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The RSA 2020 Public Services team welcomes the launch of  'A new conversation in Kirklees', a new report by the Commission on the Future of Local Government endorsing Kirklees Council's It’s Time to Talk programme.

Public engagement is too often narrow in scope, confined to consultations and formal meetings. It reinforces perceptions of the Town Hall as an ivory tower, distant from the lives of ordinary people. But when done well, involving citizens on an equal footing can build trust, unlock community capacity and help public services find collaborative solutions to complex challenges.

It is here that Kirklees Council’s It’s Time To Talk initiative shows real promise. All too aware of the multiple pressures facing local services, the council is beginning to lay the foundations for a new and more equal relationship with its residents. But It’s Time To Talk is more than just a platform for discussing budget cuts and public service institutions. It is more ambitiously seeking to use the place-based community leadership role of the council to nurture and practically support the social aspirations of its citizens.

This is fresh and exciting territory. But translating a more productive and empowering space for civic dialogue into a new model for public services comes with strategic challenges. Our concept of social productivity calls for public services to be shaped by relationships rather than transactions and be judged by the degree to which they help citizens and communities achieve the outcomes that matter to them.

We argue that putting this into practice needs a strategic change process that marries public engagement with community leadership and new ways of council working. This may include new approaches to commissioning; more creative public spending; stronger cross-sector partnerships; and a public service infrastructure that is better able to manage demand and meet long-term challenges through a new and better settlement with citizens.

We hope that Kirklees Council is able to build on the momentum of It’s Time To Talk to unlock the social resources of its communities and the dynamism and creativity of the public, private and voluntary sectors to begin to build a sustainable, socially productive settlement for public services.

Click here to read the report.

Paul Buddery is a partner at RSA 2020 Public Services. He tweets on @buddypb

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