The 21st Century Public Servant


This research project by Catherine Needham and Catherine Mangan at Birmingham university considers: What does it mean to be a 21st Century public servant?

What are the skills, attributes and values
which effective public servants will display in the future? How can people working in public services be supported to get those skills?

We know that public services are going through major changes in response to a range of issues such as cuts to budgets, increased localisation, greater demands for service user voice and control, increased public expectations and a mixed economy of welfare provision.

How did I get to hear about it?

At Lambeth, we have a really valuable National Management Trainee scheme. The graduates bring enthusiasm, fresh ideas and lots of talent.

This year’s round of recruits were studying this report and presented it to interested colleagues for discussion at a lunchtime learning session, which is part of our peer-to-peer programme.

What did the report say?

The report found 10 characteristics of the 21st Century Public Servant:

1. is a municipal entrepreneur, undertaking a wide range of roles

2. engages with citizens in a way that expresses their shared humanity and pooled expertise

3. is recruited and rewarded for generic skills as well as technical expertise

4. builds a career which is fluid across sectors and services

5. combines an ethos of publicness with an understanding of commerciality

6. is rethinking public services to enable them to survive an era of permaausterity

7. needs organisations which are fluid and supportive rather than silo-ed and controlling

8. rejects heroic leadership in favour of distributed and collaborative models of

9. is rooted in a locality which frames a sense of loyalty and identity

10. reflects on practice and learns from that of others

What do I think about it?

I feel that some of these could perhaps be grouped more closely. But the thing that runs through them all is the critical importance of communications.

I see a lot of these qualities in colleagues that I work with today and I agree that these are the kinds of leadership, collaborative working, ways of learning and tools that we need as 21st century public servants.

I found the coining of the word ‘perma-austerity’ thought provoking but also quite apt. The necessity for citizen focus and involvement and greater fluidity across services and sectors is clear.

The understanding of and commitment to place or locality is critical to local government delivery and resident engagement. This is certainly a motivator for me both as a public servant and local resident.

What next?

To share your comments, please contact me and keep up to date on the 21st Century Public Servant – Researching the future public service workforce‏ blog. You can follow #21cPS.


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