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Rethinking People & Place

Insight Published on 01 April 2021

I would say I’m an expert on two things. As a former Income Tax Commissioner, I think I’m obliged to say income tax but as the former head of financial services economic development in the Isle of Man and Bahrain, I know I’m an expert on small jurisdictions.

And when it comes to expertise, the one thing small countries understand really well is the concept of people and place and yes, I grant you, in a small jurisdiction it’s relatively easy, although contrary to folklore I didn’t personally know everyone – just most…!

As individuals how do we identify with our place - by country, region, city or by community? That’s where small countries have the head start. Ask most people in the Isle of Man or Bahrain where their place is and they’d likely say the Isle of Man or Bahrain, not Castletown, Douglas or Manama. That’s exactly why they are very successful with place-based policies and services - Government, business and the individual all have the same shared view of what place means to them, with the added bonus of collectively identifying as a community.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us. I consider my place to be rural Bedfordshire but Local Government and other organisations though consider my place as being: East Region, Central Bedfordshire, South East Midlands and Anglia. Multiply that scenario up across England with over 11,000 local councils, 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships, 10 Combined Authorities, 223 NHS Trusts, 42 health and care Integrated Care Systems/Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, 106 Universities and around 250 colleges and you’ve got a lot of organisations serving a lot of citizens in a lot of places!

So, let’s rethink people and place...

We easily transcend geographical boundaries online, but the main problem is that we’re still confined by organisational boundaries. We have to register and login by organisation (I’m currently scoring 36 user names, 36 (unique and  strong!) passwords and 48 ‘memorable’ words).  We even have the irony in some cases, of downloading a form, completing it by hand and posting it back to the organisation who then pay a member of staff to input the details into their computer system.

Why is it so hard for organisations to collaborate in our best interests and wouldn’t it be great if we could transcend those organisational boundaries too?

To quote an observation by PDMS’ MD, Chris Gledhill in 2019:

“People and certainly places do not specify, procure and operate IT systems.  Consequently, systems are rarely designed for the people they are about and almost never to make collaboration between different organisations (within a place) a primary goal.”

So why don’t we make it easy? Let people create their own place. Imagine, I create me online. I get my digital identity verified (once), I create one user name and one password and I’m set. I am in full control of me and my information. I can then choose who to share what information with and access the services I need or want regardless of who is providing that service.

If you want to rethink people and place, the technology is ready and waiting. The real challenge is the change of mindset required to put the person and their place at the core.