As FutureGov passes its 18 month anniversary, I’ve recently been spending my quieter moments contemplating where next for FutureGov.
Over time the team has shifted slightly, from me as a one man band in 2008, to bringing in Justin Kerr-Stevens and Michelle Lyons at the start of the year followed by challenger and changer Carrie Bishop and technical guru Kalv Sandhu. Now back to three, with Justin and Michelle keen to pursue related interests beyond FutureGov HQ but very much still within the FutureGov family, we continue to learn as we go and hone our focus.
Outwardly we talk about being focused on “Digital Democracy” and “Public service transformation”, which in both our hearts and the hearts of the wider FutureGov family means a passion for better government, rebalancing the role and power of the state to one that better empowers individuals to self-organise and work with government as just one partner in making the world better for them.
There is a good deal FutureGov can be proud of in what we’ve achieved so far:
- Pioneering work in government, painting a picture of the possible in places such as Barnet
- Committing to social innovation, constructively disrupting the status quo without government as well as within – from Enabled by Design to AccessCity and others besides
- Working with business to apply the best in private sector practice to social issues, from Jobs Go Public and 6Consulting to Huddle and Headshift
- Providing constructive criticism and offering support, from everyday twitterings to more lengthy think pieces as well as running a number of high profile events
In everything we have achieved so far, what I find that we have in common with the people we most like to work is an understanding that technology is merely one lever for change, one part of a far bigger and more complex jigsaw.
Of course technology that is built and implemented effectively can transform public services and the relationship between those institutions and their citizens – and fast. It can distribute power outwards, increasing exponentially the capacity of the state to deliver public value with and for its people.
But where we are most passionate, where our true focus lies, is in the process of change itself. Technology is merely a tool. It is nothing in and of itself. Instead it is the strategy that it supports, the relationships it enables, the connections it creates and the impact on the real lives that people lead that are what matters most to us.
Given this, what I am perhaps most proud of is the network of which we are just one part, and the power of that network to inspire change far greater than FutureGov alone could ever hope to make. From social innovators such as the Social Innovation Camp, the RSA and thinkpublic, to people leading the charge in government such as Barnet Council, London Councils and the State Department in the US, we have achieved exciting things in and of ourselves but never without the support and commitment of a network of change makers. We are one part of a FutureGov family (a family now so large that I am not able to mention you all by name here but I hope you know who you are).
Despite (perhaps because of) this, through all of our journey so far, I have felt uncomfortable with just one thing. Our URL. Well, more specifically the word ‘consultancy’. Yes, of course we are a (tiny) consultancy, offering our day rate services. But it has been a tricky transition at times for both Carrie and I in particular having both left government in the last year or two. Never did we set out to become consultants by name, rather we sought the freedom to effect change on a far wider scale than merely in one organisation, flexible enough to make use of our collective skills for maximum positive social impact (hat tip to my time with the RSA for that phrase).
It was this feeling, and the FutureGov family values of openness, collaboration and sharing among others, that in part led us to launch the FutureGov Network site (built by Kalv’s fair hands) with the intention of providing a space for like and not so like-minded government and social innovators to gather, to share their thinking and to learn from one another.
We have had mixed success in bringing our Twitter and offline networks to the site, on the one hand recently achieving over 100 members with fascinatingly wide and diverse interests, and on the other it has been a little tricky at times to get people sharing. But this is normal with any online community I remind myself and a step in the right direction away from the more corporate feel of the FutureGov blog – blogs have their place but they also have their limits. In the Network, we now have an (emerging) space for more networked interaction rather than merely a publisher/commenter relationship.
We will never entirely get away from the fact that we are an external provider of services to government as well as social innovators in our own right, but there is no doubt that the world is changing, with people better understanding that public value is not only best delivered from the corridors of Whitehall or Town Halls nor can innovation be bought through traditional procurement processes. Since leaving local government two years ago, despite leaving my heart there in many respects, I have undoubtedly gone through that journey myself, recognising the need for diverse perspectives from individuals not defined by bureaucratic badges but rather passion, knowledge and interest.
FutureGov Network is a small step in the right direction, built with change in mind and constantly looking for feedback on ideas for improvement, providing us with a means to convene and share our network of intelligent, enthusiastic and inspirational individuals.
Above all to FutureGov this feels more like the family home we have been looking for. One that better reflects our values and our thinking. And one that can showcase the phenomenal collective intelligence of the FutureGov family.
So where next? Well more of the same for FutureGov. We have some interesting and exciting work on the cards in the Autumn ranging from digital democracy to public service improvement and social innovation, no doubt working with many of you on much of it.
Talking of the FutureGov family… Going forward, the Network, as with anything of its kind, will be what we all want to make it. FutureGov will continue to meet amazing and interesting people on our travels and look to bring them together to listen and learn from one another with or without a website. However if you would like to use the website, we will continue to listen to your thoughts on how to develop it in a way that supports your conversations. We will match any efforts you put in. We will do our bit to make change happen. This stuff really matters to us and we know it matters to you too.
So who’s in?