Philip Colligan - 31.05.2012
Here’s an experiment. Turn to the person next to you and ask them to name an organisation delivering a cutting edge innovation.
Chances are you've just heard names like Apple, Google or Amazon. I'm willing to bet that you didn't hear the name of a local council. That could all change soon.
Over the past year, we've been working with councils across the country that are radically re-thinking the role of local government, their culture, their ways of working and how they transform services to meet some of the biggest challenges facing the communities they serve.
From an astonishing 137 applications we selected seventeen Creative Councils who we thought had the ambition and energy to bring their ideas to life. The ideas were as diverse as the challenges facing local communities, ranging from radical new approaches to financing much needed public infrastructure projects in Bristol, to working with communities to design innovative grass roots solutions to the challenge of transport in rural areas of Cambridgeshire.
Through the programme all seventeen Creative Councils have been supported with a small grant, coaching from experts in innovation management and targeted support on areas like legal, ethnographic research and community engagement. We've also been helping them scan the world for sources of inspiration and innovations that they can learn from and build on. Perhaps most importantly, they have worked together collaboratively as a peer group including through a series of pretty intense Creative Councils camps and other events that we held throughout the year.
It's been an amazing journey for all of the Creative Councils 2012 (as they shall now be known) and the ideas they have developed hold the potential to transform the ways that councils work.
Some have focused on ways to generate economic growth and new markets for local services. For example, 'Rotherham Ready', a council-backed social enterprise that works with the teachers of students aged 4-19 to engage them and their schools in the development of an enterprise-based curriculum. Or Wigan, which is creating a new model for social care that aims to harness untapped resources in the local community, using a complementary currency alongside an acceleration of personal budgets.
Others want to change the relationship that the council has with the citizens it serves, including Cornwall, which is implementing 'Shaped by Us', an approach to open innovation that invites local communities to put forward creative ideas to solve the county's biggest challenges and then backs them to make them happen.
Of course, not all of the Creative Councils' ideas will work. That is the nature of innovation. But all offer incredibly rich learning and practical examples of how local government can deliberately pursue a strategy for innovation.
What next? Over the next year, we'll be supporting six of the Creative Councils 2012 to move beyond the ideas stage and put their innovations in practice. It's been an agonizing choice deciding which six, but we've been driven by an ambition to work with innovations at different stages of development and covering a wide range of different fields - all with the intention of maximising the learning for the wider sector.
Only time will tell whether councils will ever rank alongside the big technology brands that are synonymous with the public idea of innovation, but if local government is going to tackle the huge financial and social challenges that all communities are facing, then it's a sure bet that they'll need to do a lot more that incremental improvement. They're going to have to think pretty fundamentally about their role and how they orchestrate resources in new ways.
The Creative Councils 2012 offer a glimpse into what could be possible. Theirs is a story of ambition and capability for innovation that deserves national attention.