Public service must get serious about innovation – or corporations will design our future

While global tech companies invest billions in creating our futures, the public sector retrenches and keeps doing the same thing.

Politicians, like Andy Burnham yesterday, talk big about new models of services organised around people, but no-one has a real idea how to make them a reality. There is a huge sunk huge investment in our public services in top down systems designed for professional decisions. The disruptive change required to put people in control is immense. Many people and institutions have vested interests in keeping things as they are.

So where could these disruptive ideas and new models come from? Lots of public workers have great ideas but they are to busy doing the day job to make them happen. New models and disruptive ideas come from serious investment in what used to be called R&D and is now called innovation.

Google x is a secret ideas lab where they are not only imagining the future, they are making and testing the stuff – like driverless cars and Google glass- we may all be using in a few years.

The Google vision “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” has huge relevance to public services. Imagine health and social care organised around an individual with intelligent technology making sure that person has right care and support every single day while living independently. Beds which know when they need to be changed, fridges that can tell you if someone is eating, front doors which know if there has been a visitor.


The best social and public organisations try and innovate and learn, but they are doing it alone or in informal networks. Big companies like Capita and Serco with the muscle to invest are already employing good public managers to develop new service models that use technology to deliver the vision politicians say they want – and we’ll be stuck with a model that helps these companies win large scale contracts – but doesn’t put citizens in charge

What if we really invested in a serious innovation lab? What if we brought practitioners, citizens, technologists and researchers together with a brief to create the future. What if we asked them to design a new service and see if if works?

Surely the possibilities of the future should be about helping people live better lives, not boosting corporate profits. We need a social dividend from the technology boom and at the moment I don’t see it.

All those public organisations trying to help people – Councils, schools, libraries, hospitals, job centres, GPs, health services, police, and all those people – social workers, health care workers, jobs advisers – and all those social enterprises and voluntary organisations.

Together, we need to get serious and invest in inventing and making our future. Otherwise, the future will be determined by global behemoths like Google.

If we want a future owned by people rather than corporations we have to cooperate to innovate.






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