The Creative Councils programme helped local government innovators across England and Wales to develop radical new solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing their communities.
Creative Councils started in 2011 with an open call for ideas, which invited councils across England and Wales to tell us their ideas for tackling a long-term challenge that mattered to their communities.
We deliberately avoided specifying the kinds of challenges or solutions that we wanted councils to tackle, leaving this up to local areas to determine themselves. We received 137 applications, covering a huge range of issues, and shared these online with the wider local government community.
We selected 17 councils who we thought had some of the most promising ideas. These ranged from community models for meeting rural transport needs in Cambridgeshire, to incentives for behaviour change in Essex, and the GeniUS open innovation platform in York, which aimed to harness the knowledge and creativity of its citizens to tackle the issues that mattered to them most.
Over the course of nine months, we supported each of the councils through a combination of development finance and methods like ethnography and prototyping to get feedback and quickly iterate their ideas. We offered them regular coaching and connected them to specific sources of expertise in areas such as community engagement and legal advice.
In May 2012, we selected five councils to receive support to implement their ideas. This included:
- Grants of up to £150,000
- Coaching provided by the Innovation Unit
- Specific expertise to assist them with business modelling, design and user engagement, communications and more.
We also held regular Creative Council Camps throughout the life of the programme as key touch points and opportunities for the councils to come together as a community.
These focused on issues such as developing their core proposition, creating a theory of action and developing a roadmap for change. They also allowed the councils to gain insights from each other’s work and challenge each other to refine and improve their ideas.
The five Creative Council finalists were:
- Derbyshire, which developed ‘Uni-fi’, a bespoke package of support aimed at developing aspiration amongst young people in care. This included changing the culture of the council and providing a guaranteed entitlement to financial support which could be invested by young people in their future.
- Monmouthshire, which sought to identify and implement new solutions to problems by changing the culture of the employees at the County Council, and the way in which they worked with local residents and businesses. Central to this approach was the Centre for Innovation and an intrapreneurship training programme, which set out to introduce council employees to the concept of innovation and what it meant for service delivery.
- Rotherham, which launched ‘Ready Unlimited’, a council-backed social enterprise to support teachers to embed enterprise and entrepreneurship across the school curriculum. Their focus was on scaling their ‘Ready’ approach beyond Rotherham to enable more young people to be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of work in the 21st century.
- Stoke, which aimed to make the city energy self-sufficient by moving towards local ownership of energy supply and positioning the council as a strategic broker of resources. They forged new partnerships to drive renewables projects and launched a series of energy efficiency programmes.
- Wigan, which looked at how it might create a new economic model for social care by harnessing under-utilised and untapped resources within the local community. The model aimed to make better use of volunteers, supported the development of micro-enterprises, and explored how to use a local currency to keep the value of care interactions in the local economy.
What did we learn?
Through Creative Councils, we learned a huge amount about what it takes to be a brilliant local government innovator and shared the top ten lessons in our report, ‘Call for Action: Ten Lessons for Local Authority Innovators’:
- Look from new vantage points – innovation is as much about asking questions as it is about finding solutions.
- A good story isn’t enough – don’t get captured by the allure of a good looking slide deck. Focus on the results, use practical language and you will be more likely to make a real difference.
- Get off the balcony and onto the dance floor – the real innovation challenge is not about having ideas, but turning those ideas into action. This requires resilience, leadership, risk taking and effective decision making.
- Do your learning in the real world – and do lots of it – find space and time to experiment, test and improve your initial ideas to make them more radical and more sustainable.
- Developers are king – you don’t necessarily need to innovate from scratch; it’s often about matching ideas with great potential to investment, new business models and people who can make them work.
- No growth without pruning – decommissioning existing services is an essential part of creating new, different, better solutions.
- Seek allies, create a movement – think about how to mobilise local colleagues, partners, citizens, businesses and communities to help enact change.
- Develop good political antennae – know when to bring in political support and when to operate under the radar.
- The wave is more important than the surfer – innovation is a team activity that requires a mix of skills and aptitudes. The key is to bring them together in the right way.
- Practice your sprint and your marathon running – innovators need to combine patience and perseverance with spotting and seizing moments for breakthroughs.
We also shared the learning from the Creative Councils programme with our partners at Bloomberg Philanthropies, who subsequently launched the Mayors Challenge in the United States and then across Europe.
Over 300 cities participated in the US programme, with the winner of the Mayors Grand Prize for Innovation, Providence, Rhode Island receiving a $5 million implementation award for its cutting-edge early education initiative. The European competition was won by Barcelona, which received €5 million toward its proposal to create a digital and community ‘trust network’ for at-risk older residents.