Last week, Jon Ainger and I ran a session at the MJ Future Forum on the Target Demand Model – a new operating model for local government that offers a significant opportunity when demand management is done at scale across a whole council. It’s an approach designed to manage demand, improve outcomes, and make local government sustainable.
We know from our annual Insight Surveys that demand management is heavily influencing councils’ budget-setting discussions, and is a core approach to strategic planning: 75% of respondents said that it was either ‘central’, ‘important’ or ‘part of our future plans’.
We also know that elected members are becoming more active in operational decision making. So if demand management is going to be a council-wide approach to designing and delivering services, elected members need to have an active and meaningful role in this conversation. A shared clarity of purpose is essential to this.
Putting demand management at the core of council strategy is not just about tweaking what is already there; it is about reinventing local government. This can’t just be developed by officers and then rubber stamped by members. Mark Rogers has written an insightful piece on this in the LGC, highlighting that improvements in Birmingham have rested on ensuring officers and elected members alike are signed up to the same set of values, purpose and priorities. That’s not always an easy task. For many councils this is counter cultural and it can be difficult to get the time and input from elected members to do this in a meaningful and collaborative way.
We know that local government is facing tough financial challenges but talk of budget savings and the technicalities of cost and demand models simply don’t cut it for members. When politics is involved, there has to be more to the conversation i.e. how it will affect people’s lives. So where do you start?
To frame a demand management approach that would resonate with politicians, we’ve been working on the idea of a ‘doorstep narrative’ – developing the rationale and argument in terms that members feel comfortable talking to residents and partners about. It’s a good discipline, helping to focus on the perspective of the resident and what really makes a difference to people and communities (what are we here for). This is part of what we call the strategic framework: the vision, purpose, values and the design principles that provide the foundation for a modern form of local government. It’s a mindset and approach that is about more than just balancing the budget and working out how to fund statutory services; it is about moving from meeting statutory need to preventing it.
The simple doorstep narrative is a great test of clarity of purpose and shared understanding – and it is a powerful way of starting the conversation with elected members about how, together, you can use the Target Demand Model approach to reinvent local government.