LGiU Fortnightly 2nd March: Service design, recycling, LEPs & more

LGiU Fortnightly is our new podcast, bringing you the latest news from the world of local government. We update you on the key events from the past fortnight, as well as news from us and our members, so you’re always in the loop. We’re always looking for more ways to bring you the information you need in a way that works around your busy schedule – let us know what you think by tweeting us @LGiU.

This week, join Jennifer Glover and Ingrid Koehler discussing service design principles, China’a waste ban, LEPs, identity-shaping and much more.

Featuring a guest interview about service design for local government with Yassin and Sebastian from Tackle, as well as our regular roundup of local government news and recent LGiU briefings.

Links to topics mentioned in the podcast:

TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

Jen Glover: Hi everyone, and welcome to LGiU Fortnightly. I’m Jennifer Glover…

Ingrid Koehler: I’m Ingrid Koehler…

JG: …and we’re here to tell you what’s been going on in local government over the past two weeks. Bringing you the latest news, what our members have been up to, what we’ve been up to, in a handy format so you can listen to it on the go…

IK: …or maybe if you’re stuck in the middle of the Beast from the East.

JG: Yeah, if you’re literally snowed in and you’ve got nothing better to do, you can listen to this. Or a more positive statement…

…So, what have we got coming up?

IK: Well, we’re going to talk a bit about service design this time. LGiU has been really interested in service design for a while and what it can bring to local government. A bit of background: service design came from both the world of product design and also from the world of digital, where user research and really testing and iterating as you develop software is quite important. It becomes the discipline of service design, where instead of focusing on a solution you’re focusing on a problem, really understanding where users are using services, how they’re using services and their journey through that service, and then thinking about the ways that you can improve that service.

It’s used a lot in the private sector, but it’s now coming into local government more and more. We have a lot of services that are offered directly to individuals, often who are in difficult circumstances. Thinking about how they journey through that service and how we could improve that is a quite key and apt discipline right now.

We’ve been offering some training on service design. This week was the second time we’ve run it; we have people from all over the country. Some were people who were trying to improve children’s services and thinking about how children and foster families journey through that experience, and how that could be made to be better, or how services might be improved to highlight children who might be in jeopardy. There were also people from web services who wanted to apply service design to how they did digital transformation in their local authority. We laos had people who were looking at adult social care, which is very close to my heart, and people doing big transformation programmes.

As councils have to cut, it’s better to think about how the user experiences the services and how to provide them in a different way. That’s what people came to the learning and development day on.

After the course, I sat down with the service designers who were running the course for the day and asked them a bit about what they do at Tackle Studio.

Service Design interview

IK: I’m here today with Yassin Askar and Sebastian Nause-Blueml. I was asking Sebastian before we started exactly how to pronounce his surname, and I’ve been working with him for about 4 years now.

SNB: That was probably the first time it was exactly right.

IK: Excellent. Tackle is a service design agency. They’re based out of Denmark but they work with us on a couple of different things – like CoCare, which is our homecare product – but they’re also heing us with developing and delivering some service design training designed especially for local government. That’s mainly what we’re going to talk about in the next little bit. But the question that I think most of our listeners will want to know from you guys is: Danish pastries, all that?

Y: Absolutely. Incredible. They’re fluffy.

SNB: I heard the per capita consumption pastry is highest in the world in Denmark.

IK: They know how to do it.

Y: All that butter. The problem is is that I love it, but I’m lactose intolerant. So I can’t have them! Good for the waistline, but not good for my pastry desires.

IK: Let’s segue back onto the topic at hand, which is service design. We’ve just finished a service design course. Local government has a special place for service design.

Y: Absolutely. There’s a real need and a huge opportunity to use service design within a local government context. There’s so many things that are changing in local government, that local government has been changing, for quite a long time. It’s an opportunity for people who work in government to approach service redesign projects ina  different way. Approach them from the user’s point of view.

IK: I think it’s critical. As I was saying on the course today, I’ve worked in local government for a long time, and rarely have I met anyone in any council who didn’t have a public service ethos – who wanted to do the right thing for people. I think we’re in a great place to start, but we’re constrained by money, and by organisational culture, and by bureaucracy. All these things might keep us from really talking to the user. I think service design is abridge that shows us we can involve the user in designing services and we’ll get a better result in the end.

SNB: It’s ironic. The urgency to save money could bring the practice of service design in, in the long term, as the standard way of working – so that any service has to be based on the user’s needs. That’s where local authorities play a crucial role, because from the citizen’s point of view they’re a huge part of their daily lives.

Y: This is something that’s been going on for quite a long time. It’s within recent years that it’s really started to take off.

SNB: It’s amazing to – on a day like this – to see how many people within local authorities are thinking that way already. They’re engaged, they want to do something, they feel a sense of urgency or the opportunity. That’s amazing to see in the UK.

IK: The attitudes are right, a lot of the time. It’s just the tools and the techniques and the framework that helps you structure your thoughts and your actions that might be missing.

Y: It’s also the set-up. You’ve got to have the right set-up. It can seem like a huge undertaking, a huge challenge. But as with anything, it’s all about taking the first step and then doing it bit by bit. Turning to your users once in a while when you’re doing a new project can be incredibly helpful in that sense. It doesn’t need to be the whole thing – just bits and pieces whenever you can fit it into a project.

IK: What would be your top tip? What are the things you especially wanted to impart today on our service design course?

Y: First of all, always talk to your users. Always talk to who you’re designing for. If you don’t have the resources, it can be done very very quickly. It doesn’t need to be weeks and moths. Very short user research ‘sprints’ – one or two days – can make a huge difference in how the service is shaped. The outcomes will be so much more useful, more valuable – to the users and also to the council.

SNB: Exactly. The one thing I would really like to emphasise is ‘test it out’. Make a prototype, make a quick version (a minimum viable product) or even just sketch something out – and get feedback. Then improve it. Then get more feedback. It’s so crucial. Often we’ll think we have to plan it out and find the right way of doing it, but in the end that’s our point of view. Getting someone else with their eyes and opinions to give you feedback is valuable.

IK: I’m not a service designer, but I’ve worked with service design projects. It’s never ceased to amaze me how willing people are to give you their time and their insights when they know you’re actually going to use them and take them on board. It’s always worth asking. If you think it’s going to be hard to find someone or get them to give you time, it probably is a lot less hard than you think it’s going to be.

SNB: We’ve been testing something out for another company and we’ve been speaking to people at the airport.

Y: People are so willing to give you time. Everyone wants to share their experiences, their challenges. Sometimes it’s stopping them talking! Their willingness to share their experiences is really incredible.

SNB: Especially if it’s something that actually effects their lives, something they care about. If there is a way that your opinion can improve something, most people are going to take that.

IK: I think people are service-minded too. Last question, if you were a council and you were wanting to take the plunge into service design, what would you do? What would be the first step you would take?

SNB: I think the core thing for a council to do is identify the right project. Something that’s concise, that’s not redesigning all of adult social care – something that’s visible but still has impact. Then you can share that story as a case study for the use of service design within the organisation afterwards and go onto bigger projects.

IK: What kind of clients are the easiest to work with?

Y: It’s not really about which clients are easiest to work with, it’s how the project is set up from the beginning that defines whether it’s going to be  a good project or a bad project. If a project is set up right, then we have a very good defined problem area to deal with; the brief is not too tight, so it’s not too specific and the solution is given beforehand; but it’s a bit open, so we can explore the problem from different points of view. There’s room in the budget to do research, which is incredibly important, because it’s all about building up a level of understanding so you can translate some of the research findings and insights into the service.

IK: And into action – really changing things. It’s been great talking to you guys. We’re definitely planning on running some more workshops. See you soon!

End of interview

JG: That was fascinating.

IK: They’re fun guys. I’ve been working with Sebastian in particular for several years on CoCare, which we mentioned but I keep promising to talk about…

CoCare is an app and web portal which has been designed to transform adult social care, particularly the commissioning process. If you know anything about adult social care, and homecare in particular, you’ll know that it’s on the edge. Part of the reason is that it’s quite stuck in these ‘visit times’ and that’s the only thing that’s measured in terms of commissiong or monitoring the contract. Instead, we wanted to focus on what’s actually going on. Are people’s needs changing? The quality of care. The main focus is – are people’s health conditions changing, are their social care needs changing, but also are they achieving their personal goals? We worked on this in a service design way. We talked to everyone in the system – commissioners, heads of adult social care, care workers, service users, their carers – and they all helped to shape the final product. So it not only serves commissioners, but it also helps friends and family to create a circle of care around the individual.

JG: I think it’s brilliant. Quite often these tools will serve one or the other.

IK: Because we worked with people on this, we put something in there for everyone. If you don’t get a benefit from using a piece of software, then you probably won’t do it.

JG: That was a great example of service design principles in action – not starting the design process until that was really nailed down.

IK: And we’re still in it. So we’re still testing it and making changes, but we’re looking for another local authority to work with us now. We’ve been working with Kingston Council, who’ve been amazing at this process. We need someone else too.

JG: Give us a shout if you’d like to have a look at improving your adult social care commissioning provision, because Ingrid is your woman.

IK: Hope so! Also, I think it’s worth noting – I mentioned it was a learning and development course, but that’s not the only course we run. We run training on a whole range of different things. We’ve got an introduction to local government finance, which puts the fun into local government funding. (Sorry.)

JG: We were talking to one of our colleagues up in Scotland who does the LGiU Scotland briefings, and they’re doing a lot of these introduction to finance pieces at the moment, because the turnover of councillors was unbelievable at the last election. Something like a quarter of councillors are new. There’s a lot of swotting up going on.

IK: We also offer courses on political sensitivity and awareness for officers, so it’s not just councillors. Using social media in local government – there’s a whole range of stuff. Just check it out on the website.

Recent LGiU work

JG: Right. What have we been up to? In this section we’ll be looking at our recent briefings, which are our members’ only summaries of things relevant to local government. We’ve also got our Daily Nws emails, which go ut bright and early every morning. We’ll be taking our favourite stories from that.

IK: There’s a couple of things that pop up in briefings that caught my eye. In particular, there’s a couple of briefings on children and young people’s mental health. Both support in schools and the work that’s going on to transform mental health. I recently had a meeting with Paul Burstow, who used to be an MP and the care minister, but now works in the field of mental health. They’re about to come out with a big review from the UNiversity of Birmingham. It’s not just about young people, but lifelong issues around how mental health is working in (I assume) England and Wales. How that might need to change as we go forwards. Children and young people’s mental health has been in the news a lot over the past few months as not up to scratch.

JG: We had the What Works Centres – a summary of their work so far. These were an interesting project funding by the ESRC. A big national project on evidence-based policy making in a variety of sectors. I’d come across it via the What Works Centre for Local Growth, and had discussed the findings from that with some of the people working on it. From the briefing we’ve published on it, it seems like one of the major problems is a lack of information for people making these decisions. It’s endemic. It’s a very difficult problem to deal with.

IK: I don’t think we always handle evidence in decision-making as well as we might. it’s interesting: sometimes we don’t have enough evidence, and sometimes we’re drowning in evidence and don’t necessarily know what to do with it.

JG: The woman I spoke to who was working on this project said one of the problems was exactly that – people were bombarded with people saying that they had the evidence they needed to solve this exact problem, but actually the testing ability wasn’t there. They didn’t know how much to take this as truth, or how much to take it with a pinch of salt. Their ability to make use of the evidence that was put in front of them was quite limited.

IK: That’s a natural human problem. To not know who to trust when you’ve got a lot of different source. That’s one of the things I think LGiU is particularly good for – sifting through stuff and pulling together the briefings that really do matter. But it’s still a job of work to go through all the stuff that’s out there.

JG: I think for listeingers the What Works Centres are really worth a look, because they’re at the stage where they’ve finished gathering the data and the evidence they were planning to and are trying to tell people about how to make use of their findings. I’m sure they would welcome contact from an area that was willing to try out some of their recommendations, or work with them on a pilot. Worth a look.

One of the other pieces that came up was the briefing on Local Enterprise Partnerships. Now this is a really interesting area – it gets very grey in terms of accountability and other things. That’s what’s being raised in a  recent report that was published – the Nay Review. A lot has been said about LEPs’ involvement in local growth and local business support, and shaping the growth pattern of the area – almost to the exclusion of local authorities in some cases. It’ hasn’t ever been properly delineated where those responsibilities sit.

IK: And where the accountability is.

JG: Especially with the new combined authorities and mayoral regions, that gets even more blurred. Pots of money are going to LEPs that local authorities aren’t seeing nad don’t have much control over. I think this review is following in the footsteps of the NAO and others who’ve been saying for a few years: ‘what’s going on?’. So that could have some interesting implications.

IK: Again, LEPs can work really well. In some places – it’s a bit of mystery to me whether they work at all and what they’re doing. But the intention of getting local businesses involved…

JG: You can’t fault that.

IK: But how does it fit in with our local democratic structures?

JG: Exactly. Should it really be at arm’s-length? How do you want them to work? Who, ultimately, is responsible for the money that goes to them?

IK: Finally, the briefing that caught my eye as well was that China is banning foreign garbage.

JG: This is a nice segue into one of the themes that was coming out in a lot of the Daily News emails over the past couple of weeks. China has put a ban on foreign waste being imported into the country, which has a huge knock-on effect for this country and many other EUropean countries because the vast majority of our recycling is sent in empty shipping containers back to China.

IK: Or other countries in the Far East.

JG: So this ban is going to put a lot of pressure on local government.

IK: In terms of achieving recycling targets. And the financial pressures of knowing what to do with their recycling.

JG: Our infrastructure isn’t really – we haven’t been investing in it.

IK: It doesn’t match the amount of waste we’re producing.

JG: This has caught the attention of ministers. Michael Gove was talking about on-shoring waste disposal. Realistically, that kind of infrastructure takes several years to achieve.

IK: If not longer. An there’s ethical dimensions as well, about sending our old rubbishy junk off to other places. And some of it’s not safe.

JG: Yes, I think it’s the lower grade stuff especially that we send to China because no-one else will deal with it. I saw in the briefing that China has the best names for policy projects. So this one where they’re banning waste is called Operation Green Fence. It has a sub-operation called National Sword. Which sounds incredible!

IK: Maybe we should be more creative with our policy names.

JG: Really ambiguous.

IK: Industrial Strategy could be called ‘Blazing Triumph’…

JG: We need more ambition in our policy projects. ‘Operation World Domination’. …Maybe tone that down.

IK: It would certainly be more colourful. Get the public more engaged with…

JG: Waste policy. Goijng onto the other highlights from Daily News related to this, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee has accused the government of dragging its feet on implementing the plastic bottle deposit scheme.

IK: I love the deposit scheme.

JG: It’s such a good idea.

IK: When I was a kid we had it in some states in the US, and I can remember going around looking for bottles that I could exchange for nickels or just 5 cents. It was great. And then in Finland, where I have a  lot of family, they have a deposit scheme there as well and it’s great. People just take their bag of empties to any store and they will give you money off your purchase, or cash. It’s not tonnes of money but it’s pretty cool.

JG: It’s enough to incentivise, the same way as the plastic bag charge has. The government’s been accused by MPs of dragging its feet on this. Meanwhile, some of the coffee chains have basically taken up the mantle.

IK: Yes, a charge on disposable cups.

JG: I think they see the way this is going.

IK: Apparently that’s a massive amount of waste, and they’re really impossible to recycle because they’ve got some kind of film over the paper.

JG: I always wondered – it’s paper, but it doesn’t leak.

IK: It’s got a plastic film on it, which makes it almost impossible to recycle because you have to recycle plastics and paper separately. I think in the olden days – ten years ago! – they had a waxy thing which you could melt off. I could be making that up.

JG: When I was younger I did some work experience at a big engineering company, and I was tasked with doing an environmental audit of their products to see how easily they could be broke down and recycled. It was absolutely fascinating, because you never think of products in terms of how they break them apart when they’re not being used anymore. Things like ‘flocking’, which is a spray-on textured material which is impossible to get off. It makes it impossible to recycle the material that has been flocked. Going back to service design and design principles, end-to-end design, thinking that through…

IK: Germany’s been great on this. They’ve been saying that with industrial products, you have to think about the end of life use and how you can break it apart and re-use or recycle the bits. It’s been going on almost 30 years, and yet it’s just not something we think about.

JG: It’s all a negative externality.

IK: Ah, that Masters in Economics!

JG: On the good news front, Enfield has decided to trial using melted plastic bottles combined with asphalt as a road surface. Going back to what we’re going to do with all this recycling that we can’t send to China, what an excellent idea. Allegedly this will make it more immune from potholes because it’s a tougher material.

IK: That’s cool. So in London, streets will no longer be paved with gold but…

JG: Paved with rubbish!

IK: Actually, if you look around, that’s often what it seems like in London…

JG: But this will be by design.

IK: So what else has been in the news?

Daily News highlights

JG: We’ve got some long-awaited updates on devolution. Dorset councils have agreed a merger from 9 councils down to 2 unitaries, so that’s a big deal. As a lot of areas who put in devolution bids will know, these decisions have been quite long-awaited. It’s good to see some movement on this. All that work which went into the bids hasn’t necessarily been in vain.

IK: Believe it or not, I was talking with my boyfriend about this last night. About local government boundary changes.

JG: I thought this was the kind of topic that we said in the last podcast you used to put people off?

IK: He’s a keeper, obviously! Just given the fact that he’ll put up with this and actually ask follow-on questions. We were talking about redrawing boundaries, and I was saying ‘you know, there’s some things we need to respect like a sense of place, and historical boundaries’ which is really interesting in terms of what else what we’ve been up to.

JG: Of course. Our colleague Janet Sillett, who does our briefings, has published an excellent long read on identity, communities and regeneration, which is part of her series f work on a sense of place. This is looking at why we should be focusing on a holistic view of the community, how the physical environment affects mental and physical health and outcomes, sustainable transport and all of those things which are so integral to making a community a community.

IK: A couple of the big takeaways for me on this one: it is quite a philosophical piece as well as a practical piece. There’s lots of mentions of poetry in it. But how connected people feel to an area can have a lot to do with how connected they feel with the history, how the history is talked about. So with historical counties like Dorset, it’s important to think about maintaining that county sense of identity – if it’s important to the people there. I have never lived in Dorset so I don’t know. But that kind of sense of where you’re from, and how you see yourself and that area – it’s been really interesting for me because obviously I’m not from around here. But I’ve lived in London for a good portion of my adult life, I really feel like a Londoner…

JG: It’s hard to dissect why that is. I’m not from London originally but I definitely feel like a Londoner. There’s something that makes you feel like it’s partly yours. It’s very hard to put your finger on it.

IK: Whatever it is, whatever that juice is, that’s the kind of thing that you want to create in your own local area. Or not create – but cultivate. All of the local government services really play a role in that. So everything from planning to sports and leisure provision to cultural services. Cultural services are really important to a place of identity.

JG: And it’s something that people want to be involved in. If it’s a recognisable piece of their identity, it’s much easier to get people involved in the decisions that affect their location. It’s a lot easier to cultivate that.

IK: Absolutely. If you feel a part of it, then you want to volunteer and engage more. So a little bit more devolution news as well…

JG: Yes, One Yorkshire has 18 of 20 councils agreeing to a devolution deal.

IK: This has been a long time coming.

JG: Oh yes. I don’t know who the remaining two are… we probably should know that! I think they were meeting yesterday with the Secretary of State to discuss this. All of the MPs, all of the Council Leaders – to hopefully get a mayoral election within the next two years.

IK: Too late for this year. There’s a part of the country that has a strong sense of place.

JG: And arguably, that’s why it’s taken so long. Because people are fighting over their identity.

IK: It’s important.

JG: Our tradition of ending on a high… I’ve got one and Ingrid’s got one. Mine is Cambridge have introduced a driverless bus trial. Which is really cool.

IK: …is it? It scares me a little bit.

JG: Does it! Well, I suppose I’m very wary of driverless cars, but at the same time I also know how difficult it is to get around in rural areas, so if they can have more driverless buses doing rural routes, that would be brilliant. That’s the angle I was taking on that. I’m also extremely wary of robots taking over and driverless buses crashing into me.

IK: I for one welcome our new robot overlords.

JG: If you’re listening… which they definitely are. And yours is more obviously uplifting?

IK: I think this is wonderful. This is the time of year when potholes start appearing. I could go into the whole freeze-thaw mechanism which creates potholes, but I will not do that. I find it fascinating, others don’t. But we have a guy who is a vigilante pothole fixer. That’s how he describes himself. His name is Reg. He’s a retired builder and he’s just going around and fixing potholes. He does it both from a sense of ‘well, it’s something to do’, but also he says ‘the council hasn’t got the money to do it, so I just decided to do it myself’. He’s doing it from Newton Abbot in Devon. He’s just got some gear and he’s doing it. The one thing that does concern me is that he says that he’s got a pledge to fix any pothole in his area within an hour of it being reported.

JG: I hope people are testing him on that.

IK: Calling up at two in the morning and saying ‘Reg! Get up!’

JG: Poor Reg. He needs his sleep. I think that’s great.

IK: It is great. But Devon County Council says, look, we’re fixing around 400 potholes a day through the regular mechanism. But I like the community spirit and they’re applauding Reg and thanking him for his help to the community.

JG: It doesn’t seem like there’s any ill will between them. It’s lovely.

IK: It’s great – fix up those holes. So long as you’re not filling up the holes with rubbish you can’t send to China.

JG: Well, you could be.

IK: They could be infilled.

JG: It’s a perfectly legitimate way of disposing of rubbish now.

End of section

JG: That’s all we’ve got time for today. We hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. Please do get in touch – we’d love to hear what you think, and suggestions for future episodes. We can be reached by tweeting @LGiU, or emailing info@lgiu.org.uk, or visiting the website (lgiu.org.uk). If you’d like to subscribe, you can either do so via the podcast app on iTunes – it can be found under LGiU fortnightly – or you can listen via SoundCloud, at LGiU Fortnightly as well.

IK: Some of the things we’re going to be addressing in the next few weeks are local elections, and we’re also going to be introducing some other members of the LGiU team as hosts of LGiU fortnightly.

JG: Very exciting!

IK: So it won’t just be me and Jen. You’ll get to hear the whole crew.

JG: If you want to find out more about any of the stories we’ve mentioned, any of the briefings, get in touch. If you’re not a member, be a member! Then you can read them all.

IK: And many other great benefits!

JG: We’ll see you next time.

IK: Thanks for listening.