12 Sep 2021

Socitm: From place to person – place-based recovery for organisations and communities

Guest blog by By Nadira Hussain, Leadership development and research director and Martin Ferguson, Policy and research director, Socitm, as part of Building the Smarter State Week #techUKSmarterState

Our pandemic experiences and responses have made us think and behave in significantly different ways.  

We have grasped the opportunity to work more flexibly, improve our collective productivity, and reduce the time spent on commuting.  

Repeatedly local communities have been called upon to fill the breech, be it: 

  • developing workable local test and trace systems or  

  • undertaking data analysis to fill knowledge gaps.  

Local public service leaders, as representatives of the ‘state’, have been re-thought the “art of the possible” in relation to what they do and whether and how they should use technology and data in orchestrating change and resilience with local communities.  

There are some shining examples of where local authorities, in partnership with key stakeholders in their place, have optimised the use of data, technologies and digital solutions to achieve ambitious outcomes for our residents and communities. Amongst many others, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is a case in point. 

In the wake of these challenges, local authorities are leading new approaches to the nature of work in enabling place-based recoveries.  

Where is work? 

Work is something that we do, not always a place where we go. It’s shifted to focusing on the person or teams delivering tangible outcomes. 

At a Socitm focus group in February, vice-president Alison Hughes (Assistant director of ICT, digital and customer) said that Liverpool City Council will make almost everyone flexible hybrid workers, with exceptions for location-based workers such as reception staff. 

Just as managers support their teams to find working methods that balance their professional and personal lives, so can we support the communities our organisations serve. 

Challenges such as access to appropriate equipment, fast broadband, relevant training and support, are experienced by our communities daily. 

Norfolk County Council gave staff a £250 Covid-19 budget to buy what they needed to work at home. Kurt Frary (CTO, Norfolk County Council) thinks a range of options including direct provision, a personal budget or bring your own device could be next. 

How to work? 

There’s not always a single way to complete a job, there’s no single way to support communities.  

We are our citizens, and our needs range from simple to complex. Just as we’ve been helping ourselves to work at home, not have to travel back to the office to complete paperwork, or to be seen to be present, we can support our citizens in the same way. 

We mustn’t lose sight, however, of the limitations these arrangements can present for colleagues due to the impact on their health and wellbeing, or those in our communities that simply are not able to use digitised processes to access services.  

During April’s Share National conference, Priya Javeri (then interim CIO at Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council) said some service users needed to be in a council-run building even for video appointments; with Kensington and Chelsea providing spaces at libraries for victims of domestic abuse to talk to case officers remotely. 

We will always need to ensure that appropriate interventions or alternative arrangements are offered.  

The doughnut 

Socitm’s research indicates that we can realise the benefits of smarter working, improved collaboration and using data and technologies in a more robust and ethical manner – creatively and effectively achieving joined-up service provision.  

How do we learn from our remote working experiences to enhance remote service delivery? The template is a doughnut. 

The starting point of Doughnut economics1 changes the goal from endless GDP growth to thriving within the ‘big picture’, recognising that the economy is embedded in, and dependent upon, society and the living world. Cities and communities embracing this approach to being a smarter state embrace places as diverse as Amsterdam and Cornwall. 

From July 2020: Newham Council first in London to use health, wellbeing and happiness to measure progress in Covid-19 recovery strategy 

Local authorities are developing place based, post-Covid recovery strategies2 and plans that demonstrate recovery themes. Reset, Reform, Renew, Resilient have entered the lexicon as the building blocks for healthy, connected, empowered and enabled places in which people and communities can thrive. 

Emerging from the crisis is a new sense of purpose, a revived community spirit, a focus on places in all their diversity, a digital culture amongst both organisations and citizens, an increased cadence of decision-making and rapid realisation of outcomes that hitherto had proved elusive - key foundations of a smarter state - as opposed to backtracking to how things were.  


  1. An introduction to the concept at the heart of Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, by the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) team   

  2. Discover examples of how a range of combined authority, county, unitary and district councils are championing place-based recovery  

To read more from #techUKSmarterState Week check out our landing page here.

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