IfG: improved knowledge sharing needed to boost public service integration

2 Aug 16

A more robust approach to public service integration, including increased sharing of both best practice and failures, is needed for such initiatives to be successful across the country, a review has found.

The analysis by the Institute for Government, published today, which makes a raft of recommendations to improve that sharing of learning among those delivering public services.

The report draws on insights from central and local government, service providers, professional bodies, national arm’s length bodies and the wider policy community.  

It found that more than 100 programmes and organisations already support learning across local services, in areas as health, education and crime. However, fewer than 10 of these focus on sharing learning around the integration of public services. According to the report, this reinforces silos instead of promoting collaboration, and described this as “a major gap that urgently needs filling.”

At present, those involved in the process of service integration often learn through informal approaches, such as personal networks or existing partnerships. While the report said this was an important way of finding out what was taking place in other areas, successful integration could not “rely solely on these chance encounters, which can easily be squeezed from the day job.”

The review called for more real-time learning from progress, challenges and setbacks. The authors describe a pervasive criticism of online case studies, conferences and national guidance based on ‘best practice’. In the main, these focus on showcasing success and promoting places, programmes and individuals. What would be more helpful, the report said, are frank discussions about what didn’t work, including the mistakes, pitfalls and difficulties faced along the way.

“People need opportunities to dig deeper into the messy reality of implementation,” the report stated. Face-to-face conversations were the best way to achieve this, as connecting people virtually, or uploading case studies did not allow for detailed discussions on what was happing ‘in the here and now’.

Jo Casebourne, programme director at the IfG, said: “Better collaboration between local organisations is crucial to improving public services. But those on the ground still don’t have the support they need. Particularly with money and resources so stretched, the government must invest properly and only fund programmes that we know actually work.”

According to the report Whitehall initiatives from do not always have the credibility and insight needed to make learning relevant to local priorities. Instead, they can be perceived as “performance management in disguise”, and prevented honest and purposeful discussions taking place.

Some key recommendations were made for Whitehall departments, arm’s-length bodies and regulators. The report encouraged sector- and peer-led models for learning, and suggested funding for existing programmes should focus on real-time learning from progress, challenges and setbacks.

Strong links should be maintained with what is happening on the ground, using these insights to tweak policy, regulatory, legislative and funding frameworks that are not working. The report observed that current moves toward devolution offer an opportunity to reset the central-local government relationship, and Whitehall was encouraged to listen more to lessons emerging from innovative approaches taking place in local areas.

The report also encourages local leaders to create open, outward-looking organisational cultures at all levels, encourage staff secondments and schemes that encourage “cross-fertilisation’ between organisations, and incentivise cross-sector learning by setting an expectation of working across multiple organisations during the course of a normal career.

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