In Copenhagen earlier this week I was struck when Jorgen Clausen, the chief executive of Odense (Denmark’s third largest city) began his presentation talking about the cities’ 1,000 leaders and 16 thousand employees – the people that make his city sing and might attract other people and things to happen.
I am so used to the British context where every leader feels compelled to start by framing their local challenges in terms of financial indicators, a ranking on a deprivation index and the number of people unemployed, that I was immediately gripped by what Mr Clausen had to say.
Of course Odense has its challenges, which include a welfare system that is no longer affordable and on which his citizens are too dependent – this is why Mr Clausen has teamed up with MindLab, Denmark’s cross ministerial innovation lab, believing that radical change is needed.
Mr Clausen asked how politics and public service works when we no longer have the answers and the old ways of doing business are bust. His answer is genuine dialogue – the better the dialogue, the better the solutions will be.
So Mr Clausen sees that the solutions lie not in his institutions but with the citizens themselves and the extent to which he can foster better bonds, better conversations and better co-operation between them. It’s a very different starting point for public service reform.
My hunch is that if we want to see how a municipality centred on relationships might work we should keep our eye on Mr Clausen, Odense and his partnership with MindLab.
Hilary Cottam is Founder and CEO of Participle.