In this provocative and practical paper, social entrepreneurship leader Matthew Pike sets out a course of action for a wholesale change of culture, decision-making and accountability in the contracting of public services, to take advantage of a 'rare window of opportunity to transform how government works with others'.

For the potential of mass collaboration to be realised, the bad habits of the top-down, mass-production model need to be unlearned by central government. Above all, the current experiments with 'payment by results' for funding public service providers should be scrapped. There is rising public concern that payment by results as currently trialled can be highly destructive, with narrow, top-down metrics; overly large, complex and costly contracts; the temptation to take on easier cases and further marginalise those who are harder to help; and the ever-present risk of 'gaming', over-reporting and fraud.

The alternative model of 'payment by success' proposed here is much tougher on non-performance than payment by results purports to be. By harnessing the potential of real-time 'big social data', all providers will be brought to account for the results that matter to service users. Each year, the worst-performing 10 per cent of organisations will be subject to formal review and be at risk of funds being stepped down or withdrawn, where the facts justify it. In this way, ineffective services will be cut and more effective services will flourish over time, but with none of the costs of complex contracting or working capital that, in practice, make payment by results a blunt tool for promoting the privatisation of public service.

The benefit of this model for providers is that regardless of their sector the majority can expect longer contracts and deeper collaborative relationships. Those that deliver more and work in closer partnership with others will access more resources. They will, however, be accountable as never before.

Five steps to support mass collaboration

  1. Invest in shared institutions that build social capital and engender supportive working relationships across sectors and hierarchies, such as teams of supporters around individuals, community anchor organisations, children's centres, extended schools and more. Above all, invest in new 'backbone organisations' that can mobilise and organise whole-system change across localities.
  2. Understand what help people need in order to help themselves and discover the existing strengths within people and communities, through an immersive programme of listening and learning.
  3. Harness the new power of 'big social data' to turn public funding into a real-time process of action learning, understanding as much as possible about activities, outcomes and costs in an area to help design new systems that give people the help they need in a much smarter way.
  4. Provide funding, investment and support to test, grow and scale up what works better in a local context and cut what isn't needed or is less effective.
  5. Work progressively to use new insight and evidence to help redesign the wider systems, rules and regulations that hamper local achievement.