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Essex County Council is set to become the first county in the UK to run a challenge prize, in what is also the first prize designed for local government for Nesta's Centre for Challenge Prizes.

The Council is one of the largest county councils in England, in one of the most populous, complex and diverse counties in the country. The Council’s vision for Essex is to be a county where ‘innovation brings prosperity.' 

Working with communities, the Council has identified outcomes that are vital to improving quality of life for all residents. They realise local government doesn’t have all the answers, so we are working with them to find solutions from within the community. 

A challenge prize will allow the Council to tap into the wealth of knowledge and creativity that exists within Essex, to find solutions to some of the most difficult challenges facing public services.

In February 2015, Essex County Council committed to the creation of a £1 million Innovation Challenge Prize with a view to empowering communities to help themselves, finding and developing new solutions to some of the most difficult challenges facing public services in Essex. Mike Gogarty, Director of Public Health for the Council, is leading the initiative.

Challenge prizes are a tried and tested methodology. However, the Council has no prior experience in this technique. Therefore, they sought our support and advice to share expertise and offer guidance to allow the successful establishment of the Essex Challenge Prize. We hope this will also result in knowledge transfer to Essex County Council and other partners to enable the perpetuation of the approach.

Local government is working with reduced budgets and Essex County Council is no exception. The Council has saved £450 million over the last four years and needs to save at least £190 million more – nearly £200,000 a day – by April 2018. 

Innovation is not the preserve of service professionals. Communities may be doing great work now, tackling really difficult problems in new and exciting ways, and they may be able to do more with the right incentives and support. 

As part of Nesta’s work in citizen engagement in public services, we’re working with the Council to identify and explore problem areas where a challenge prize could drive innovative ways of modernisation, accessibility and general improvement. Over the coming months we will work collaboratively to identify a prize topic, scope capacity needs, produce an activity plan, and launch the prize. 

By running a challenge prize, the Council hopes individuals, community groups and whole communities will be encouraged to think about what would improve their lives and how they could make this happen for the greater good of Essex.