As part of this project I am looking at the literature to see what it says about the kinds of roles that 21st century public servants will fulfil and the kinds of skills and support they will need to do this.
When you read the public management and public administration literature what you notice is that most articles agree that some sort of change is needed although it is less clear what sorts of roles public servants of the future might undertake. The argument typically goes that because government is doing different things (e.g. more contracting out, less provision, greater user control and so on) then public servants need to work in different ways. This will involve using different sorts of levers, mechanisms and forms of power to those that have been traditionally used.
Also, despite agreement that working across boundaries will be important there are very few discussions of what the roles of public servants might look like across public services. Discussions of roles and skills inevitably retreat back into disciplinary or organisational silos.
One exception is the University of Birmingham’s commission into the future of public services which suggested that four new roles will be important in the future:
• Storyteller – the ability to author and communicate stories of how new worlds of Local Public Support might be envisioned in the absence of existing blueprints, drawing on experience and evidence from a range of sources.
• Resource-weaver – the ability to make creative use of existing resources regardless of their intended/ original use.
• System-architect – someone who is able to describe and compile coherent local systems of public support from the myriad of public, private, third sector and other resources.
• Navigator – a role specifically focused on guiding citizens and service users around the range of possibilities that might be available in a system of Local Public Support.
The noticeable thing about these roles is that they require ‘soft’ skills that are difficult to impart by a short training course or a technical manual. They are all based to a certain degree on relational capital and building links between different individuals and organisations.
These sorts of skills take time to develop and once developed can be easily lost, for example, if someone moves job or organisation. Given the speed at which jobs change and the ephemeral nature of a number of public service organisations this might be a hindrance to the development of these sorts of skills. If you’ve developed these sorts of skills once then no doubt you will be able to develop these again, but it will take time to get to know the different resources and individuals important in that particular context.
If these sorts of roles are to become even more important in the future as the policy commission suggests, then they will require different thinking from government, for profit and third sector organisations in how they might be supported and developed and in a far more joined up way than happens at the moment. As the Centre for Workforce Intelligence recently summarised – ‘we can’t integrate services without truly integrated approaches to the workforce’.