This is the first of four essays that explore components in a public realm provision transformational process.
This first essay provides an outline of definition and issues within a transformational process. Subsequent essays will explore the Current and Possible public realm ecosystem, Component Two, Supply chain development (Wave Impact) within public realm funded programmes, Component Three and the link between term used within commissioning and tendering and the ‘absolute’ definition, Component Four.
We have used the term component as a title for each essay as we believe to identify transformation within public realm activity we need to identify specific ‘components’ within the current activity as well as clarifying terminology used.
A fifth, and final essay will bring together all the issues outlined in the first four, exploring how they can influence transformation within public realm services.
These essays will influence the focus and activity of RnR Organisation in the future.
Component One – Definitions and issues
Public realm, public service, transformation, and the issue of palimpsest.
Public service to public realm
The first element of this component is the terminology we use throughout this and subsequent essays outlining other components in transformation.
The primary task in a service transformation process is distinguishing the service provision, the funding source, and the describing terminology used in such a process. In projects that are part of a ‘welfare provision’ it may be obvious who is providing the funding; however, it has become more difficult to identify who is providing the service.
The creation of internal markets, private finance initiatives, academies, commissioning, tendering and contracting have created a wide variety of service provision.
The strategic development of provision is still the remit of national government, through a departmental delivery system. Some activities are the responsibility of local government, but such roles have diminished due to funding structures. Increasingly, the local authority structure is used to deliver national government policies through commissioning and contracting, as part of the ‘open and free market’.
The principle of commissioning within public expenditure increases the number of organisations involved in service and project delivery, thus widening the ‘public sector’ concept to accommodate neoliberal principles that an open and free market increases choice and maximises the ‘benefits’[remuneration] of public expenditure.
Services are delivered through commissioning and procurement processes, or by selling off services through a bidding process through a variety of ‘conduit vehicles’. Organisations or companies are still funded by public funds, but are they public services?
The ‘market’ delivered activities are still referred to as public services, irrespective of the provider or the route of any excess/profit from the activity.
To encompass the myriad of processes of delivery of services we in RnR Organisation use the term ‘public realm’ services, services whose source of finance is derived from the ‘public purse’. We use this term so that we can discuss the transformation of ‘products or services’ delivered by organisations to beneficiaries, irrespective of the organisation or process that delivers the service. The service remains within the public realm, accessible in the same way, or with some changes. It is not, however, a public service delivered by staff employed through a public body. It is delivered by a variety of organisations and companies, some of whom may be community run social enterprises, reinvesting any excess, or others where part of any ‘public’ funding is retained as excess/profit, not employed for its project function but distributed to shareholders or owners.
Acknowledging this difference is not just one of semantics but an acknowledgement of the changes in the public funding pathway. Whereas local Authorities and councils used to provide a wide range of services their role has, over a number of reforms, been modified into that of a facilitator /provider of commissions.
Transformation clarification of public service remit
The second element explores the potential for innovative or novel transformation, given the reforms that have taken place over the past twenty years.
As if the reforms undertaken by the Thatcher and subsequent governments were not enough, the term ‘transformation’ continues to be used within an almost continuous process of restructuring services.
The current ‘transformation’ agenda therefore exists within an environment which views public services, developed and provided by national or local government departments, as a thing of the past.
Public realm funding, national government expenditure, however, continues to be spent, in silo departments, within a linear decision making process, ensuring that political strategy and values are implemented to operational programmes into the ‘market’ through a commissioning process. fig 1
So what exactly is being transformed? Who is leading that transformation, and what is the perceived outcome of such reforms? Given the austerity budgets since 2011 it would be simple enough to suggest that a neoliberal, free market, public expenditure reductionist agenda is in the ascendancy.
Transformation, in such a climate, and after such major reforms and the ‘selling off’ of services, would seemingly finish what is left of public sector delivered funding, if not public realm services all together.
Yet, in this potentially darkest hour for public realm services, we would contend that there is an opportunity to truly transform how National and Local government services as well as other publicly paid-for services can be delivered, thus utilising public funding and transforming the role of public bodies as enablers and facilitators
Historical context, terminology and purpose
To begin the exploration of such a transformation we need to ask three questions to address the historical context, to challenge some terminology and to identify a remit/purpose.
What are public services? – a brief one paragraph explanation!! Beginning with the 1601 Poor Law, financed from property owners, the process had a geographic focus, in those days parishes – not to alleviate poverty, but to control the ‘lower orders’, and to reinforce a sense of social hierarchy. There were amendments throughout the subsequent centuries, expanded by the creation of Local Authorities and associated Acts that added responsibility for roads, water, electricity, gas and education. Their growth and subsequent decline is well documented.
Who are the stakeholders? Are we customers? Both these terms have been recently adopted and are widely used within service planning and delivery. Do individual stakeholders have different perceptions of public services, what is delivered and what, as recipients, is expected? Can a beneficiary of a service, a customer, also be a participant in delivering that service?In public realm services the answer is yes, but the majority of planning provides a distinct separation between provider and recipient. In the way the two terms are used is there a difference between stakeholder and customer? We would argue that there isn’t.
By adopting such nebulous terminology there is a danger of developing services within restricted ‘stakeholder / customer’ categorisation, separating/compartmentalising those involved into those who deliver, and those who receive. It becomes a deficiency service model, with recipients who have defined problems that need resolving, by those with the skills to resolve. In developing such programmes within ‘silo department’ funding sources, stakeholders/customers/providers become compartmentalised into simplistic pigeonholes: problem, provider and recipient. Funding follows this formula.
There is no scope in this model for considering how to fit ‘stakeholders/customers’ into more than one category, to consider the possibility that an individual may participate in more than one role within a service – a provider can also be a recipient, and can fit into a number of categories.
More difficult in ‘welfare services’? Given the breadth of public expenditure it may be more difficult within ‘welfare’ provision to identify role(s) and remit(s). While infrastructure projects, roads, water etc. are easy to define within measurable outcomes, delivery of welfare services, personal development, care, etc., can be more subjective. Services are developed to ameliorate identified issues and problems – services designed within a deficiency model.Compartmentalisation of problems leads to subjective deficiency definitions, and thus provides project titles such as ‘Troubled Families’, ‘People with Multiple and Complex Needs’, ‘Disaffected communities’ etc. These are projects developed within a deficiency/‘medical model’, delivered by staff frequently recruited from a specific social class, potentially delivering a “we know best” programme.
Dichotomy in the development and delivery process
The deficiency model delivery and the development of stakeholder/customer involvement create a dichotomy in the development and delivery process. Providers input and views can outweigh those of the recipient, thus reducing the impact of stakeholder involvement making any co-design and production activity meaningless.
Later components in this series will explore the role, not of distinguishing between recipient or providers but rather of recognising and developing individuals as ‘assets’ within communities, and incorporating such practice, and ultimately resources, in developing a neighbourhood (community) support process and provision.
Transformation – an issue of palimpsest1?
The last element acknowledges that no transformation of public services takes place on a blank canvas, but on an existing blue print that is drawn and re-drawn over the years. Current service provision bears the marks of historical development and delivery, previous processes and incarnations, the potential, perceivable and the unachieved, impossible to remove or wipe clean.
Public sector reform/transformation is undertaken within the data it gathers from the silos, data from its services, related to problems it has identified, and solutions it wishes to impose. It is influenced by fiscal constraints of public funding – such activity is promoted as reform and restructuring which, in itself, is potentially disproportionally influenced by those employed to deliver the process, protecting their status and income.
Terms such as ‘co-design’ or ‘co-production’ are used to augment ‘stakeholder’ involvement in service development – service development that remains fiscally restricted, silo data-driven and output orientated.
We believe that true reform, even within fiscal restrictions, is possible, if driven by decision making using a wider range of processes and data. Such reform or transformation has to be built on previous and current activities, but the ‘components’ outlined in this series of essays forming the core of a re-thinking, the transformation of provision.
We believe that participants in such delivery should be from as wide a range as possible and include the process of accumulating as much data and ‘skilled assets’ as possible, in order to redraw any current ‘blueprint’ of how public realm expenditure impacts on individuals, not only at a service delivery level but also at a neighbourhood and community level.
1 Palimpsest noun [ C ] – /ˈpæl.ɪm.sest/ /ˈpæl.ɪm.sest/
A very old text or document in which writing has been removed and covered or replaced by new writing – something such as a work of art that has many levels of meaning, types of style, etc. that build on each other;