Helping public services to help themselves

Since the beginning, this has been the mission of the Commissioning Academy — helping public services to help themselves to meet the multiple challenges they face. I’m very proud that the baton is now being handed on to the Public Service Transformation Academy, the new body we have formed to deliver the commissioning academy and other sector capacity building.
This is a not-for-profit social enterprise, with RedQuadrant as the lead partner and delivery partners expected to include the Whitehall & Industry Group (lead delivery partner), OPM, ncvo, Browne Jacobson, the E3M Bold Commissioners Club, TSIP, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, local gov digital, collaborate, Numbers for Good, and members of the Public Service Transformation Network.

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I won’t rehearse the old saws about the challenges the public services face — or the need to do more for less. We all understand these by now. Yes, commissioning is about building the capacity to face challenges — but it is about doing something more than that, and something different. Commissioning is not yet tightly defined — something I’m very happy about. It’s an emerging field, still open to possibilities. At heart, it is about better understanding of what public services can really offer, a better range of options to deliver, and better learning from experience. That learning is central, and the Public Service Transformation Academy seeks to build this learning and better delivery across the sector. We aim to fill the ‘sweet spot’ between cutting edge, radical ideas, and potentially stale ‘best practice’.

I’ve been in public service transformation for nearly 18 years now, and there has never been a bigger need for this work, and less resource to do it. Fitting, then, that the Cabinet Office, having developed the Commissioning Academy and trained over 1,100 people over three years in partnership with various suppliers, is now commissioning out delivery. As Chief Executive of the Public Service Transformation Academy, it will be my job to commission academies and learning interventions that will maximise impact and benefits (measured, ultimately, by the positive impact on citizens). I wanted to be called Chief Commissioning Officer, or Chief Commissaire, but our partners weren’t that keen for some reason.

RedQuadrant believes in helping the sector to help itself. Whitehall & Industry Group, our key delivery partners, have cross-sector learning embedded at the heart of their charitable purpose. And all of our partners, as well as their own charitable or business goals, seek to help public services be better, be more positive, have more impact, think more widely and more effectively.

So we look forward to continuing and developing the core Commissioning Academy, and many regional, local, and sector specific variants. These will support devolution, integration, codesign, citizen engagement and all the others ways we’re trying to help people to live their lives more happily, easily, productively, and positively as a sector. And we’ll be offering other leadership and organisational development support, from system leadership and collaborative leadership to service transformation, building the skills in public services to help themselves, and teaching them to help citizens and communities to help themselves.

That’s why it is so exciting to be taking on the proven and effective Cabinet Office Commissioning Academy, and to be developing it over the next three or four years. And I’m particularly pleased that the Public Service Transformation Network, a shining example of government trying to really get to grips with the realities of public service reform on the ground, has passed us the baton and their website, We will be maintaining and developing this as a knowledge resource in the original spirit, and supporting all positive efforts to help the sector take responsibility for reform and change for the better.

It’s hard to write about public service reform without jargon, and without sweeping generalisations. I haven’t managed it yet. But from today, the Public Service Transformation Academy will help public servants find new and more effective ways to think about what they do, do it better, and learn from the experience. They’ll work together, share knowledge, develop ideas, and hear from the best of the best who have tried to make change and have the scars and stories to prove it. And the Commissioning Academy will be the jewel in the crown, a truly important way to change the way we deliver public services for the better.

Benjamin Taylor
Chief Executive
Public Service Transformation Academy
Managing Partner, RedQuadrant

Originally published at on April 14, 2016.

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