Now more than ever, we work alongside leaders who are committed to transforming their organisations and services, all with the aim of making the lives of residents and citizens better. Despite resources depleting at pace while social problems increase in scale and complexity.

Facing a global recession in the middle of a pandemic, we know this trend to do more with less will only continue. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed, but the leaders I know continue to portray the opposite. These are the people working with passionate teams and residents to reimagine their organisations, their services and their places, trying every day to support change in an age of huge uncertainty and change.

Unfortunately, we continue to see incremental change when we know that large scale, at pace change is needed. We’re maxed out on incremental change and the need for radical change is clear.

We have an opportunity ahead of us to set up a new model which seeds and keeps innovation firmly in the public realm. Using entrepreneurial approaches, we can work together to not only deliver better outcomes for citizens for less but ideate, create and build technology-driven, sustainable services that remain in public hands.

Rebooting public services for the 21st century

Conventional wisdom is that the private sector is best placed to drive radical change with its ecosystem of funders, appetite for risk and perceived ability to attract the best and brightest minds. In the private sector, digital companies have disrupted whole industries. Tech startups are usurping the incumbents, improving experiences and reducing costs before expanding and completely transforming the landscape around them.

We’re talking about the likes of Netflix who started a new model for movie rentals, turned streaming platform for TV and is now one of the world’s largest producers of media. Or Airbnb, which got its start renting a spare room and air mattress, turned one of the largest travel booking platforms and is now moving into building physical hotels and housing. Two organisations who saw an opportunity in a market, and have gone on to reinvent a full-stack service.

The entrepreneurial approach has driven rapid innovation in some fields, but private sector outsourcing for the public realm has rarely led to truly radical innovation. That doesn’t stop the practice, and profits remain in private hands. Old models of innovation, either internal and incremental or left to the private sector, aren’t working.

The public sector can, and does, drive innovation. And yet, we continue to see private profits take off from the runway of publicly funded innovation, the state receiving little of the financial reward for the private sector’s increased role in public service delivery.

There is not a single key technology behind the iPhone that has not been state-funded.

Mariana Mazzucato

We need a radically new model, which seeds and keeps innovation firmly in the public realm. We need entrepreneurial methods to create technology-driven services that deliver better outcomes for citizens for less and remain in public ownership.

We need public service entrepreneurialism for the internet age, taking the best of our current public services (public interest, accountability and scale) and blending it with an entrepreneurial mindset to leap our current model of local government into the 21st century.

Radically-disruptive public services

At the end of last year, we brought together a group of forward-thinking leaders in local government to ask a bold question: can local authorities work together to design greenfield, full-stack, ethical, scalable ventures that are better than current services and cost less?

Alongside eleven councils from across the UK, it was the beginning of an incubator for radically-disruptive public service ideas, owned and driven by public bodies.

We call this, the Institute of Impossible Ideas.

Working with local authorities and social entrepreneurs, we looked at the most pressing social challenges we currently face. Drawing from our collective years of experience, starting locally and thinking nationally, we wanted to co-design services that would save money in the short term and transform the system in the long term.

Together, we developed propositions for three digitally-native ventures with people at their centre, that aim for financial self-sufficiency within the first three to five years. These ventures will create a Minimum Viable Experience, creating an initial service to prove cost-savings are possible, build a full-stack service, replacing an entire cost centre of a local authority and challenge the wider system by breaking down silos and focusing on root causes.

Our first ventures are:

  • a digitally native social lettings agency, built to scale and building strong, trusted relationships between vulnerable tenants and landlords
  • a new way to provide a stable home for children through smart matching to find the right placement for children and families and support that makes it easy for caring people to become and continue as foster carers
  • a demand-driven health and wellbeing subscription platform, helping people build the relationships and access the services they need to stay strong, healthy and happy at any point in their lives

We’re asking you now to get involved. Join us on this journey to create radically-disruptive public services, driven by public entrepreneurs and owned by public bodies. Together, we can transform the system so that it works for the people and deliver truly impactful, sustainable change for decades to come.

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