UKGovcamp 2014 Session Write-Up: Local Capacity for Innovation & Delivery

A good session was had at UKGovcamp on developing local capacity for innovation.  We had some very experienced folk in the room which allowed us to see ways through all the challenges and barriers!

There are a number of features to the discussion worth covering, but as a headline we achieved the central UKGovcamp goal – found people of common interest and a way to continue the conversation and learning at the Open Policy Making UK Linkedin Group.

Hidden Treasures

As we talked it was clear that there are some really interesting examples of local innovation that are not visible enough.  We need to be better at highlighting the work that we do and look to create an open resource for people to draw on.  From small but powerful ideas like a ‘you have permission’ letter from the Chief Executive to hand out to staff when they express reservations, to writing up whole case studies or sharing toolkits.  We can talk more about the practicalities in the Linkedin Group.

Some examples of local innovation practice,

Shaped by Us, Cornwall (including some great looking toolkit stuff)
SILK, Kent
Monmouthshire Intrapreneurship School

Please do post others to the Linkedin Group.  They can be individual projects as well of course that have something interesting to say about our ability to innovate.

The Language we use

One feature of our discussion was around the language we use and we agreed, I think, that talking about “innovation” is very likely to be counter-productive as we seek to share a way of working with people.  Andrea Siodmok (@designcomedy), who was Chief Design Officer at Cornwall County Council for a couple of years, suggested we instead talk about “making good ideas happen”. This is a great way to capture not just the need to design well, but also the need to implement successfully.

Stories from the new world

How do we show what these “good ideas”, developed from a true understanding of user need and context, are like?  How do we make it clear that new groups of people using design methods can deliver the radical solutions that are needed?  We tell stories, Andrea suggests.  Like the one about a village’s response to the withdrawal of the rural bus service.  They decided to paint a cross on the pavement by the bus stop.  Anyone passing by seeing someone standing on the cross could pick them up and take them into town for a £2.50 fare.


We heard a difficult story from a county council about their rural transport project that eventually ran aground because of a lack of senior leadership.  And we had a couple of examples where even with Chief Executive support, the body of the organisation can easily resist the “fad” unless a thoughtful and realistic long-term strategy is developed.

Giles Gibson talked about the importance of stress testing here, which was all about making sure enough of the right conditions are present before embarking.  Many of us will know how wasteful and draining it can be to be knocking on the wrong door.  But I hope Giles can help us explore that more on the Linkedin Group, because we need to learn how to work with people to get things off the ground.

Design thinking

I think we were clear that a design approach is the way to do this stuff, that takes us from discovery, through definition and development, to delivery.  The graphic below usefully illustrates how parts of the process are divergent (open) and others convergent (controlled).  Read more here.


There are plenty of examples of where design thinking is being used in the public sector, or starting to be.  Here are some useful links

Design Council’s Public Services by Design
Government Digital Service, Design Principles
NHS Institute for Innovation & Improvement

I also just found this Design Council report on design in public services

Getting Design into the DNA

We talked quite a bit about whether setting up a dedicated “innovation hub” – a physical space inside the council, say – was the way to go.  The difficulty with this we thought was that they are susceptible to being seen as very visibly “Other” to the mainstream and may set up a counter-productive “them” and “us” divide within the organisation.  We need good innovation work to be happening widely.  Esko Reinikainen talked about the work in Monmouthshire to teach cohorts of staff new skills and Andrea talked about how in Cornwall, design and project toolkits were written up, incorporating the best of existing methods (including PRINCE2!) to form a “new way of doing things” that has been embedded into all the transformation work they do.  The Head of Transformation was mentored by Andrea from the beginning, making the whole effort THEIRS, not something shipped in that would evaporate when the design consultants (or indeed the supportive Chief Executive) left.  Andrea talked about her Book of Nothing initiative:  A blank notebook was passed around inside and outside the council asking people to hand-write their idea of “what is innovation?”, starting with the Chief Executive and including (after much harrying and chasing), a visiting Nick Clegg.  This became a very powerful shared symbol of broad commitment and understanding, with each new writer being influenced by previous scribes.  This is very powerful cultural change work – absolutely aimed at encouraging everyone to participate, think for themselves and use their own language.

Catalyse the change, don’t be the change.

Maybe every council will have a Chief Design Officer at some point fairly soon to help imbue the organisation with the design approach?  Toolkits, open collaboration on projects, mentoring, learning by doing.

Where are the opportunities?

It’s really important to have enough space to create good ideas in.  Cornwall called it “thinking room”.  When the pressure’s on, there’s not enough time to do the work properly and we’ve all seen service user “consultation” be paid lip service in the rush to solve immediate commissioning and budget challenges.  So Andrea talked about “getting ahead of the problem”.  I’ve not spoken to them, but it seems to me SILK’s focus on designing for dementia is a good example here.  Certainly that’s the kind of big issue that deserves deep work to get the right kind of change in place for the long term.  What are the other biggies, and can we forge collaborations on these between local agencies or between councils etc – sharing resources and skills?

We also talked about the opportunities to re-use service designs and digital platforms that have been created elsewhere.  We remarked how common it is for people to resist “copying” others – opportunities to be praised as innovators and creators will be missed!  Nesta’s Creative Councils 10 Lessons report has an interesting point (5) on a role they call the public service developer: “These people don’t innovate from scratch but instead work out how to match ideas with great potential to sources of investment, new business models and the people who can make them work”.

With huge thanks to the wonderfully open sharing from folk in the session.  I learnt loads, hope others did too.

Let’s keep the conversation going and see what more we can do.



One thought on “UKGovcamp 2014 Session Write-Up: Local Capacity for Innovation & Delivery

  1. As part of a community implementing an innovative project (B4RN) I have found there is absolutely no collaboration between the community and the councils, utilities or other public bodies apart from parish councils. I think the crux of the matter is lack of common sense, and adherence to out of date rules, procedures, policies and surplus of people with clipboards and tick boxes.
    If we want to harness the power of the people we have to work with them.

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