What could the next five years look like for councils?

8 min readSep 16, 2023


What could the next five years have in store for local government? I’ve mentioned previously what social trends we might see. Below are potential predictions for the wider landscape that councils is in:

  • Gap will grow between those local areas that have the pre-existing infrastructure & investment to survive & thrive
  • Major employers will increasingly focus on the impact they have on their customers, workforce, communities and the environment
  • New types of collaboration will grow between organisations from different sectors to drive new forms of value

What should local government do over the next year?

1. Step off the fence and be more pirate

Local government should continue to play its convening and facilitating role, but it should also become more activist. As Buckminster Fuller once said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Local government — and in fact all organisations dedicated to serving places and social good — should be more pro-active and self-confident in framing the issues that matter, in the way that the new Finnish & New Zealand Prime Ministers are doing for example. For too long, we have succumbed to having to respond to agendas that on the face it seem meaningful, but often turn out to be at best superficial and at worst exploitative, be it smart cities, big data or the sharing economy.

As the Government may focus more on the immediate implications of Brexit and reviewing the civil service, local government should:

  • Show Government what devolution of investment can achieve by building the collaborative infrastructure to help places become more resilient and adaptive in a post-Brexit civic economy

Institutions that will also have to transform to survive & thrive in a post-Brexit world will see the benefits of working with local councils. Those include other public sector partners, but also housing associations, universities & colleges, property developers, and major employers. Councils should:

  • Help “anchor” institutions not just in the places they’re based in, but in a future vision of the place that mobilise people’s energies & resources around key missions

The climate crisis has dominated the conversation this year, on the news, in the workplace and in communities, where councils have created the space for deliberating on an issue that is both very personal and systemic. Next year should be the year that councils mobilise that energy & emergency into putting into practice at scale a portfolio of experiments that help people and places change their consumption behaviours. Local government should:

  • Translate commitments to tackling the climate emergency into actively developing the transition for places to become zero carbon

In the light of the climate emergency becoming the mobilising issue of the year and needing to adapt to a post-Brexit world, councils will increasingly think of the places as they serve as ecosystems and transition. Councils should:

2. Move from fixing to shaping markets

Councils should increasingly look to their local businesses to innovate around their own needs, be it improving health & wellbeing, going zero-carbon or more digitally inclusive. It should move from fixing to shaping local markets and attracting external investment around a set of missions on issues that are important for the local community and where there is a strong ecosystem. Marianna Mazzucato is leading on this work

Working with businesses will ever more critical, but creating spaces where local employers & investors can come together to think about how to adapt to this new world will help councils understand what role they can play. It will also help businesses see where they can collaborate, across supply chains, pooling back office resources or collectively leveraging investment into the area.

To support this, deliberative democracy should extend beyond councils and communities into the workplace and the private sector as more and more people want to work in places which are ethical and democratic.

It should also reveal the innovation taking place in its local civic economy to show wider institutions what role they can play? If there’s a new movement of makers growing in a neighbourhood, what role for a landowner, procurer, employer, service provider or charity to connect with this movement? If a neighbourhood loses a major employer or its high street becomes boarded up, what role for the council and other investors in place?

  • Support people to develop a sense of collective ownership

As more and more people realise the conscious and subconscious dominance of monopolistic and manipulative technologies on our everyday lives, they will want to design and use digital in a way that they can feel ownership over and where the technology creates more inclusion. Particularly where private companies may use analytics to personalise & segment even more, using behavioural insights to determine eligibility for services, incentives or penalties on insurance and even access to basic rights, as the Chinese social credits system is showing.

3. Move from designing services to building movements for transition

How we work over the next year will be even more influenced by strong values as it has done over the last one. We will have less and less “one size fits all, off the shelf” solutions and less “methods first purpose later” approaches. We’ll need a greater focus on “serving” than “customer service” and thinking about design in a systemic way, as Cat Drew outlines — designing deeply, hopefully, disruptively & collaboratively.

Design Council

Design Council

4. Develop local places as platforms

Services will need to become more personalised, as people’s situations may become more personalised, but will also need to be able to connect the transactional to the relational, as more and people may encounter crisis points in their lives and may need the support to help them navigate these, support which can’t only be by professionals but by networks of support.

Thinking of local government as a platform will increasingly move beyond the exclusively digital sphere to other areas of people’s lives, as Uber, Airbnb and Buurtzoog have demonstrated, in different ways. As I mentioned in a previous post, cities are best placed to be the future platforms. We need to focus on innovating around the future of ownership: in terms of land, materials, infrastructure, data, public services, money. As @alistairparvin outlines:

“Societies that can innovate around these nine issues, inventing new forms of ownership, new charters, new social contracts, new rights and new forms of regulation — and so prevent economic rent extraction and ensure reasonable levels free and fair competition — will find themselves able to unlock exponential levels of progress, prosperity, wellbeing and innovation, as well as being able to restore public trust in institutions.”

Make the transition from hierarchical bureaucracy to collaborative ecosystem

Councils themselves may shift from being monolithic entities to becoming hybrid institutions & mixed economies, with greater collaboration with other councils & institutions on particular common causes they want to focus on (i.e. localising utilities, digital by design, etc.) and develop new models of working (i.e. insourcing, coops, decentralised teams, year heres).

With a mixed economy of teams working in different ways (i.e. agile, coop, neighbourhood, support), what is the role of the corporate centre to help support & navigate this change while bringing people together around common causes and helping the organisation anticipate & influencing a changing world.

5. Mobilise people’s collective intelligence for collective action

Councils will need to create spaces to work with communities, charities & retail businesses to develop a collective intelligence about different citizen journeys. By better understanding how people live their everyday lives will mean that different players, not just the council, but also other service providers, but also other organisations people encounter, like businesses on the high street and even their neighbours, will be able to see what role they can play and who’s best placed to use these different roles. Dementia-Friendly Communities is a good example of where this approach has been used. It will also help people who want to support their communities better understand people who don’t live the same lives and how best to use their skills (not just helping in a charity shop or cleaning up a community garden).

Create political promiscuity between forms of organising

There will be local areas where people no longer want to get involved in traditional political parties, but instead in particular movements that are more deliberative and distributed and either get power on particular issues (i.e. cuts to public services, protest against pollution, etc.) or transition from social to political movements (as we’ve seen in Europe with “rebel cities” and “fearless cities”). There will be greater collaboration between different styles of organising, between the more direct action-XR & Occupy style to the more localist & community building-Transition Town & Citizens UK style to the more intellectual paradigm shifting CLES or NESTA style of working. But also greater collaboration between councils and infrastructure platforms like Uber, Airbnb and utility companies, who have sophisticated data on the people and movements in the places councils serve, which stimulates innovation for those businesses and helps councils better understand & target needs as well as shape new markets. If you want to read more, check out Simon Parker on “The decade of love and rage”.

6. Root everything we do in tackling root causes of inequality & division

What happens when you have people living side by side who share different values and ways of life in this post-Brexit economy? Where some feel more connected to other more open communities in other countries or online? Where some can take advantage of the opportunities of the new economy, like co-living, co-working or exchanging assets, and other people are locked out or exploited? Where some people are able & confident to learn new skills needed, be it in digital making, relational provision or artificial intelligence, and others can’t? Where some people are being manipulated by the stories they hear and see? Where some places have the partners & employers that are investing in adapting to this new economy and feel rooted in the local system and others are going under or going abroad?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese