How UK councils are using the 21st Century Public Servant research

By Dr Dave Mckenna, an independent consultant

If you are one of the many public servants who have been using the 21st Century Public Servant research, you will very likely be interested in what others are doing with it.

This is one the things I heard from the local government people that I spoke to as part of the evaluation I recently conducted for INLOGOV. The aim of the evaluation was to assess the impact of the 21st Century Public Servant research for something called the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (a kind of mega audit for universities in the UK), but I’m sure the findings will be of interest to practitioners as well. The evaluation focussed on local government, but I hope there will also be something of interest for those in other sectors.

If you want to see the full evaluation report, you can find it here. In the meantime, here are some of the headlines.

Drawing on data from 211 out of 418 councils (a mix of surveys, web searches and various other sources) I found that:

  • At minimum, around half of all principal UK councils have at least some awareness of the research with over half of these councils having a good awareness.
  • At minimum, around a quarter of all principal councils in the UK have experienced at least some benefit from the research with over two thirds of these councils experiencing significant benefit.

English metropolitan boroughs, shire counties and shire unitaries had the highest levels of awareness and benefit. Scottish and Welsh unitaries along with English shire districts having the lowest.

In terms of what councils are using the research for, leadership development was the most prominent activity with many councils using the research with their senior management teams and for leadership ‘academies’. Workforce planning was also a common use as was support the development of competency/value /behaviour frameworks.

I also found that the research has made a difference for many staff, in particular those in senior positions. This has been marked by culture changes, specifically around greater delegation and role flexibility.

Overall, then, I found that the impact of the 21st Century Public Servant research on UK local government has been extensive and that, for a small number of councils, the impact has been profound.

The relevance of the research has been a key factor. As one survey respondent put it; ‘the research has great resonance with us. We have embedded (or we are continuing to embed) the research in all areas of our activities as an organisation’. The range of activities where the research is being used alongside the number of councils that are using it for more than one thing points to its versatility and adaptability. This also suggests the potential for impact to keep growing in future; particularly if INLOGOV continue to disseminate, promote and develop the research.

To illustrate the degree of impact that the research can have, I’ll leave the last word to one of the survey respondents who simply said; ‘we are building it into our DNA’.

 

Dr Dave Mckenna is an Independent consultant specialising in public governance and scrutiny.  He helps councils and other public bodies with training, research and improvement work.  Website: www.publicgov.co.uk

 

 

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