From global heating to demographic change to entrenching social inequalities, a growing cast of wicked issues demands bold new policy agendas stretching years if not decades into the future. Sudden ‘black swan’ shocks from climate emergencies to global pandemics demand the opposite: immediate, game-changing adaptation. Fiscal retrenchment in recent years has reduced the capacity of many nation-states to respond to either challenge while declining trust in governments and public organisations now sets citizens at odds with the institutions designed to serve them. Looking forward, the only thing we might accurately predict is yet more uncertainty.
This conference seeks to tackle a problem animating policymakers, service professionals and academics alike: in an increasingly complex world, how can public services and social interventions create and sustain positive outcomes for the people and populations they serve? There is increasing pressure for a radical change in the form and function of public administration, management and governance. Genuine social outcomes – those high-level conditions of societal wellbeing like quality-of-life, health, criminal behaviour or educational attainment or responses to climate change or energy shortages – are simply too complex to be delivered by top-down policymaking, target-driven management and contractualism, or more rigorously-evidenced social interventions. Outcomes across the human and relational services are better achieved and value better created by investing in the capability of public service systems and to engage meaningfully with the complexity of people’s lives and the communities they live in.