“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

OK. This is not Star Wars. It wasn’t that long ago, and it wasn’t very far away.

But when local authorities were first set up in the UK, you could argue they were set up to manage and deliver a set of individual services.

Planning. Social services. Fixing roads. Removing rubbish. Providing schools. And so on.

So the structure and mechanisms of local authorities grew around this service provision.

But the world has turned since then, and with it, the expectations of our customers.

So we’re moving away from this approach at Wrexham Council.

We’re changing the way we do things – our ‘operating model’ – and thus our thinking, structures and processes.

people and place

Instead of building our structures and processes around service provision, we’re building our new ways of working around the people and place we serve.

old vs new

In other words, we’re moving to a model that takes our customers and our county borough as its starting point. Not our services.

Of course, changing the operating model of a big organisation is easy on paper – difficult in practice. Particularly in the public sector.

So we’ve developed some ‘shape principles’ to guide us.

shape principles

  • Wherever possible, resolve customer enquiries at the first point of contact.
  • Allow services to focus on quality provision.
  • Minimise transactions (but not income).
  • Reduce performance and regulatory functions in proportion with the rest of the organisation.

Developing how we work around these principles is helping us shift the focus of our thinking to people and place, instead of services.

empowering customers

There’s a lot of talk about empowering customers these days – giving them tools and support so they can do more for themselves.

Some organisations have been doing it for years. And doing it really well.

Take the software provider Adobe.

The company has developed a powerful online community where customers with expertise are encouraged to share their knowledge with others – help them get the best from Adobe products, trouble-shoot problems and so on.

Essentially, they’ve created a platform that links customers together so they can do more for themselves.

If we’re changing the way we do things at Wrexham Council, we need to take our customers with us.

We need to give them the tools and linkages they need to contribute to services and facilities in their communities. So they can deliver, support, create, share and lead for themselves.

We’ve given this customer-empowerment initiative a name – Together in Wrexham – and I’ll be writing about this in more depth in the next few weeks.

evolution, not revolution

Reframing the relationship between a local authority and its citizens is not a sprint. It’s a marathon…with hills and bumps along the way.

The direction is clear. We’re moving away from focusing on a set of services to focusing on the people and place we serve.

But it won’t happen by itself, and embedding our shape principles in everything we do will be crucial if we’re going to succeed.