Unlocking the potential in 'people power'

29 April 2015

Our clients are facing big financial challenges yet demand for public services is still rising.

Digital public services have made a big difference to quality and cost, and government continues to shift as many services as it can towards cheaper, online channels. At the same time, it’s trying to get people actively supporting public services in their local communities.

Is it possible to combine the potential of digital services with the willingness of people to make a contribution? With the help of the public, is it possible to make public services cheaper as well as better?

We asked Survation to run an opinion poll asking what contribution people were making to public services on a voluntary basis and the results were really interesting.

More people had shared a police crime alert on social media than the number of special constables and magistrates combined, but I doubt they would class themselves as volunteers. Many people had reported problems to the authorities and many more would do so if it was easier.

This is all valuable public participation and we could do with more of it.

If policy makers treated people power as a spectrum then they might target resources differently, understanding which activities can be encouraged relatively easily and which are best done at a grassroots level.

Our new report, People Power, looks at these issues in more detail and highlights the research we did with government civil servants, a cross-section of our public service clients and the public.

We found that 65% of civil servants felt that a more active contribution could help cut costs. Not because volunteers would replace salaried staff, but because it would enable a better understanding of local conditions, making it easier to target services and prevent problems escalating.

The Survation poll also showed that people were more likely to consider making shorter-term contributions in future, like reporting issues to local authorities.

Our report recommends making it easy to contribute, focusing on local activity and encouraging more of a two-way conversation with the public.

People are willing to get involved and support public service delivery – we just need to find the right way to unlock the potential.  

Sue Holloway, Director of Services Strategy