Communications Manager, Cornwall Council
Innovation – are we ready for it to be a part of our DNA?
This post originally appeared on the LGA Knowledge Hub.
This blog post has been on my to do list ever since I visited Denmark a few weeks ago as part of the Bruce Lockhart Scholarship piece for the Local Government Challenge.
I’m now watching the LG Digital tweets coming out and it’s forced me to get it out of my head!
I went, with colleagues working on Shaped By Us and from Monmouthshire’s Creative Councils team to go and see how Denmark does local government innovation. They are an exemplar, having an organisation completely dedicated to this kind of work, as part of their government.
MindLab is a ‘cross-ministerial innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in developing new solutions for the public sector.’ They are based in Copenhagen in a purpose designed white space lab in a government building.
Visiting them, and meeting the charismatic Chris Basson who heads it up, I was reassured about the journey we are taking here in Cornwall in terms of innovation. Much of the methods are similar – talking to real people, using walls of post it notes, scoping out the issues and the ideas of how to tackle them, distilling these down into possible co-produced solutions.
What was most interesting though, was that even with all of this resource and funding they bump up against the exact same issues as we do: fundamentally, public sector management and elected Members, on the whole, aren’t ready for innovation.
There are always great individuals in organisations trying to do it. There are some fantastic senior leadership teams who champion it. There are Members who emplore us to do it. There are programmes such as Creative Councils that actively encourage it. But transformational change through innovation can’t actually happen successfully unless every budget holder, employee and elected Member buys into it. These projects are often ‘under the radar’. Something happening in the crazy corner of the establishment. Viewed as vanity projects and ‘nice to do’.
The truth is, when you look at the Creative Councils programme in particular, these are the schemes that we should be shouting about. These are the schemes we should all be asking ourselves why they don’t exist already. These are the schemes that when the chips are down, could really help local authorities to weather the brutal cuts to their budgets.
So I suppose this is an appeal.
Innovators, don’t sit in your dark corner cooking up your scheme – get out and get people excited about it from the beginning. Build internal advocacy. Start banging the drum. Dare I say it, create the burning platform (yuk).
Organisations, do your management a favour and don’t just talk about fostering an innovative culture, be it, show it, demonstrate it, do it and celebrate it. Mandate support of these projects. And invest in your employees so that they can work in an innovative environment. Break down processes. Allow the baby to be thrown out with the bath water. If it feels scary that’s OK if you support each other.
Employees and managers, demand more. Ask permission to change things. Eventually, don’t ask permission to change things – just change them. Use resources where fellow innovators are. Ask outsiders in – be that from your council but a totally different department or someone from somewhere altogether. They can show you how to innovate – because all it really means is doing something in a way it’s not been done before. Bear in mind this may be something very low tech, it’s not all about widgets and gizmos.
Elected Members, trust in innovation. Embrace it and promote it. Work with it. It’s designed to do things differently, better and lower cost. Isn’t that what we are all desperately trying to achieve?
Finally, let’s remember that we are a community. I was dead chuffed to see some shout outs for Shaped By Us at LG Digital. Let’s champion each other, share learning and bang the drum for innovation.
Remember, it’s just about doing things differently, we shouldn’t be afraid of that. It’s not necessarily about whiz bang high tech solutions. It’s just about a different point of view. Ask someone else, and see what happens…