News and Comment

Innovative public bodies, creative councils

Wednesday 21 September 2011


Last week saw the Creative Councils camp – an opportunity for the 17 councils to come together with NESTA and the Local Government Group (LGG) to support and explore how their innovation and creativity could be used and shared. I’m excited to be supporting Stoke in their energy self-sufficiency ambition, especially after the positive response from many of those who attended.


While a further 300 other authorities couldn’t be there, we shouldn’t assume that they lack ambition, creativity or innovative ideas of their own because, of course, each is dealing with a unique set of circumstances for service delivery, achieving outcomes and meeting needs in their locality. Here are a few observations that emerged for me last week.

Diffusion of Innovations

To have a whole authority innovating everything (I exaggerate) would detract from day-to-day delivery and medium-term focus. I find the ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ concept by Everett Rogers to be a powerful reference point. Essentially he observed that for any idea you could expect a range of engagement from a population of people (and by extension organisations). There would be a small proportion of innovators (2.5%), with increasing proportions of early adopters (13.5%), and the early majority (34%), though even at this stage of adoption we would only be accounting for half the population. The second half would be made up of late majority (34%) and finally the laggards (16%). Interestingly, there are as many laggards as innovators and early adopters put together.

Where are you? Most local authorities are big enough to be a laggard in something, and an early adopter in something else. The model suggests few can truly be innovators in a particular idea, while laggard, though sounding derogatory, may simply reflect you don’t agree with the fashion or policies that are driving a particular way of doing things in your area of work.  Either way it is important to know where you are in Rogers’ model, and that that view is shared between officers and politicians. There are a few too many recent examples where politicians and officers had different perspectives with unfortunate consequences.

So be clear about where or what you are trying to innovate, where something is evolving and building on what went before, where you are happy to borrow and learn from others, or why you don’t ‘buy’ the latest policy.

There is also the question of perspective. Most things can be seen in a different light that would help reframe our understanding of what’s going on, on what’s working or needs attention, or open up new ways of addressing what may be a complex situation. Taking a systemic approach in working with one project we helped identify three ways to reframe an issue: taking a user perspective, broadening the view of which resources were in play, and turning the issue on its head to look at the inputs and what effect we could have on them. Bringing in and valuing different perspectives will help your creativity.

Finally, don’t forget to explore the Creative Councils website – there will be many ideas developing there that may be relevant to you, your services, and the outcomes your community intend to achieve. Of course, you can also search our site too.