Hilary Cottam > Blog > Cities > Ode to Odense

Ode to Odense

Five years ago almost to the day, I made my first visit to Denmark.  At a conference on public service design hosted by MindLab, I was struck when Jorgen Clausen, the chief executive of Odense (Denmark’s third largest city) began his presentation talking about the city’s 1,000 leaders and 16 thousand employees.  These are the people he said, that make his city sing and might attract other people and make things happen.

I had become so used to the British context where public employees are more frequently seen as the problem rather than the source of innovation and where most local leaders feel compelled to start by framing their 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 its citizens are too dependent – this is why Mr Clausen believed 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 argued – with great foresight five years ago – that future solutions lie not in his institutions but with the citizens themselves and the extent to which he could foster better bonds, better conversations and better co-operation between them.  It’s a very different starting point for the design of welfare services.

This week I will be visiting Odense at the invitation of Hjerte Foreningen (the Danish heart foundation) I will be exploring these same themes which are core to Radical Help – how the bonds between us can be the starting point for a new way of thinking about health in particular and welfare more generally.  I can’t wait to see what Odense has nurtured in the intervening years.