Transforming local councils

Wordle of the Innovation FrameworkMost local authority chief executives are heavily engaged in transforming their councils, in response to the resourcing pressures. Could they be doing more to achieve radical innovations more quickly and more successfully?  From our recent interviews with 12 chief executives from larger authorities we believe many of them could.

We found that many chief executives were doing some of the things that encourage innovative working across an organisation, but that few had a comprehensive and systematic approach to fostering innovation.

How were chief executives encouraging innovation?

Most chief executives were optimistic and positive about the future.  They had all consulted local residents about future priorities and supported politicians in agreeing their councils’ ambitions.   Most had identified the major areas for radical innovations. Many had been striving to get the ‘right people’ in their top teams.   Many talked passionately about the importance of honest, two-way communication (with employees, service users, residents and partners). All were conscious of the importance of employee morale, and the challenge of maintaining it given jobs losses and other major changes. And most were encouraging managers and employees to think about how they might ‘do things differently’. All were engaged in a range of cross-organisational and cross-boundary initiatives. And most had systematic ways of driving and tracking progress, to deliver new initiatives–with many highlighting the importance of their programme and project management systems in turning ideas into reality.

So what more might they do?

Not all chief executives were:

  • Developing explicit politically supported policies on managing risk, including a no blame approach to intelligent failures.
  • Working on getting the pace of innovation right, including creating as many positive moments as possible.
  • Ensuring that their managers had a deep understanding of their services users’ aspirations and priorities.
  • Deliberately attracting, retaining and making the most of employees with the skills and attitudes required to implement innovations.
  • Working with unusual partners, such as people from the creative sector.
  • Ensuring that organisational practices encouraged innovation.
  • Safeguarding time for reflection and creative thinking.
  • Recognising, rewarding and celebrating innovations.

And very few were:

  • Ensuring that a major proportion of top team (politicians and senior managers) time and effort was focussed on achieving major innovations.
  • Putting innovation processes in place, appropriate to each service.
  • Ensuring that managers successfully operated these processes.
  • Protecting those working on radical innovations from day to day work and organisational pressures.
  • Involving ‘leading’ service users and front line staff in innovation processes.
  • Looking at new places for fresh ideas, e.g. the creative sector, the private sector, other countries.
  • Employing sufficient people with expertise in: a) innovation processes and b) the opportunities provided by latest new technology and social media.

Taking a comprehensive approach

To capture the key actions chief executives can take to support and accelerate innovation, we’ve created a ‘Local Council’s Innovation Framework’: http://creativity.city.ac.uk/accelerating_local_govt_innov.html.  The current Framework is a draft, so please let us know what you think of it by 28th February 2012.  Post your comments below or email them to: joan.munro.1@city.ac.uk

What next

In late March, having reviewed your comments, we will issue a revised version of the Framework.    Under each of the factors, we will be adding quotes from chief executives as well as examples of the actions they are taking.  We will also create an anonymous electronic benchmarking tool, so that chief executives can compare their scores against different aspects of the Framework.

We will be using the Framework as the basis for more detailed research with frontline staff in two or three councils.  If you would like more information about what this please email: joan.munro.1@city.ac.uk or ring: 0779 2952 498.

Creativity on a Shoestring

Ever wondered how to do more for less? Most of us have. Indeed, in the current economic climate, you cannot just throw resources at problems. Smarter is the new smart. And many commentators have argued that creativity is key to being smarter.

However, these same commentators often ignore that creativity is not free. Indeed, many reported creative processes and techniques themselves consume resources – resources that organizations just don’t have. This poses a challenge – how to be creative with less. We need creativity on a shoestring.

I’ve been working with City graduate Bianca Hollis of BBC worldwide to design and evaluate creativity on a shoestring. Bianca is a user experience designer developing digital products such as web sites and software apps. Like many working in digital media, she uses agile methods to design these products. Agile methods encourage the iterative development of working software, often in two-week cycles. This leaves little time for creative thinking – who really wants to think divergently when the next software release is expected in 10 working days?

So our challenge was to fit creativity techniques into agile in creativity workshops that rarely last more than 45 minutes in agile projects at BBC Worldwide. We gave stakeholders techniques such as hall of fame, constraint removal and back to the future to generate ideas for new BBC products. Moreover, I think that we succeeded. The workshops generated lots of ideas that were rated significantly more novel than existing ideas in the project backlog.

We were sufficiently excited by these successes to take the shoestring creativity techniques on the road. This week we ran a tutorial at OOP2012 in Munich, teaching quick creativity techniques to agile software developers. The techniques were a success. People’s reactions revealed that we’ve hit a nerve. Creativity on a shoestring is needed more than ever.

So let’s be smart. Create more from less.