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Welcome everyone to the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.
Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.
I’m your host Michael Lonnon, and today I’m joined by Paul Najsarek, Chief Executive of Ealing London Borough Council.
In this episode we discuss the three top challenges facing local authorities today, and how Ealing Council have approached addressing them. Having been in role for 6 years, Paul has some pearls of wisdom you won’t want to miss out on.
So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Thanks for joining us today, Paul. I know times are difficult right now and local government authorities have many challenges, but what are the biggest challenges you think authorities are facing in local government and in particular for Ealing where you work?
The world feels a bit like we’re in multiple emergency doesn’t it. Some of the emergencies are traditional emergencies that are very short term and some of them feel like we might be in emergency mode for a while, which is not usual for an emergency. The obvious one’s are we’ve still got COVID, we were trying to recover business as usual, we’re trying to deal with economic recovery, we’re trying to deal with climate and we’re trying to deal with inequality. All of that is in the mix at the moment.
How do you manage that? They’re all massive topics, issues and challenges, and different authorities have different ways of dealing with it, but how do you prioritise the things that you deal with in those types of challenges when they’re so big?
Sometimes there are things you can do that hit multiple goals. I think, trying to find the sweet spot where the projects and the work that you’re prioritising is trying to attract as multiple goals. To give you an example, if we are able to stimulate the green economy, locally and we do that, thoughtfully, obviously, it’ll help climate, it can help people in terms of economic recovery and if we can get the jobs and the skills packages right, it can help inequality all the same time. Not everything could be done like that but the more we can focus our energy on things that hit multiple goals, that’s obviously a premium at the moment.
Are there more things that are coming in, that you’re having to juggle into the mix? Or are you trying to look at things like that more often, so that you can kill more birds in one stone?
That’s what we’re trying to do it. The government reasonably will think about innovations as well. There’s lots going on in health and social care at the minute, lots going on in Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, etc. The way I try and look at the world is we’re clear what our purpose is locally and what we are trying to do and then we try and figure out anything new that comes over the horizon. How can that help us deal with the core purpose about our place?
That’s a really interesting point, you keep that core purpose at the forefront all the time, regardless of what comes over, you look to see what is coming in and what may change and how does that affect our core purpose? Is that how you look at things
Exactly. In Ealing, our core mission is jobs, equality and climate and we try and use the opportunities, we’ve got to make a difference to those things.
From a technology point of view, where does that sit within the core purpose, and within helping address some of the challenges that are coming in?
With most of those challenges the council can’t achieve them alone. We need partners, private, voluntary, and public, and the more we can implement technology solutions that help us collaborate the better is the first thing. That’s partly about business process, it’s partly about customer experience, it’s partly about data insight. All of the challenges are systemic, and we need lots of players and technology can help bind those players together and help build collaborative teams, that’s one obvious element. Then I think there’s a kind of efficiency, there’s an effectiveness and there’s what I would call an inclusion point as well. We’re familiar, that technology gives you opportunities to do things more efficiently and more effectively. I tend to look at technology as something I can deploy, it’s an asset that I can deploy towards the purpose that we’re trying to hit. We should bear in mind that money challenges are not gone so the efficiency challenge never goes away. I think that’s the first thing how can technology help you to do things better and do things more efficiently. But secondly, I think the other point is inclusion. Now, quite often when you mentioned technology, people talk about what that digital exclusion and that’s a valid point, we have to keep an eye on that, but I think technology gives us more opportunities for inclusion than it does the risks of exclusion. There’s loads of opportunities, a really simple one is we’re now doing all our council meetings in hybrid format and all of our public engagement we’re doing in hybrid format at the moment and we’re getting lots more people participating in the council processes and council conversations. It doesn’t mean we should be blind to risks of exclusion, but we should really embrace the opportunities for inclusion. In summary its collaboration, effectiveness, efficiency, and inclusion. That’s the four areas where technology can make a big difference.
Yesterday, I saw a tender from a particular council. They were after a solution to solve a data and analytics problem relating to something you mentioned there about how to create a single view of household; how to create a single view of children. They want to use technology, or the data that technology assesses, to see where problems may arise. And where they may need to direct resources and services before those problems can escalate and become hard to solve and require more resources and budget. I think the way councils are looking at technology is actually quite innovative, actually, probably more so than a lot of private sector organisations. Would you say that the way Ealing in particular is embracing technology has improved?
Yes, we’ve definitely improved. If you if you’ve scrolled back 10 years, we’re in a totally different, different place and we’ve had a big digital programme running as part of our future Ealing programming in Ealing, so it’s always been central to change. I think the challenge for the future, though, is the one you’re putting out there where we still have got more to do which is bringing together people insight with data and information insight and getting into that space where we can be a bit more predictive, and a bit more preventive. We’re working really hard to prevent problems before they arise, but we can bring together people and technology better to get even better at doing that for the future.
To help in those sorts of scenarios as you move forward as a council or authority does it help to learn the lessons of other authorities? Do you think there could be more kind of collaborative engagement with other areas of the country to see what they’re doing and how they’re approaching it?
Definitely, because by our definition, we’re focused on our places. I think, easy ways to get learning from other places has got to be valuable, because it can help you with shortcuts. Even doing some collaboration when you’re implementing, as well as working with organisations that are implementing in multiple places, I think can be really valuable sometimes, because you get real time learning as you go.
If there was one thing from an overall local government perspective that you would change to help support councils like Ealing to improve the way you’re able to deliver services and adapt to changes, what would you suggest or what would you like to see changed?
I think giving more empowerment to places is the single most important thing for the future of public services. I totally accept governments got a role in setting frameworks and resources. Sometimes we do need a national strategy for things, but the only place where you can assemble the team, you can assemble the technology, you can assemble the processes and you can assemble the partners is in a place because it’s too big other scales to do that. So, empower places to figure out how we get things done.
The world feels like it’s in multiple emergency mode was something Paul mentioned. And for many local authorities, and those in the private sector, some of these emergencies could go on for a while yet.
Like dealing with COVID, trying to recover business as usual and speeding up economic recovery, managing the climate agenda, and overcoming inequality.
And the approach Paul has taken to working through such massive topics and challenges, is to deliver initiatives that address multiple goals in one go.
For example, stimulating the green economy, in a thoughtful way, can then support economic recovery with the creation of new job opportunities. And if the jobs and skills packages are set up right, you can also begin to tackle inequality at the same time.
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode, visit www.hso.com/dynamics-matters for more episodes. And until next time, take care of yourselves.