Monday, September 19, 2016

Toolkit for Change – Canterbury District Council


In Canterbury District Council, Rob Francis, Richard Field and Sue Goss worked with the top fifty managers to develop commercial and entrepreneurial skills and inspire new ways of thinking that could lead to more creative service design.

What did we do

Drawing on research about best practice both in the local authority and elsewhere, we designed and ran three Toolkit for Change ‘challenge and creativity’ workshops  – incorporating best practice from other councils, communities and the commercial world, framed clearly within the core values of public service.

Lenses for reviewing public service included channel shift, new forms of ownership and public service delivery, asset mapping and unlocking the capacity within local communities / partners, creative thinking and ways of valuing public impact and investment. In between workshop sessions, managers and staff worked on ideas, challenges and possibilities culminating in preparation and presentation of business cases for change to a panel in the final session.


Feedback on the process and benefits can be seen on this short video.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Southend Vision for 2030 – Southend on Sea Borough Council


Following an initial phase of community and stakeholder engagement carried out by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, the OPM Group was commissioned by the council to deliver a community engagement programme to support the Borough and Council in setting its community vision. The aim of the project was to facilitate a series of conversations to explore and develop the collective aspirations of a different groups within the community for the Borough, as well as identifying how these groups will work together to achieve it against a backdrop of reducing resources.

What did we do

In order to ensure that conversations were grounded in a detailed understanding and appreciation of the challenges and opportunities facing the borough, the initial stage of the project centred on in-depth research and scoping. This comprised community and stakeholder mapping, a rapid document review of recent public engagement and service monitoring data for the borough and a series of telephone scoping interviews.

The central element of our approach focused on a participation and engagement, harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of communities to ensure buy-in to the vision being developed. We carried out a series of workshops involving a wide cross-section of Southend’s communities, from businesses to grass-roots local organisations to residents more widely.


These events comprised a smaller, targeted focus-group style discussions with specific groups as well as larger open-invitation workshops and enable local people to contribute thoughts and ideas to the ‘narrative’ being developed so that it reflected a genuine community-wide, collaborative discussion.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Unlocking Local Capacity – four years on

Let’s start with the scene-setting – the introduction you hear at every local government conference you’ve been to for the last five years. Money is getting tighter and tighter. Demand is growing – particularly in areas like adult social care. Five years from now – short of some miraculous windfall – councils won’t be able to deliver many of the services they do at present, at least in the way they’re used to, and maybe not at all.

Next, you hear something about citizens and communities. Wherever we look for solutions – localism, behaviour change, channel shift, technology, better partnerships and so on – sooner or later relationships with communities crops up as crucial to making at least some of this work. That could mean getting better at co-designing services with citizens, as opposed to calling them out to dull consultation events every few years. At the other end of the spectrum, it could mean local organisations – or even just groups of residents – taking on a service or an aspect of a service that otherwise would no longer be sustained. Both of these activities are happening already, of course, in different places and according to different challenges.

This much we know – and have known it, talked about it and predicted work around it for over the last five years. But what we know less well is how far everyone’s got on in actually doing something about it. And that is what I want to find out.

So, if you work in a local authority, what is your organisation doing to build, nurture or unlock the capacity in your communities? How have you been trying to genuinely, deeply involve local people in redesigning services, or in helping them to change their lives/neighbourhoods for the better in ways that might not involve traditional council services at all? We asked these questions to 30 local authorities in 2011-12 when we researched our publication ‘Unlocking Local Capacity: why active citizens need active councils’. We made the case that empowering citizens didn’t just mean councils ‘getting out of the way’, but that on the contrary, it demanded that councils play a very direct, active role – just working in a different way than many had been used to.

Four years on, we want to revisit those same questions and take stock of what councils are doing or planning now. For some, the constant pressure on budgets and ever-increasing demand will have put innovation around community involvement firmly on the back-burner. For others, those same challenges have been a spur to action, driven by the ambition of certain members, senior managers, officers at the coalface or other local partners to try new things. Are we seeing real, tangible results, or is it all still a work in progress?

Over the next few months I’ll be holding a series of telephone interviews with strategy and policy leads in local authorities to hear about their successes, frustrations, ambitions and plans to build local capacity and move into new, dynamic and impactful collaborations with community partners. I would love to hear from people delivering different things across a range of local authorities across England to build up a picture of what’s happening and what works. So if you’d to add to the debate, please do get in touch.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Can a different kind of council website help build new collaborations with communities?

For years, most councils have been running consultations with their communities to find out what they think about services, what they want to see done differently, and increasingly what they would prioritise (and depriotise) in order to inform spending plans.

This is largely an exercise in research – in understanding what people think about their services, what they’d change, and when tough choices are on the table, what they’d protect and what they’d cut.

A lot of my work in the last couple of years has been about promoting another aspect of community engagement (and this is definitely engagement, rather than consultation). This work emphasises the value of co-design, whereby service users and citizens more widely help to shape what services look like. More than that, it also seeks to explore how outcomes can be achieved in new ways – perhaps involving a community group in delivering a service, or supporting a community to take on a project or an asset itself.

Increasingly we’re finding councils keen to open up these new sorts of conversations – with town and parish councils, with community groups or just with driven individuals who have a big idea. But councils can struggle with what this means in practice. There’s the obvious challenge of making time and resource available to nurture these local ideas when ever-shrinking budgets loom. But aside from that, there’s another simple, practical challenge of what an ‘ongoing conversation’ or ‘ongoing engagement’ really looks like, and how to enable it in a way that’s cost effective and which isn’t repetitive.

Part of the answer – though only part – could be a website like the one Devon County Council has recently launched:

Devon County Councul website home page

It was something they already had in the pipeline when we worked with them earlier in the year through the Cabinet Office’s Delivering Differently programme. As part of that programme, we helped them produce content for the website, reflecting on some of the local projects we had been involved in and sharing some of the tools we had used.

So who is this website aimed at?

The intention is that a Devon-based group or an individual with an idea for their area – or maybe just half an idea – can use this website to get started. Perhaps you feel there’s a challenge that needs addressing and want to get people together to work on a solution – here you’ll find tools for running engagement events. Perhaps you have plans for how to use a local building in a different way – here you can read guidance about taking on a building as a community asset. Perhaps you’re starting with a project but no venue and want to find out what buildings could be suitable – the website provides a map of council buildings, how they’re used and even how big they are. And wherever you’re starting from and whatever your project, there will be some sort of guidance, tools or local case study that’s relevant. That’s important because when people find this website, they won’t all be starting from the same point.

Isn’t all this material available already, somewhere else?

Some of it, certainly. Lots of councils already provide (very dry) lists of consultations that are currently live, and somewhere else they may provide local data profiles of their communities. National organisations like Locality and the Plunkett Foundation, meanwhile, provide some great advice, guidance and case studies on topics like supporting a village library or saving a pub. The real value of Devon’s community website is that it brings all these things together into one place, presented through a very local lens, and makes a very public, positive invitation to residents and local groups to start a journey of involvement.

And that positivity, coupled with clear, practical routes to shaping a proposal and submitting it to the council – is important. Sure, there’s also a cuts narrative behind all this, and the cabinet member’s introductory message doesn’t shy away from that. But you can’t easily frighten or depress people into getting active – much better to inspire and energise, which is what the website’s local case studies do, from the youth club in Ottery to the book shop in Crediton.

Positive and practical routes to involvement

I personally would have gone with a  diffent tag line for the website – ‘helping communities to help themselves’ has something of the Victorian moraliser about it. But overall this website positions itself well as a different kind of local authority resource, combining warm words on co-production with practical routes to involvement – local data to inform your case, tools to engage your neighbours, buildings you could enquire about and guidance for making a proposal. I suppose it feels like a website which flings open a door on the sort of collaboration implied by the new Community Rights, rather than peering suspiciously from behind a curtain at County Hall.

What sort of response people will get from Devon County Council if they take up the invitations made here, I don’t know. Certainly a website on its own won’t mean much if in practice, it’s not followed up by a willingness or ability to support those ideas and proposals that emerge. But as a repository of useful information, an exercise in openness and a statement of a council’s intent to be collaborative and creative about its assets and services, it’s a good start. Maybe every council should set up a site like this as one strand of that ‘ongoing engagement’ we all keep talking about.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Systems Leadership in Complex Cities

How OPM recently worked with Vietnamese civil servants to explore the role of systems leadership in complex city challenges.

With a population centre of more than 10 million people, London is the UK’s one and only megacity. Whilst the city plays a dominant global role, there is no doubting that its sheer volume of people, communities and businesses creates unique social, economic and environmental challenges.

Much of OPM’s change and transformation work seeks to address complex and uncertain situations like these through systems leadership thinking.

This sort of leadership has been defined as “the collaborative leadership of a network of people in different places and at different levels of the system creating a shared endeavour and cooperating to make a significant change.”

Systems leadership will therefore be crucial in meeting the challenges of megacities, and so we were delighted to host a delegation of planning and investment civil servants from Vietnam earlier this month to explore the role of systems leadership in the context of complex city challenges.

The event, organised in conjunction with the University of Southampton’s business school, explored systems leadership through a case study on 9 Elms. 9 Elms is a key regeneration initiative in the centre of London that will create among other things, 18,000 new homes; 25,000 new jobs; 2 new tube stations and a new linear park.

Whilst the regeneration efforts will contribute to local economic growth, there are already concerns around a lack of affordable housing, the long term viability of local independent businesses and the balance between commercial and civic space.

After learning more about systems leadership, the delegates were tasked with identifying the potential problems that may arise as the project progresses and the systems leadership skills and behaviours that would be required to overcome these problems.

The feedback from each group was remarkably similar. The project’s success will require the cultivating of positive and honest relationships between partners across the public and private sector, while the tension between profitability and creating a pleasant living environment will have to be managed sensitively throughout the process. Those involved in leading the regeneration efforts will also need to be brave enough to confront difficult conversations when interests conflict or risk stalling the progress of the project.

OPM would like to thank Dr Stefan Cantore from University of Southampton’s Business School for jointly facilitating the event and the NCVO for providing the venue for the day.

For more information on OPM’s experiences around systems leadership, you can download our recent paper, “Systems Leadership: A view from the bridge.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Our Place Guide to Co-design

This short guide aims to provide an introduction to co-design in public services: the reasons to do it, the principles that underpin it and some practical approaches for making it work. It focuses on co-design as opposed to co-production, although there are clear overlaps and links between the two, and much that is said here is relevant to both.

Above all, it seeks to make the case that co-design implies something very different to ‘consultation’ as its often understood, and it urges councils and other public bodies to think carefully about the ways they set about planning and undertaking engagement activity with service users.

Monday, June 15, 2015

OPM features heavily in influential new Systems Leadership paper

The Leadership Centre‘s role is to create the space for senior managers and politicians from across the public sector to think about the ambitions they have for their communities and how they can achieve them in order to fundamentally transform their localities for the better. It is made up of leadership experts with experience in politics, central and local government and the wider public and private sectors.

Its most recent publication, ‘The Art of Change Making’, is a collection of theories, approaches, tools and techniques for understanding the complex interactions between people and organisations and how to intervene to create meaningful change. These are used by current practitioners in developing systems leadership.

OPM features heavily in the paper. The document can be downloaded by clicking on the image below:

Quotes from OPM’s Principal in Local Services Sue Goss can be found on pages 199, 205-206 and 130, OPM Associate Paul Tarplett on pages 4, 117, 120, 186, 209, 211-212 and 217, Matt Gott on pages 2, 50, 71 and Liz Goold on pages 57, 93, 147 and 245.

Sue Goss has also published a short paper on the subject, Systems Leadership: A View from the Bridge, a personal account of what has been learned from working with leaders collaborating across organisations to achieve difficult outcomes with shrinking resources since 2010.

Monday, June 8, 2015

We all want to grow community capacity – but are we trying to do it in the wrong place?

How do we grow more engaged communities? How do we utilise the ideas, the skills and energy in our towns, villages and neighbourhoods in ways that make people’s lives better – and which enable our limited public finances to stretch that bit further? How do we open up different sorts of conversations and relationships between citizens and agencies, and how do we sustain those? How can councils help to surface and support the capacity around us?

These are questions that all local authorities have been asking – to a greater or lesser extent – at least since the Big Society debates appeared five years ago, and in some cases long before. They remain important questions, and ones which can be found at the heart of much that we are asked to do by councils and their partners. Discussing the answers – potential and partial as they are – involves thinking and talking about all the things you’d expect: the idea of councils as enablers and facilitators, not just service deliverers; the importance of coproduction and co-design with citizens; the value of taking an asset-based approach in tackling challenges and engaging communities, rather than focusing on gaps and problems, and so on.

These are all familiar and important features in the landscape of this agenda, and they are ideas that continue to interest and excite people across public services and community organisations, which is positive. But it’s a landscape that is busy and crowded, and I’ve been trying to think of some simple ways to visualise the challenge at the centre of it all – the thing that’s stopping us from making major leaps forward, and which keeps a lot of stuff broadly the same.

Bear with me, this is a work in progress – and I’m writing a blog post, not a treatise.

So I’m starting with this single, green circle – the collaborative sphere. This represents a community where neighbours share things – books, garden tools, skills, ideas and time. If enough people think that something needs doing, they get together and do it because they agree its worthwhile, and because they know and trust each other. This is a community characterised by cooperation, relationships, trust, sharing, and reciprocation.

The Collaborative Sphere

In the next image, we see the green circle framed by something else – the accountable, governed sphere. Here, there is a recognition that whilst life in the green circle can be wonderful, things can go wrong. Decisions can be made in hap-hazard ways, or based on the whims of a few noisy individuals rather than the evidence of what would work best for the many. Moreover, people new to the community or those who are weakest may not get heard. The yellow, outer-circle therefore exists to keep things fair and safe and transparent. This is the world of process and procedure and accountability – things which can be very important not only in helping to reach sound decisions but proving that they’re sound.

Accountable Governed Sphere

Against this familiar backdrop, councils and their partners are increasingly interested in how they can grow the capacity of their communities – to build resilience, to enable and empower, to involve citizens in shaping new responses to local challenges and new ways to achieve better local outcomes.

But too often, I would argue, they are trying to do that from within the governed sphere – the world of consultation processes and public meetings, of steering groups and strategies. These things can all be important, but they’re not fertile ground for growing a more active, positive, networked community. Getting people to care, to take part, to start sharing ideas and taking action is much more effectively done in that green circle of collaboration.

And so we end up with the third image – a world in which we all ‘get’ how valuable community participation can be, but which our public  bodies try to nurture in the wrong place. We close down what could be creative, positive conversations with tightly formulated questions about how a service works or doesn’t work; we deter the mass of people from getting involved whilst satisfying a dedicated but often tiny core of consultation-responders and meeting-attenders; we make everything about generating an action plan or a strategy before we’ve invited people to do the most important thing of just coming together and talking and sharing and having a go at something.

Accountable Governed Sphere 2

Think about the most inspiring and successful examples of community involvement – from the local one-off projects to save a pub or reopen a shop through to movements like Incredible Edible. A lot of the activity that powers these projects takes place in that collaborative sphere, where people are excited and impassioned, where they build networks with their neighbours in order to make things happen. At some stage some activity has to move into the outer-sphere for all the reasons we’ve talked about – to make sure what they’re doing is safe enough, and fair enough, and a good use of public resources if and when those are required. But for the most part these projects do not live or grow in that outer-sphere – and had they moved over too soon, they would perhaps have run out of steam and reached a premature end.

And yet, too many of us in too many organisations continue to try building public participation in that outer-sphere. It’s what many officers, councillors and even chairs of community groups know best. It’s safe. It’s ordered. It’s efficiently directed at a specific topic or problem: ‘Tell us, community, what do you want us to do – option A, B, or C? Leave your comments in a box by the door.’ Or ‘Fill in our survey and tell us what matters to you so we can go away and work on it’. The outer circle may be safe and ordered, but it can also be a very passive space for citizens, a very dry and uncreative space, and a space which we hastily fill with the wrong questions and so only ever get partially useful answers.

This is not, I should emphasise, an ideological statement about the dangers of big government squashing a free and engaged society – because what we’re talking about here are some very genuine efforts by government, in its local form, to change its role by pushing power and activity into communities. The problem, I believe, is that these efforts either start in the wrong sort of space or are transplated into that wrong sort of space too soon, straight-jacketed and drained of all their colour and energy for the sake of making them look neat and tidy.

So our challenge, as councils, as community groups, as a whole system in any locality – is to keep as much activity as we can in the collaborative sphere; to realise that this is the place where people are likely to come together and make connections, share ideas, be creative and positive and participative. The governed sphere will always be hugely important in keeping things safe and evidenced and accountable, but rely on this space for radical new, co-produced solutions and we’ll continue to be disappointed.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Patients in control: ‘assume it’s possible’

Imagine walking into a GP surgery. For most of us, the first thing we normally face is a reception desk with overworked staff fielding phone calls in front of long queues of waiting patients.

What would happen if you took the reception desk away? Can you picture the waiting room as a place to talk to healthcare advisers, to find out about different wellbeing programmes without needing to necessarily even see a GP? The experience might feel something like going into an Apple Store and being greeted with a friendly smile and an iPad to search for options.

This is one of the latest ideas from the Bromley-by-Bow centre – reimagining the waiting room as a space to actively engage with patients, rather than a space where people are passively processed.

Operating in one of the most deprived areas of Tower Hamlets, BBBC is a pioneering community organisation – a vibrant hub with a café, arts workshops, offices, a nursery, garden, GP surgery and officers from the local housing association. The programmes that they run include helping people with long term conditions to take control of their lives, learn new skills, supporting people to find work and establishing social enterprises. The GP surgery (along with five others in the local area) refers patients to BBBC programmes through social prescribing.



Bromley-by-Bow Centre


The philosophy underpinning this approach is not necessarily new or unique – The Marmot Review into health inequalities emphasised a social understanding of health, and more recently Dr Atul Gawande dedicated one of his Reith lectures to the importance of medicine shifting from a focus on health to wellbeing. There is also evidence from social prescribing pilots elsewhere in the UK of the success of the approach. But the BBBC has put a wellbeing approach into practice and made it sustainable – based on an unswerving belief in the power of stronger, and more networked communities, and people’s capacity to achieve their goals and raise their aspirations.

OPM worked with the Bromley-by-Bow Centre (BBBC) to create a commissioning simulation as part of the South East CSU Person-Centred Care project. This aimed to explore the tools and knowledge that CCGs might need to confidently commission programmes and services that put patients in control.  Participants had to imagine they were at a Commissioning Challenge event for a fictional CCG – although not dissimilar to what some CCGs are already doing. At our event, commissioners, patients, local authority representatives, clinicians and voluntary sector providers had come together, to work up an idea on how to reduce Type 2 diabetes and heart disease through a living well programme.

Simulations always risk being slightly contrived, but the aim was to go beyond commissioners’ usual environments, draw inspiration from the setting and think about how to join the dots between different organisations in local areas – all of whom could have something to contribute to a wellbeing approach that puts patients in greater control of their health.

What did we learn?

Creating the space for CCG commissioners to come together with local organisations and patients is essential to understand what each has to offer. Patients in control programmes will rarely sit in isolation – they are part of a menu of options, and commissioners need to think across the local system.

We found many examples and case studies of programmes that could be described as putting patients in control. But commissioning these are not yet the norm.

Participants talked about the importance of CCGs being less risk averse – finding ways to challenge entrenched cultures, and influence others internally and externally. This is not an easy task in a time of tight budgets and long lists of priorities.

Within this context, being able to demonstrate impact and outcomes is vital – we have blogged about measuring impact in the context of commissioning earlier on in this blog series on person centred care.

Despite these challenges, overall, we found that there is real desire amongst CCGs to use the commissioning process to ensure that there are person centred approaches in place. As one participant in the simulation said: ‘The aim should be for a Bromley-By-Bow Centre in every local area…’

In the words of the Centre itself: ‘assume it’s possible’.


This is the third in a series of blogs to be published following the development of a set of online tools and resources by OPM in support of the person-centred care agenda for South East Commissioning Support Unit. The first is entitled: Person-centred care: putting patients in control and the second: Person-centred care: measuring impact.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From getting ready to getting going: Our Place learning event

Our Place is an exciting movement about building a movement for change in local communities. Run by Locality, and its delivery partners, including OPM, the project encourages collaborations between citizens, councils and other organisations at a very local level generate new solutions to our biggest local challenges.

On 24 June, OPM,  in partnership with Locality and LGA, hosted an event to enable people on the Our Place programme and those who are interested in the programme to share emerging ideas and activities with each other and build networks with some of our partners, Pioneers, Champions and Relationship Managers.


Our Place participants tell us about their projects and hopes for the future


We had some exciting speakers from the Pioneer Neighbourhood Community Budgets Programme, Champions and Relationship Managers. Just to name a few:

These events set the scene for the next stage of the programme as Our Place areas work towards their Operational Plans, ready for November 2014.