We need to recruit and reward for generic skills as well as technical expertise

skills2

The rising awareness of the ‘emotion work’ of public service, and the ways in which effective public service requires boundary spanning, highlights the need for a generic skill set – very different from the technical skill set which has been valued in public services in the past. So-called ‘soft skills’ around communication, organisation and caring are becoming more important. Davidson writes about ‘twenty-first century literacies’ – interpersonal skills (facilitation, empathy, political skills); synthesising skills (sorting evidence, analysis, making judgements, offering critique and being creative); organising skills for group work, collaboration and peer review, and communication skills, making better use of new media and multi-media resources.

A recent survey of public service employers by Hays found that employers valued these ‘soft skills’ as highly as technical skills when recruiting new staff. However, there remains a need for what might be termed ‘hard’ skills around contracting and decommissioning. What is distinctive about these skills, perhaps, is not the distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ but between the techno-professional and the generic cross-sectoral. As one interviewee for our research put it, ‘We need more skills as the council becomes smaller – not just professional skills but facilitators, good questioners, coaches.’

These more generic skills demand new types of integrated skills training. However, higher education and other training and development and support continues to offer highly specialised and professional pathways that lead to particular professional qualifications. Post-qualification training remains focused on particular sectors. Those courses which look cross-sectorally tend to be leadership programmes (e.g. the Local Vision programme). There is a tendency to assume that public service careers are linear and specialised and therefore predictable.

A number of interviewees talked of the need to recruit staff differently; focusing more on values and behaviours than experience. ‘In recruitment we ask for the easy things, experience of delivering a housing repair service, knowledge-based things. And maybe it is more about asking about innovation – how have they changed a culture, impacted on a policy, introduced a new idea’. Traditional public sector recruitment methods and processes were seen by some interviewees as limiting the diversity of the type of person who might join the public sector ‘We are working to deliberately try and put articles out into different parts of the media to capture a broader range of people. We won’t be advertising in the MJ [Municipal Journal] because we don’t just want local government people.

The greater use of headhunting was suggested by some third sector interviewees as a way to increase diversity and enhance recruitment to values: ‘It is about seeing the people in other contexts and headhunting them. That’s what they do in the private sector’.

People suggested that we need to move beyond rigid national pay arrangements and job evaluation schemes that reward and promote people based on the size of the budget they manage or the number of people in their team. There was a recognition from most interviewees that management skills were lacking in public service and that these skills are not valued through the incentive systems: ‘Most people that get promoted – yes they want more responsibility but not necessarily more responsibility for managing people, it’s wanting more financial responsibility or they want more money.’

Moving away from rigid HR practices was seen by many to be the way to facilitate a more agile workforce. However others referred to how the traditional incentives that made the public sector attractive, such as good pensions, stable employment and guaranteed progression were being undermined which could have an impact on the sector’s ability to attract high quality people in future. Alongside innovative recruitment practices the sector will want to ensure that they are able to attract the ‘brightest and the best’ with the skills to act as effective public servants.

There was a consistent view from interviewees that to attain a different mix of skills in the workforce it is vital to involve HR teams in the debate about future workforce at both a strategic and operational level. Several interviewees suggested that current HR practices are too rigid to enable a flexible and agile workforce, or to provide organisations with the skills they need when they need them. Others suggested that we need to translate the strategic picture into something that HR professionals doing the recruitment can understand.

We would be interested to hear views from our HR colleagues!

Davidson C. So last century Times Higher Education. 2011(28th April):32-6

Being a 21st Century Public Servant at a cooperative council

Adrian Smith is Commissioning Director for the London Borough of Lambeth. Here he reflects on how public service careers at Lambeth are changing

“Lambeth is a cooperative council, using a cooperative commissioning cycle to transform the way we help communities achieve the outcomes that matter most to them.

Like many Council’s we’ve been on a whole systems transformation over the last 2 years, and it genuinely feels as though we’re a different organisation and working in a very different way. Transformation journeys always look neater when looking back, in truth we’ve had to pioneer a lot of what we’ve done, we are after all working in unprecedented times.

We’ve consistently held to our cooperative principles – rebalancing the relationship between citizen and state, building community and individual resilience, seeing people for the strengths and assets not the challenges they face, and focusing on outcomes not traditional services or silos.

To achieve this we needed to take the old organisation apart, unlearn lots of traditional ways of operating, and build new systems, processes, policies and procedures. A new more fluid structure also sat at the heart of our transformation, but as ‘culture eats strategy (and structure) for breakfast’ we knew we’d need more that just system changes.

The introduction of a ‘cooperative behaviours’ competency framework (now used for everything from recruitment to appraisal) was pivotal. The framework was of course co-produced and sets out that ‘working collaboratively with integrity’, being ‘politically astute’, being ‘citizen focused’ and ‘committed to the Borough’ amongst other behaviours are just as important as being skilled or knowledgeable in a particular field or service area.

Fortunately we already had some excellent commissioning practice on which to build; now we needed to build a ‘Commissioning Cluster’ that brought together commissioning functions from across the whole organisation.

To bring cooperative commissioning fully to life, we needed to recruit. This posed us several challenges. Who are the cooperative commissioners of the future, what values and motivations will they have, what behaviours will they exhibit, what skills and experience should they bring. It’s no surprise that the 21st Century Public Servant commission has been of such interest.

We’ve created new commissioning roles that incorporate many of the roles set out by the commission – our Lead Commissioners for example are expected to look at ‘total resource allocation’ bringing resources such as community capacity, capital and assets, information and knowledge or leverage and influence into the commissioning cycle as well as revenue or cash. Our Associate Directors are creating compelling visions of how public services in our borough can work together with communities to broker new ways of helping people ‘be healthier for longer’ or ‘live environmentally sustainable lives’. Our ‘Senior Commissioning Officers’ are not just redesigning systems, but transforming them, weaving together public, private and voluntary/community sector for place or outcome.

Building this new commissioning cluster has certainly not been without its challenges.

We found recruiting people from outside the organisation with the right behaviours and skills into commissioning roles particularly challenging for outcomes not related to health and social care. Too few potential candidates were able to express the potential of commissioning for ‘place’ and other outcomes.

We’ve chosen to ‘grow our own’ and we’re reaping the benefits of that, but we’ve not seen the sector or learning and development market grasp the need to build the capacity of our future workforce and prepare current and future public servants for the new roles that Councils are creating. We’ve found too little focus on leadership and helping people think differently. Many potential candidates are fully proficient in talking about ‘what’ they do, but too few were able to explain ‘how’.

Local public servants are so often in the media wrapped in negative stories, but I’m a proud public servant. I can see the need now more than ever for passionate, locally minded, entrepreneurial and resilient officers to feel that there is a valued career with progression on offer for them. The sector can still do more to promote this and retain or attract the talent we need.

There’s still a long way to go on our journey in Lambeth. It does however feel as though our approach fits with the new emerging paradigm for public services rather than the old. I’m really proud to say we’ve recruited the vast majority of our new commissioners from inside the organisation, but that also sends an important message to the sector. We’ve created a flexible structure that should help us nurture and harness the talent sitting in our commissioning cluster; it feels as though the future is bright!!”

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to be 21st Century teacher and school leader?

As part of a series of blogs on the role of trade unions in 21st Century Public Service, to coincide with the TUC conference, Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT  told Catherine Needham how he views the workforce challenges of the future:

Patrick Roach

“One of the themes of the 21st Century Public Servant research is about the nature of leadership in our public services. Whilst across many parts of the public sector, and indeed, in the commercial sector, the importance of collaborative forms of leadership is recognised and encouraged, ‘heroic’ leadership approaches are writ large across the schools system. Not only is more and more expected of head teachers, but it is the nature of school leadership practice that is also being changed as a result of coalition government reforms. In recent years, headteachers have been told that they are “captains of their ship”, that they should “man up”, be “robust” and “authorative” in their management of staff and to adopt the Sinatran “my way” mantra.

“The hit and run nature of school accountability, coupled with increasing freedom and autonomy given to schools, means that the span of control of headteachers has increased substantially, and this has changed the role and work of headteachers markedly. Increasingly, as headteachers assume the role of Executive Headteachers – leading a group of schools – they are increasingly distant from the actual day to day practice of teaching and learning. Many parents today would be surprised that few headteachers today engage directly in classroom teaching. But, we should also be concerned that the professional nature of headship is also being undermined – as headteachers become de facto Chief Executive Officers rather than leaders of teaching and learning. Some headteachers will admit that this is not why they became headteachers in the first place. The fact that there are no national professional standards for headteachers and no requirement for headteachers to hold any professional qualifications (including qualified teacher status) exacerbates our concerns about the purpose of current education reforms and the consequences of these reforms on children and young people.

“The impact on teachers is increasingly clear as teachers’ workloads and working hours have spiralled out of control. Teacher burnout is a major issue and the coercive ‘managerialist’ climate in our school system, underpinned by a high-stakes inspection and accountability regime, is proving to be off-putting to many teachers who might otherwise have considered moving into school leadership roles.

“The NASUWT annual ‘Big Question’ survey of teachers has tracked the experiences of teachers since 2010. It shows year on year increases in teacher stress and teachers feeling less and less valued and respected as professionals. 56 per cent of teachers in the 2014 survey said they are seriously considering quitting teaching for good. It is only the state of the wider economy and the post-graduate labour market that has prevented a recruitment and retention crisis. But, we should be clear – without a change of policy direction, our schools are on the brink of a crisis in the supply of teachers.

“The generic and relational skills of 21st Century public service are what teaching has always been about. Good teachers have always known the importance of collaboration and collegiate working and the moral purpose of education. But, much of this is being undone as a result of recent government reforms, including the imposition of divisive new arrangements for discretionary ‘performance pay’ for teachers. Teachers want to make a difference by improving the lives of children and young people. That motivation was nurtured and developed through initial teacher education programmes in universities. Universities enabled teachers to explore and learn from theoretical and empirical models that underpin effective pedagogy, including understanding child psychology, behavioural theories and the importance of reflexive practices. But, as part of an ideological attack on public education, since 2010 the coalition government has mounted an assault on teacher quality which has included the removal of the requirement for schools to employ qualified teachers and dumbing down quality by undermining university-led initial teacher education through its School Direct programme.

“The NASUWT, as the largest teachers’ union in the UK, is resisting these attacks. Of course, the assault on public education is manifesting itself differently across each of the four UK nations. Organising teachers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England enables the NASUWT to resist these attacks more effectively.

“The creative and intelligent use of industrial action short of strike action plays a critical part of our strategy to defend the teaching profession. And, as our industrial strategies have proven to be highly effective, government has sought to attack the existence of unions also, including through provocative guidance issued to schools and local authorities to seek to reduce the provision of trade union facilities time. This is not merely an attack on unions, but an attack on local democracy, an attempt to silence the voices of teachers, and must be seen as part of an overall strategy to reduce rights at work and to deny access to justice to working people if they are discriminated against, abused or injured at work.

“These attacks are also antithetical to securing high education standards. As other leading nations attending the OECD/Education International Summit on the Teaching Profession confirm, collegiality and cooperation, social dialogue and respect for workers’ rights and trade union rights are critical to having the best education systems on the planet.”

 

Listen to the front-line, and that doesn’t just mean professionals

Heather Wakefield

As the TUC meets in Liverpool, Heather Wakefield (Head of Local Government, Police and Justice for UNISON) gives her thoughts on the 21st Century Public Servant:

I have been very pleased and privileged to take part in a couple of stimulating round tables on the 21st Century Public Servant. What public service workers do, how public money is spent and the experience of service users – in what sadly does look like becoming an era of ‘perma-austerity’ – is one of the critical issues of our time and central to my job as Head of Local Government, Police and Justice at UNISON. All public service workers are sadly becoming “stewards of scarce public resources”.

So too of course is the fight for economic and social justice, a much fairer distribution of wealth, adequate levels of public funding , the best possible use of public money and, above all, decent treatment and a productive working life for UNISON members – whether ‘front-line’, Chief Executives or middle managers. These issues too are critical to the role of the 21st Century Public Servant. In other words, the values and politics within which this debate takes place really do matter.

Some of the key questions raised by the project are not new – particularly to women’s and disabled peoples’ organisations, the black community, older people, the unemployed and LGBT groups who have all been engaged for decades and longer in the struggle to ensure that childcare, transport, housing, care and education meet the specific needs of diverse populations, that the voices of users are listened to and acted upon and that resources are fairly allocated. Listening to their experience and learning from it is a must.

Ironically, the fight for services which were affordable, enabled equal access to education, transport and the labour market and recognised the unique role of women as mothers and carers found its most ready listener in the GLC and what became branded the ‘loony left’ Labour councils of the 70’s and 80’s.

That’s not to say that every municipal response was the best or most effective imaginable, but there was a genuine attempt to recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ model of service delivery was definitely not hitting everyone’s spot. Projects like Haringey Women’s Employment Project worked with school meals workers on more effective means of producing healthy food, while being properly rewarded for the job. Properly resourced Co-op Development Agencies explored new delivery models and adequately funded pensioners’ organisations generated local support networks for the isolated elderly.

The response of my (then) union NUPE to CCT – Compulsory Competitive Tendering – and market testing in the NHS in the 1980’s was not just to oppose an ideological experiment with manual women workers’ lives and essential public services: it was to get stuck in with councils and hospitals in the drawing up of specifications and tenders to ensure that the ‘human’ side of jobs which meant most to users was not lost. In the event, privatised hospital cleaning meant no time for the ward cleaner to chat with patients, do their hair, make them tea and even nip out to place their bets! Services were de-humanised and women’s pay and conditions were slashed.

It is vital that this very important debate about the role of the 21st Century Public Servant tells it like it is and is based on:

  • The assumption that we must all strive for the best possible use of precious public money. Even in ‘good’ times, there is always unmet need which should be identified and responded to.
  •  A rigorous assessment of the history and experience of outsourcing to the private and voluntary sectors. So far there is ample evidence of cheaper and fragmented service delivery, cost-cutting, wage decline, absence of pensions and training, healthy profit margins and even fraud – but is there real evidence of service improvement? Certainly not in home care, where service is poor and many workers eke out a living below the Minimum Wage. If there is, what can we learn from it? If not, what are the messages about optimum use of public money?
  • The views of service users, front-line workers, senior ‘leaders’ and elected members about the genuine deficiencies of public services and what is needed to make them more fit for purpose. At present, the vast, accumulated knowledge and experience of front-line workers about what works and what doesn’t is rarely excavated and far less taken seriously. New Labour’s fatal assumption of ‘provider capture’ prevented radical adventures in more responsive in-house service delivery and simply passed public money to the market.
  • A belief that ‘career building’ is not confined to so-called ‘professionals’ – by whom I assume to be graduates with traditional career expectations. Investment in training, experiments in collaborative working across established boundaries and space for innovative practice cannot just be the prerogative of ‘the professionals’. Innovation must be bottom-up as well as top down. Currently, per capita spend on training in local government falls well below £200 a year and 90% of that is spent on managers. What chance a new direction for the front- line?
  • A scrutiny of the appropriateness and effectiveness of existing governance and lay leadership of public services. In local government, big questions must be asked about the profile of elected members and their ability to represent the views of local communities and understand their needs: over 60% of councillors are white men, aged over 60. Meanwhile 78% of the workforce are women and our population is increasingly diverse. The absence of user voice within the NHS also requires urgent action.
  • Acceptance that the way all parts of the workforce are treated will be critical to loyalty, commitment, willingness to innovate, pride in the job and advocacy of the employer. Pushing public service pay and conditions into the ground and hacking away at professional autonomy is unlikely to lead to new thinking and collaborative leadership.

 

 

What kind of career path will a 21st Century public servant have?

career

Theme #5: The 21st Century Public Servant builds a career which is fluid across sectors and services

The fifth theme from our research focuses on the career trajectory of the 21st Century public servant. For many people working in public services a new kind of career path is emerging, far removed from the traditional ‘job for life’ that was seen to characterise some parts of the public sector in the past. As one interviewee put it, ‘People will have portfolio careers, working in different sectors, working for different people at the same time, not just sequentially. It’s not a job for life, or even for 5 years.’   One interviewee described it as a zigzag career path rather than the traditional linear one where people moved up the hierarchy.

For some of the interviewees this portfolio career was felt to be a euphemism for race-to-the-bottom employment practices in public service organisations that were rapidly shrinking in response to austerity (‘The weekly sound of handclapping for another leaving do’). However for others, there was a positive aspect to having a career which took in a number of different organisations and sectors. There was a recognition that in a complex delivery context public servants need to have a better understanding of the cultures and motivations of other agencies who have roles in achieving outcomes for citizens: ‘If you’ve had couple of roles in commissioning, you need to experience life on the provider side, support service or central service – get different perspective and get broader experience.’ People’s willingness to consider working in different sectors, or experience of having done so already confirms Lewis empirical work with third sector leaders, many of whom lacked ‘an explicitly “sectored” perspective on their careers’ .[i]

Several local authority respondents talked about the benefits of working in other parts of public services and in particular the third and private sectors which gave them an insight into different cultures. People in the third sector spoke of the value of encouraging more local authority workers to experience other sectors: ‘The local authority has a particular problem in that because they are historically and culturally established institutions they get a lot of people who are used to one culture. Who could be developed to step outside of that? There is less of that in the third sector, funding comes and goes and people are more mobile. It is useful for the third sector to get into the local authority and see the whites of their eyes.’   Likewise, local authority respondents talked about the importance of bringing in people with private sector experience to help with procurement – one interviewee referred to it as a poacher turned gamekeeper approach.

Participants also spoke about the benefits of working across boundaries, and how people could be better supported to do this:

I’ve learned a huge amount by having crossed over into the private sector from local government. I would do my old job in a much different way with the skills and experience I’ve learned. I don’t see enough of the skills I’ve acquired in my current role being applied in the public sector. The private sector can learn from the public sector as well as vice versa. I brought some skills to my current role that many of my peers who have never worked in the public sector haven’t got, and in particular around working in a political environment.

Creating a shared understanding of other sectors and organisations would create ‘more understanding and more mutual respect’, as one interviewee put it.

A willingness to look across boundaries to other parts of public services was evident within the survey of recent graduate entrants to local government that we conducted as part of the research. Although a third saw themselves working solely within local government in five years time, 27% saw themselves working in the wider public sector, and 10% saw themselves in different delivery vehicles, such as social enterprises.[ii]

In these conversations with people working in different sectors interviewees talked of the importance of high trust, partnership and collaboration between public, private and third sectors, but retained low levels of trust in each other in practice. Government was characterised as ‘centralised’, ‘controlling’, ‘patronising’; the private sector as ‘a vehicle to make that profit’, the third sector as having too narrow a sense of mission. One third sector interviewee characterised government in this way:

At a strategic level, in terms of how to solve these problems, the [local authority managers] see this as entirely their responsibility, they want to control it, they wouldn’t want to get together with leaders from the third sector to think it through. The culture is still quite closed and controlling.

This low-trust environment is not one in which the public, private and third sectors appear to be able to work together under a common umbrella of public service.

If we are going down the privatisation of public services route then there’s going to be lots more partnerships between the third sector and the private sector. At the moment that’s a nightmare, there is a complete culture clash. But they are going to need to understand each other better…and challenge the stereotypes about each other.

Whilst mobility across sectors may be one way to build trust and credibility, a number of interviewees highlighted the scope for learning from other sectors through job shadowing and secondments rather than formal changes of employer.

Sabbaticals and secondments were seen as useful tools for sharing learning and gaining exposure to other organisational cultures: ‘Where I have gained most has been being located in those organisations. There needs to be structured placement opportunities of some significant length with requirement to be reflective, and some tasks as part of that. Experiential stuff is the best. Interviewees also referred to coaching, mentoring, shadowing and action learning as effective ways of developing new skills, as well as networks and relationships across the organisation and more widely:

We train people into their role too much. We don’t do any real training and development. We need more work shadowing, but with a structure. It doesn’t need to cost a lot. We need to get people working across the council with partners, not just within directorates and services. Managers need to do a lot more developing as part of PDR process.

Work Shadowing

One example of such a scheme, praised by our interviewees, is the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ A Day in the Life programme of paired secondments between the civil service and the voluntary sector. http://www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/cross-sector-working/work-shadow-scheme. This is a four day work shadowing programme which provides participants with the opportunity to see the commissioning landscape from the other perspectives.

[i] Lewis, D. (2008) ‘Using life histories in social policy research: the case of third sector/public sector boundary crossing’, Journal of Social Policy, 37(4): 559–78 – cited in Macmillan, R. (2010) ‘Distinction’ in the Third Sector, Birmingham: Third Sector Research Centre, p. 9.

[ii] The survey was sent to participants on two cohorts of the National Graduate Development Programme for Local Government. It was an online survey using Survey Monkey software. The figures cited here are based on 54 respondents.

Giant Steps in Public Management?

Henry Kippin from Collaborate writes about the ‘improvising organisation’.

I am clearly not pulling up any trees by stating that New Public Management as a framework for policy and practice in public services has probably had its day. Academics like Patrick Dunleavy and Christopher Hood have already written the obituaries, and a cursory glance at any one of several articles from the likes of David Brooks, Matthew Taylor, Janan Ganesh or Jenni Russell show that creative thinkers from across the political spectrum are regularly exploring what comes next underneath the politics.

We are seeing existential new efforts to define what a ‘future public servant’ should be and do – from contributors as diverse as universities, management consulting firms and the public sector itself. For Francis Maude et al, civil service reform lies squarely in this territory; though the pace of change has frustrated his government. For opposition thinkers like Jon Cruddas, the unresolved question of implementation looms large over an imaginative set of policies and ideas.

New public management techniques partly rely on certainty (or the illusion of it), and it is the lack of this – in the face of increasingly complex supply and demand challenges – that make the design of new approaches so hard. If the market and the metrics don’t work, then what should exist in their place? Different contexts and places will need different things. If performance management and compartmentalisation create perverse incentives, then how else can increasingly fragmented delivery chains be held to account? Increasingly localist rhetoric will need to be matched by a degree of letting go – and that means tearing up the rule book (green book?) in both central and local government.

I have become mildly obsessed with what the ‘new new’ public management could look like, and have been re-reading the literature on clumsy, adaptive, whole-systems and tri-sector leadership. All great and part of the mix of approaches, and all sympathetic to the notion that complex problems require a non-linear and nuanced form of solution. But as a governing philosophy, it turns out that jazz is hard to beat.

Was Sonny Rollins talking about commissioning when he said that “the most important thing is to get away from fixed functions”? When Miles Davis said that “if you are not making a mistake, its a mistake”, was he talking about user-led public service design? Err, no. But the ethos that provokes jazz musicians to struggle against structure and to improvise in truly collaborative ways can in some ways be translated into management thinking.

These quotes come from Frank Barrett’s book ‘Yes to the Mess’ which is a good read and a treat for anyone who likes a bit of Night In Tunisia with their Street-Level Bureaucracy. His prescription ? The ‘improvising organisation’, which may be impossible in (statutory) practice but aspirational and very current in tone and feel. Try this:

“The improvising organisation would create fluid structures that form, dissolve, and reform as new situations and challenges arise… People from different functionalities would talk to one another regularly, sharing insights and expertise as the situation demands. Wide-eyed expressions would be commonplace as insights popped up from unlikely places at unpredictable times and as workers arrived at new understanding through collaborative processes”.

21st century public organisations, professionals and academics: some ideas and thoughts

Sharon Squires from Sheffield First Partnership suggests ways in which public service can work more collaboratively to co-design new solutions.

As debates on the future of public services and programmes of public service reform gain momentum, early ideas around the future of public service organisations and the skills required by 21st century public servants are beginning to emerge. It is becoming clear that the public services of the future will need:
• to be collaborative, with a focus on issues and outcomes;
• to be place-based and place-relevant;
• to develop shared strategies and interventions that work across organisations and professions;
• to co-design and co-produce solutions with citizens and businesses; and
• to have the capacity to continuously innovate and be agile and adaptive.
But these skills are new for many organisations and public servants. Organisational cultures and practices have developed within tight silos and professions, operating within the New Public Management culture of targets, bureaucracy and individualism. Austerity means, unfortunately, that there is reducing capacity for organisations to ‘rethink’ their role and approaches.

Many of the ideas about the future of public services are therefore coming from think-tanks, academia and the private sector. At its best, this approach to co-producing new thinking and new models is hugely useful, and aggregates up effectively the experiences, thoughts, ideas and dilemmas of busy public servants. The 21st century public servant blog is an example of such an approach. However, at its worst, ideas developed outside public services can exploit public servants, using organisations and workers as research material but undertaking analysis and debate without their input.

The challenge is to find more effective ways for public services and those with greater analytical resource and capacity to work together. And this needs to be done at a local, regional and national level. Bringing academics, practitioners and political leaders together to discuss complex issues, such as:
• new models of governance generated by the devolution agenda; or
• collaborative leadership of cross-sector organisational change leading to; for example, integrated commissioning of social care; or
• how best to co-design solutions with communities;
can only be beneficial, sharing knowledge, evidence and ideas.

Whilst such an approach asks universities and academics to become more central to co-designing solutions, it also requires practitioners and political leaders to appreciate academic input as more central to considering options for new organisational and professional forms of the future.

Sharon Squires is Director of Sheffield First Partnership.