I first gave this talk as part of New Local’s Next Generation Academy, joining for their first session, “The Fully Virtual Council”. It feels particularly relevant now, considering recent news about the future of remote council meetings.
In the early weeks of this year, I shared this article from Margaret Heffernan at the University of Bath, called “Prepare for Surprises” around FutureGov leadership and with the wider team. Margaret's article is all about how we can work and think in new ways to plan for a complex and constantly changing world. Spoiler: it means flexibility, open-mindedness, responsiveness and curiosity.
When New Local asked me to join their first Next Generation Academy, it seemed like perfect reading to share with a group of future leaders.
We need to move away from the notion that we can forecast things in a complex world. Instead, we need to be much better at sensing and responding to the world as it changes around us.
I should confess up front that I don't believe a fully virtual council would be my ideal answer to this vision. But we should recognise how much more inclusive and accessible some services have become because they’re online. You don’t have to physically go to a council building to sign a form anymore. Virtual is a means, not an end to delivering better outcomes for communities.
The council as a platform
The pandemic forced us all to try new and virtual ways of delivering services, technologies and ways of operating. But also for many, we’ve been presented with a real opportunity to rapidly progress new approaches that would normally have taken years, if not decades, to introduce. All of which has resulted in more effective public services.
As leaders, it’s helpful to reflect on what a vision for a fully virtual council might look like, as we think about how our organisations, behaviours and mindsets need to change in this hybrid world. When imagining a fully virtual council, I found it useful to take a step back and reflect on a piece of work we did with Bristol Council a few years ago. To help them think about their vision for Bristol as a place, we imagined the council as a platform.