"Councils must listen to the views of local people to work smarter and make greater efficiency savings, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said today. In the Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that councils will need to make £600m efficiency savings a year - to be used to reinvest in local services or cut council tax bills. This is alongside the £5bn worth of efficiency savings to be made across the public sector over the next year alone."
I could not agree more - how many services are delivered to the public inefficiently because incorrect or out of date assumptions are made about what the service users need or want? I heard about a story once that Manchester Probation Services needed to be reorganised and the executive team proposed centralising all the offices. The probation officers said that their clients would find that really difficult and would increase the 'no shows' to appointments. So the executive team surveyed the clients. The results were that the clients preferred the idea of a central office because "I come in once a week anyway - it would be easier" or "the buses & trams go into the centre - going round the outside is much more difficult". The services were centralised as a consequence, I believe.
So for me the question is - how do we challenge our assumptions about what the users / citizens / communities need, want and expect? I guess as Hazel Blears says "Involving communities are key to unlocking greater savings - when it comes to finding efficiencies, empowering local people is part of the solution, not part of the problem" I would go along with that!
See http://www.peopleandparticipation.net/display/Methods/Home for a rich resource of methods to engage and involve the public.