Public Services Need a Dose of Maverickism
Updated: Apr 6
Writing for Huffpost, MV’s Andrew Laird makes the case for more mavericks in public services…
I believe the next five years will see the full emergence of a new breed of individual: the Public Service Entrepreneur. These will be people who are passionate about public services but know that there is a more entrepreneurial way to get the social outcomes they are working their socks off to achieve. They don’t want to submit to the unhelpful aspects of an often over-bureaucratised system, they want to by-pass it altogether and spend their time finding new ways to solve the problems of their service users.
There have been some notable trailblazers in this area. The leaders of the 100 + public service mutuals who have “spun out” from the public sector into independent social enterprises are great examples e.g. Brendan O’Keefe from EPIC, Scott Darraugh from Social adVentures, Tracey Bush from Spiral and Rachel Law from PossAbilities. These leader have challenged accepted norms and in many cases taken huge risks to save their services (and staff) from the budget cuts that would have salami sliced them to death.
These leaders might also be regarded as “mavericks”. They certainly operate outside the comfort zone of many delivering public services – but it is these people who are pushing the boundaries in terms of quality and value for money.
We are used to seeing entrepreneurs and mavericks operating in different sectors like technology (think Steve Jobs and Elon Musk), or transport (think Richard Branson). Public services have never been the natural breeding ground for the entrepreneur or maverick but I believe over the next five years this will all change.
The urban dictionary definition: Maverick – Someone who refuses to play by the rules. He / she isn’t scared to cross the line of conformity – but their unorthodox tactics get results!
A recent article by Brenton Hayden alerted me to a whole body of work by Elliroma Gardiner and Chris J. Jackson on the power of the maverick and the positive effect they can have on not just their own organisation but on their entire sector as they look to shake things up.
There are a number of traits that every maverick has including: openness; creativity; and a willingness to take risks. According to Gardiner and Jackson, mavericks are constantly curious and challenging of the status quo. This is not a normal trait within public services where stability is highly valued – but many services are simply withering on the vine in the face of inaction. Perhaps Richard Branson put it best: “Sometimes the riskiest decision you can make is to do nothing.”
Scott Darraugh and the team at Social adVentures in Salford specialise in public health services and are constantly challenging accepted norms and prototyping new approaches. The whole team play a role in this with ideas coming from all levels of the organisation. For sure this causes some disruption but when they find a new approach that works the impact can be huge. While many other public services are reducing their ambition in line with budget restrictions, Social adVentures are actively growing.
Resilience is also a critical trait of the maverick, particularly in public services. Anyone trying to change how public services are delivered will meet resistance. Tracey Bush and her nurse-led intermediate care team at Spiral Health in Blackpool are a great example of resilience in action. Like a lot of NHS services, they have faced an uncertain future driven by both budget cuts and NHS reconfigurations. But they have stayed focused on their vision and have some very exciting and ambitious plans for the future that could set Spiral on whole new trajectory.
Finally, if they want to actually achieve anything, a maverick has to have a motivated and committed team around them. This means it is vitally important to create the right work environment. I’m delighted to be speaking at an event next week run by the truly inspirational (and maverick!) Henry Stewart from Happy and Brendan O’Keefe from the aforementioned Epic (a very successful staff owned mutual delivering youth services in Kensington and Chelsea). The event is all about creating public service workplaces where the staff are trusted and given freedom (within clear guidelines)… and as a result are happy and highly effective!
Now more than ever we need public service entrepreneurs with their maverick tendencies.
Budgets will continue to reduce – but that does not mean ambition must also diminish.