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Sunday, 29 August 2010

Tunnelling to freedom

Last week I had a coffee with a couple of senior public sector managers. Enthusiasts of 'Big Society' they had long held plans to take their whole department out of the organisation to create a dynamic social enterprise. With several hundred staff and many vulnerable service users, this is no small step. However the plan is robust and the benefits plain to see. A new organisation, focused entirely on meeting the changing needs of its service users, flexible enough to adapt, collaborate and innovate. Free of the crushing bureaucracy that so often stifles creativity in the public sector.

A bold timetable for devolution has been created and the plan is widely supported. However, in the public sector, things have to be done by the 'rules' and change is never rapid. What does this mean? Well the timetable has already been scuppered because of the infrequency of meetings at which the plan can be discussed and approved by the people at the top.

I'm reminded of that very unhelpful tactic employed so often by those in the public sector faced with unwelcome change. They simply slow the process to the point at which it stalls, or those behind it just give up and leave the organisation.

My friend described taking her organisation out of the authority as 'tunnelling under the wire'. Isn't it a shame that those manning the watchtowers, patrolling the fence and setting free the dogs are actually on the same side? I've promised to encourage community groups to start tunnelling in from the outside, hopefully to meet those escaping half way.

Are you ready to start digging in to your County Hall to set free the social entrepreneurs being held almost against their will? Go on, I dare you!

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