3 Clever Ways for the Public Sector to harness childcare innovation

Oct 1, 2020 | Opinion

Over the past decade, whilst central government has increased funded childcare provision for parents, local government has found it difficult to apply innovation to the childcare sector, particularly regarding access to flexible childcare.

Whether for reasons of austerity, limited strategic oversight by central government and regulators, or recent shifting priorities, the delivery of childcare information has changed little since the noughties. Yes, localgov service directories look a little nicer and are more responsive on mobile, but in all honesty, citizens have seen little improvement compared to the step-change in other sectors like insurance, travel or transport. And localgov childcare teams and Family Information Services have not as yet harnessed the benefits of real-time data, novel search, market intelligence and emerging technology.

Looking to the stars

George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, once said of doing something new and difficult, “You simply have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead.” Few would question the lasting achievements of George Lucas, but can we apply this to public sector innovation?

For a while now, local authorities have been getting comfortable working with consultancies and agencies – which is great for digital transformation – but what about when a Council wants to ‘reach for the stars’ and make use of the latest technologies and innovation? How does a council discover what is truly possible? How can an LA benefit from the knowledge of emerging tech sector experts?

 “Are we really braver than we were a decade ago to embrace a collective approach to meet the outcomes of citizens – before we know the potential solution?

If a local authority wants to ensure governance of childcare service data, it must become a better custodian not just of the data but also the development of tools and technologies. Ask yourself this – how come the big players in disruptive sectors, the likes of Trivago, Purple Bricks and Just Eat, employ 100s of developers to work on their established platforms? Why do they need so many tech people? Aside from their growth mentality, it’s primarily because the technologies that make their user experiences fast, effective and useful are at the cutting edge and hard to both develop and improve – because they have to innovate to stay ahead of the competition and, more fundamentally, because their users expect it.

A clever trio

So should local authorities be exploring this – well, yes, since this is the real art of the possible lies.  And if this is true, how can they go about it in an affordable and achievable way without the deep pockets of their commercial cousins?  It’s actually easier than it sounds, with three achievable techniques that probably won’t come as a shock to most:

1.  Early engagement

This is nothing new, but it’s not yet common in the public sector. Local and Central Government has always preferred tenders – but this assumes the public sector body knows enough about the potential solution to enable a specification and tender to be written. In the world of innovation, this is often not the case.

Early engagement boils down to one thing – bravery. Are we really braver than we were a decade ago to embrace a collective approach to meet the outcomes of citizens – before we know the potential solution?  We need honest, upfront conversation – prior to any contract – to explore the potential for effective and affordable change to people’s lives. There are clear benefits to the organisation that engages early with partners to manage changing market conditions, gain insight in design processes and ensure innovation is delivered with sustainable costs.

2.  Cross-Sector Collaboration

It’s taken a while but we’re starting to see the rise of cross-sector collaboration – particularly partnerships between local authorities and the private sector. This is supported by several initiatives:

– a changing procurement landscape as the likes of the LocalDigital Fund (MHCLG) and the London Office for Technology (LOTI) encourage localgov to collaborate with each other to work with consultancies on common themes;

– the growing adoption of better regulations and standards, like the National Open Service Data Standards, requiring localgov to work earlier and closer with private sector data innovators;

– the call from citizens and government staff for the provision of better and more impactful online services from central and local government.

Potential benefits can be achieved for everyone by accessing the diverse perspectives and resources of these partners to jointly solve societal problems and achieve a shared goal.

3.  Co-creation

Perhaps one of the most exciting options open to local authorities, and certainly the most under-explored and potentially-scary, is that of building something in lock-step together with a partner. The closest examples I can think of here are how government sometimes works with large companies who embed staff into LA teams. But this is a poor facsimile of what co-creation can be.

In it’s basic form, co-creation is defined as “a product or service design process in which input from consumers plays a central role from beginning to end.” But there is more to be gained here from co-creation between a local authority and an innovation partner. Bringing together collective skills, experience and, importantly, ‘access’, to forge something totally new that works for citizens in a way as yet achieved is very exciting. Take the recent COVID app that only really became viable once co-creation was embraced. Aside from the challenges and ‘hiccups’ in this process, local authorities should consider how they can do this more, delivering innovative solutions whilst managing risk and early failure.

Taking the first step

I’ve included a useful link below with 12 ‘steps’ which can be applied to develop innovation partnerships between local authorities and startups/SMEs. Step 0 – the step before this – is, however, perhaps the easiest – to reach out and discuss what is possible with an innovative startup or SME. The truth is that, without engaging sector-expert innovators in discussions, local authorities will never know what is achievable at the sharp end of technology.

As one such company, Famiio welcomes these discussions and actively encourages early engagement, cross-sector collaboration and co-creation to realise the best solutions for citizens and their families. Look where George Lucas got to on his journey – maybe it’s time to do the same for the childcare market and for families in a galaxy not so far, far away…

Further reading

The Partnering Initiative – 12 Steps towards successful cross-sector partnerships

Image Credit: Willrow Hood – stock.adobe.com

Author: Gary Todd

Author: Gary Todd

<br /> Founder and CEO, Famiio. With a wealth of experience within the public sector, Gary previously worked with the Department for Education on national data projects and is a former frontline local authority manager.</p> <p>

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