Today I attended the London Connects Conference – a highlight of the London government year.
The highlight of the day, for me, was my attendance, in the afternoon, of the "Public Office" meeting organised by Kable. In an especially laid-out room, participants were first invited to view and hear the stories of five families – each of which was struggling to negotiate help from public sector bureaucracy with problems they faced in their lives.
Then we were asked to consider various projects – from both the public and third sectors – under five intervention themes, their effectiveness and what we can learn from them. Then, in teams we were asked to consider how the public sector can organise itself to support the sort of family situations that we learned about and, finally, we came together to discuss our learning from the afternoon.
What struck me was the fact that I quickly noticed a number of parallels in my own family life in trying to deal with life's problems – such as bereavement, care of elderly parents, dealing with disability, schooling etc. I am, however, more affluent and better equipped to deal with those problems, than most of our case studies, and the problems may not have been so severe.
All the featured families seemed to show a remarkable determination to try and find the solutions for themselves, in the face of public services that were far from joined-up, and lacked empathy with the situations that they found themselves in.
My personal view was that, although the sort of challenges these families encountered are not new, they have probably been exacerbated by modern living, and a core issue is how we engage Society in developing the solutions, but there is certainly much that public services ought to be able to do to organise itself better to provide more comprehensive and cohesive services.
A common theme was that families were looking for the help to be able to help themselves, so mentoring and advocacy seemed key requirements.
"The Public Office" is being developed as a project to consider how public service (including the private and third sectors) can listen to the real voices of service users and think about how public services could be re-engineered from the users' point of view.
I understand there will be a web-site (at www.thepublicoffice.org.uk) which doesn't appear to have been launched yet, but I'm looking forward to supporting its development.
The Public Office will be a feature at Socitm 2008 - 12th-14th October. (Early bird booking ends on 25th July!)