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Problem, purpose, power, knowledge, time and space: final report

Local Government Leadership (formerly the Leadership Centre for Local Government) commissioned Keith Grint, Professor of Public Leadership and Management at Warwick Business School, to deliver this final report on how Total Place fits within the broader academic literature on leadership and change.

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Executive summary

This report draws some provisional conclusions from Total Place, a series of experimental programmes in 2009, designed with the then Leadership Centre for Local Government (now Local Government Leadership) to map public expenditure in local areas and experiment with alternative – and more efficient and effective – delivery systems. It is based on a reading of documents and interviews with key stakeholders and participants, and locates the initiative within a wider body of academic literature on leadership and change.

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At this point, (July 2010), the empirical data remains illustrative rather than definitive because the nature of the initiative precludes any final conclusions. The report suggests that mapping local expenditure is relatively simple and very enlightening – very large sums of public money are expended on a small number of recipients and much of the funding is channelled into repairing social problems rather than preventing them. Very often we treat such problems as tame – essentially open to ‘fixing’ through efficiency drives and more rational processes. However, many such problems are wicked not tame and are thus beyond conventional ‘fixes’.

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Furthermore, identifying the problem and its costs is always easier than constructing a more effective alternative, especially when the ‘solution’ is imposed from outside – by central government or from above – by the organization itself. Total Place suggests that enrolling the ‘customer’, ‘citizen’ or ‘consumer’ of public services in the resolution of their own problems is not just politically important but practically critical. In reality only those people with the problem can really address it properly. How long Total Place style approaches will last is difficult to predict but although the original work predates the current governing Coalition, the latter’s predilection for localism and decentralization, especially its Big Society agenda, implies some degree of continuing political support for the movement, especially in the light of contemporary concerns for reducing public debt.

The bulk of the report is concerned with establishing the academic context for this new localism and suggests that the following issues remain critical to any future success:

  1. The problem of problems: precisely what kind of problem is it that the Total Place approach seeks to address?
  2. What is the purpose of the organizations and people involved in this: what is their Public Value?
  3. Why do mechanical metaphors of organizational power fail to explain how organizations can be changed?
  4. Why is the local nature of the knowledge so important to change?
  5. Is time an opportunity or a problem when trying to change organizations radically?
  6. What, precisely, is it about the local nature of space that makes Total Place such an important model for rethinking public services?

Download the full report. (NB: link will take you to the DivShare site to download the file.)

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