collaboration and partnership in government and public administration so understanding it is key to being able to change the spirit of government to implement it. Collaboration and partnership is what people will demand once they realise it is a possibility. It is not only key to developing what we as citizens want and need, it will be a valuable political resource for whoever is able to champion and communicate its cause.

In understanding it, questions arise:
1)      What does collaboration and partnership actually mean?
2)      Whose responsibility is it to make partnership possible?
3)      How can this collaboration be achieved?

These will be looked at in further posts…

Collaboration: The Next Big Step in Government and Public Administration

When politicians say things like ‘government would hand people direct control over how they are governed nationally and locally’ (Conservative)  or that they are making ‘government more accountable to the people and strengthen the hand of citizens against the state’ (Labour). Or even ‘creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens’ (Barack Obama). It sounds great, but what does it mean?

A good place to start is here. Vigoda has written a great piece on where we are at and what we are facing in terms of government and public administration (G&PA) and their relationship with citizens. He argues that government and public administration has evolved from rulers to managers and that there lies a new frontier in government. It is this new frontier that these statements by our new politicians are trying to grasp but are not quiet able to make the transition to this new way of thinking.

This new frontier is from  G&PA as managers and citizens as customers to a collaboration between citizens and other social players and G&PA. He argues that citizens as clients has worked but a new generation of running public administration is needed.

A better definition of the G&PA relationship must rely on the conception of collaboration and partnership. Such reforms will create a different and more flexible model of governing.

government will continue to govern… but the more authentic the encounters with citizens will be, the less will government be ‘they’ and the more it will be ‘we’

(Postmodern Public Administration. Fox & Miller 1995, 128)

It is interesting therefore to read the Liberal Republic by Demos  which says that

Discussions in political circles about ‘devolving’ power approach the question from the wrong direction. The default assumption should be that individuals have power, unless there is a good reason for consolidating power upwards to communities, local agencies, national government, or international bodies.

They go on to suggest that individuals should control their own health or social care through individual budgets, something which is happening and has been written about on this blog.  Importantly, this is a defining aspect of the distinctive Liberal ethos and they state that:

This will be unappealing to conservatives, who prefer people to live tidily, along carefully signposted paths.

And I would add it will be unappealing to Labour due to their desire for authoritarianism which resulted in sites like this.  In Vigoda’s own words

The new generation of public administration will need a different spirit… one that fosters mutual effort. This movement from a ‘they’ spirit’ to a ‘we’ spirit is perhaps the most important mission of public administration in our era.

The issue for the Liberal Democrats is that they begin to grasp this concept, find a way to communicate it effectively and find ways of implementing it. G&PA must take a step forward and while the Conservatives and Labour may have begun to use the language, it remains to be seen if their philosophy and beliefs would allow them to make this big step. The Liberal Democrats are in the best position to be able to do this in the UK.

So why is this on a solution focused politics site? Well, collaboration is a central aspect to the solution focused approach. It is the relationship where the techniques are used and solutions are found. Solution focused politics offers the best possible way of achieving this collaborative government as argued throughout this site. This will be developed on further posts.

Doing What Works: Obama Administration Using a Solution Focused Approach

Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behaviour in strategic situations, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others. The prisoner’s dilemma is a fundamental problem in game theory that demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so.

Over the years there have been competitions to find the most successful strategy. A strategy called ‘tit-for-tat’ consistently came out as the winner, which was a strategy of starting positive and then doing what the other party did in their previous move. That was until the strategy of Pavlov was developed. This was a strategy where you follow the same strategy as in the previous move if it was successful but change if it was not successful. Essentially a Do What Works strategy.

However, Pavlov did not beat the ‘always deceive’ strategy whereas tit-for-tat did. Therefore the Do What Works Strategy thrives once the always deceive strategy has been beaten. While this is an academic endeavour its real life application to politics is important.

Obama has started on the strategy of Doing What Works and it aims to deliver greater value and better results. This is exactly what a solution focused approach would advocate: a focus on outcomes with clear goals using tools such as scaling to measure progress. All of which is discussed on this blog in previous posts (e.g. here or here) and is shown in Obama’s administration’s video:

What Game Theory teaches us is that while this is the best strategy to produce the best results for the people, it is vulnerable and open to attack. Obama has come under pressure and heavy attack from his opposition. Maybe they are using the always deceive strategy? Not everyone wants you to do what is best and what is right.

What is Solution Focused Politics?

If there is a quote to sum up solution focused practice it is this:

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them

- Albert Einstein

If there is a quote to sum up the attitude of solution focused practice it is this:

Every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. I have not failed 10000 times, I have successfully found 10000 ways that will not work.
– Thomas Edison

But the quote I like best to motivate people into wanting to do something different is this:

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got

Solution focused politics is not a political philosophy, an ideology, or a methodology. It is an approach to politics which seeks to create change leading to meaningful improvement in people’s lives.

The language used to describe a problem is not the same language used to find the solution, so the language is different. SF politics is future focused. This is not to say that the past is not useful – it helps us to learn from mistakes and successes. But when driving a car it is essential to look in the rear-view mirror occasionally, but it is advisable to spend  most of the time looking through the front windscreen. Solutions fit the citizens, not the problem

Change is always taking place, we therefore look for where change is taking place and how we can expand on this. We find where things do not work and seek to stop or change this. It believes that generally people behave well when treated well and respectfully when given respect. Politicians are part of the system and so either become part of creating problems or change that makes a difference to people’s lives, which can be summed up by the phrase ‘if things don’t change the way you help them, then help them the way things change’.

It sheds unnecessary ideology and focuses on what works. SF Politics advocates doing something different when the government, communities or people are ‘stuck’. The ideological orientation of the politician is unimportant to people at least in comparison to the outcome for them. SF Politics is therefore about living in the here and now and finding solutions  to today’s problems.

People tend to work towards goals of their own choosing. When others set goals, people might comply under duress or politeness, but often find ways to sabotage them. Solution-focused work stays very close to people’s own goals and does not try to convert them to something else. Collaboration is therefore essential to the approach.

It seeks to find a ‘preferred future(s)’ and ways in which this is already happening. It then builds on this.

To create the future we want it uses:

  • Collaborative relationship building
  • Specific Types of Questions (Desired Situation, What’s Better?, Past Success, Miracle, Scaling, Exception, Usefulness, Coping, Perspective Change)
  • Language matching
  • Reframing
  • Goal Setting
  • Accolades

Amongst others all of which will be discussed in future posts…

Liberal Democrats – Doing What Works?

The argument goes that the Labour Party believes in a big state as this would help government perform its basic functions better. While the Conservative Party believes we should have a smaller state as this would increase economic efficiency and would therefore be better for long term economic performance. A government may have any size but if it makes unwise policy decisions based on erroneous information or thinking, it won’t be effective.

For all Liberal Democrats, the aim is to reinvent, not to reduce, the state”, but what happens when the state is reduced in size by the Coalition Government? Do we then say we need to get back to the size it was in 2006/7/8? Or what happens when it gets bigger again in the future, do we then say it needs to be cut back again? Or are we happy with whatever size it is? The Lib Dems need to assert their position in a more distinct fashion than the current perceived piggy-backing onto the Tories small-state-is-best-narrative, which is frightening potential voters into believing the Lib Dems are now something to fear (mainly from the political left).

The Solution Focused Change website posted a video of Barak Obama on the subject which fits in with the solution focused approach and would fit well with the Lib Dems.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.

~Barack Obama

There is more discussion on this subject on this blog here. The issue with the debate is that Labour make an assumption that a big state is both good and necessary to protect people while the Tories assume a big state is wasteful and hampers private enterprise (which is bad for the people). This focuses the debate on the process of how to make the state bigger or smaller. The focus on the process is the problem as there is no debate on what works for people on the ground.

The simple message of ‘doing what works’ allows for experimentation to find what works which means the size of the state can be changed to find what is best for the time and for that particular area. It focused the debate on the outcome rather than the process i.e. the effect for the people and not a change in size of government due to preconceptions of what is best.

Engaging People with the Lib Dems

Public meetings have convinced Nick Clegg that all politics is personal as well as local. Engaging people at a local level is therefore a priority and all political parties could improve on engaging the public. So how do we achieve purposeful engagement with people and make the Liberal Democrat strategy a powerful tool?

If the focus is on the potential Lib Dem voter community, not just the members of the political party, then a wider engagement is needed.  Consultations have long been used by political parties but have been seen as something of a necessity but not always a useful part of the political process as they do not always produce the results the politicians want.

Generally, people tend to express their doubts and concerns when asked for their opinion in an open forum and the voice of frustration tends to dominate (and sometimes sounds like that of many). When we discuss problems at any length it keeps the person in a state of being stuck. Our interest in their problem means we are not being helpful to them and taking too many of the complainers seriously simply slows progress.

People want to collaborate, just in different ways and these ways don’t always match. The trick in purposeful engagement is to find where collaboration and co-operation is taking place and magnify it. This blog outlines 7 ways to turn consultations into powerful exercises (using Solutions Focus). This could be applied to the Liberal Democrat political party in many ways from town hall to local party meetings. This is a brief summary of what may help improve these meetings:

  • Be clear on higher outcomes
  • Pre-planning should involve a core group of the stakeholders to find out what outcomes they’d like to get
  • Allow the group a short period in every session to express their concerns, but don’t let a few people dominate
  • Ask the group what’s working at their level
  • Turn to what needs to be different, or better in the future
  • Get people thinking about actions by asking them what the larger group and some of the individual stakeholders might do to make progress right away
  • Read back to the audience a long list of the purposeful things they said. Let them see you have been actively listening

By focusing the meetings on specific issues can lead to a better strategy for dealing with whatever the issues are. It can focus on what everyone has in common about the need and that they can have a role in making progress it happen with the support of the Party.


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