Delivering a more innovative approach to service delivery in local government requires the potential of social capital within services to be unlocked. It also requires customers and suppliers to be viewed as equal partners in the co-production of services. These are the key findings from a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
The report is based on detailed case studies from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, Sunderland City Council and the London Borough of Sutton.
The researchers found that innovation flourishes when people are empowered to work collaboratively with service users and across organisational boundaries to engage in problem solving. In this way, the councils have been able to mobilise existing knowledge and skills to generate creative new solutions to the increasing demands placed upon them.
According to the research, the crucial catalyst for these new ways of working is the appointment of senior teams who demonstrate new styles of leadership. More open leadership behaviours help to create climates of trust and self-belief, giving staff at all levels the confidence to explore both incremental and radical ways of changing the way they work.
For example, one council faced with making redundancies turned its approach to internal recruitment and development on its head by creating a ‘talent pool’ instead of an ‘at risk’ list, which enabled existing staff’s skills, knowledge and experience to be redeployed in other areas of the organisation.
Another council’s HR team delivered on its commitment to zero redundancies by creating an internal jobs market which enabled the council to radically reshape and redesign services whilst also allowing them to offer job, rather than role, security to their workforce. It has also allowed them to develop a flexible and adaptable workforce better suited to meet future challenges.
The research also identified barriers that often thwart innovation in the public sector: They include siloed working, evaluation systems, which are not designed to support innovation and public service users rarely being invited to engage in the innovation process.
John McGurk, learning and development adviser at the CIPD, said: “In today’s challenging local authority landscape, innovation really is the key to making an impact. Even though a high proportion of what we call ‘cautious innovators’ are found in local government, our case studies provide excellent examples of authorities who are firmly embracing innovation. They know that engaging everyone, from employees to customers and suppliers in the innovation effort will pay dividends in service delivery and efficiency.”