How can elected members foster more innovations in their councils?

By Joan Munro, Director, Accelerating Innovation in Local Government Research Project

The Accelerating Innovation in Local Government Research Project (AIILGRP), in partnership with the Local Government Association, has been examining what councillors might do to foster more innovations in their councils.

The study builds on previous research the AIILGRP has undertaken with chief executives and frontline employees.

Discussions were held with leading councillors from around the country, then a range of councillors with an interest in innovation were interviewed individually in more depth.

The research identified four key actions councillors might take to encourage innovation to flourish in their councils.

Creating the climate for innovation

Our previous research indicated that the attitude of leading members plays a key role in creating an organisational climate that encourages innovation.

Many councillors recognised the need to welcome new ideas and creative thinking.  As one explained: ‘you need to get across to the officers that councillors want to have innovation, want to do things in a new way.’

Several council leaders discussed the importance of encouraging their employees to pro-actively look outside for better ways of doing things, as one put it: ‘to plagiarise with pride’.

Many interviewees discussed the need to take calculated risks, and to tolerate and learn from intelligent failures. As one council leader said: ‘if you are absolutely convinced that what you are doing is right, then you have to mitigate the risks. Because we are a council that innovates, we constantly have to take risks and we don’t always get it right. But for every one thing that goes wrong, I can probably point to another six that have gone right.’

Agreeing clear, long-term ambitions for innovation

The councils that were developing the most significant innovations have clear ambitions and priorities for innovation, based on their communities’ concerns and an assessment of the long-term financial outlook. For example, one explained: ‘we have a 20-year plan as to what kind of communities we want. It is alive and breathing, and it runs through everything we do.’

The councils that are achieving the most innovations also earmark sufficient time and resources to develop their innovation priorities.

Leading for innovation

Many council leaders emphasised the need to build a united leadership approach to innovation. As one explained: ‘you have to take people with you.  If you can’t convince people in your own group, or your own council, then you are not going to take the public with you.’

Many stressed the importance of convincingly communicating the need for innovation to employees and local residents.

Ensuring priority innovations are delivered

In the most innovative councils, the council leaders make sure there are effective systems that deliver the priority innovations.  For example, one council leader insists on a programme and project management approach, led by him and the other cabinet members.

In these more innovative councils, the council leaders are persistent despite many barriers, opposition and setbacks.   As one put it: ‘even when it gets rocky, you have to have the resolve, because you firmly believe what you are doing is right.’

Reviewing to encourage innovation

Councillors can use the report ‘Council Leaders’ Key Action for Innovation’, as a checklist to consider whether they might do more to encourage innovations in their councils.  See: http://tinyurl.com/councilleaders

Councillors can also use the presentation of the research findings, to start a group discussion on how they might achieve more innovations.  See:

http://www.slideshare.net/joanmunro/council-leaders-innovation-non-pdf

For more information please contact Joan Munro by email, phone or Twitter:

Email: joan.munro [at] btopenworld.com

Mobile: 0779 2952 498.

@JoanMICL