I am excited to see the Wandsworth Challenge finally launch a public face this week. I know that some might be sceptical, even cynical, about it; but I’m not one of them.
I’m excited in large part because it marks a new way of working for the council. Wandsworth has been remarkably successful at running a strongly managed council over the years, but as times – and people – change so must the council. They may be fads to some, but the latest thinking on things like nudge, the impact of our social network, or collective wisdom can only add to the strong foundation of effective management and financial control.
I’m also excited because there has been some interest expressed already. It may be that I’m more aware of it but I don’t recall any other time while I’ve been on the council that I’ve had such extensive conversations with people about how the council works.
And part of my excitement is because I believe in the Big Society. Let’s be clear, Wandsworth Challenge is not the Big Society, but there are considerable overlaps and you it’s possible to consider one a subset of the other (or as two parallel policies). That we have launched a Big Society fund adds to the potential for small projects to take off.
But if anything troubles me it is the what the public response will be. Will it consist mainly of accusatory suggestions (sack Town Hall fat cats?), or ideas that are entirely outside of our remit (bring back hanging, or at least hard labour), or will it be the worst of all: a deafening silence (because people are so used to the public sector doing everything, they do not see any value in contributing).
One of the key success criteria will be the amount of workable ideas that come from frontline staff and the public. I’ve spent time today hopefully encouraging one of the teams in my portfolio to throw themselves into the Challenge. And something I’ve given a lot of thought too (and had a lot of good advice from others, but still not fully reconciled) is how we make the process transparent; there can’t be anything worse than seeing your idea disappear into a black hole never to return.
But there must be hundreds, thousands of good ideas out there. Some may be radical, some might be simple. Some impossible to implement and some done in a day. But every single one of us has been in the situation of dealing with a public service and thinking “this would be so much better if only…”
So what are your experiences? Is there a small tweak or a radical overhaul would make your dealings with the council better?