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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Social media and local democracy: a reality check

OPM and Dialogue by Design went along to a seminar a couple of weeks ago at the University of Westminster on the implications of digital and social media for the relationship between councillors and citizens, hosted by Involve and the Centre for the Study of Democracy. ‘Democracy first, digital tools second, but not necessarily never’ was the main conclusion of the discussion. Although there is still enthusiasm about the potential for social media to influence the way representatives work and widen political spaces, a degree of realism has emerged in the debate.

Steven Clift presented case studies of local councillors in Minneapolis where politicians have enthusiastically embraced Facebook – using personal profiles to engage their constituents, community activists and supporters. Through the example of a dispute over a public meeting, he demonstrated how tagging people and places meant that posts and responses on the issue quickly circulated on Facebook feeds – with a more effective reach than notoriously hard to promote pages.

In the UK, Twitter is undoubtedly more popular amongst politicians. Two UK councillors also gave their perspectives. Cllr Tim Cheetham from Barnsley is now entering his sixth month without a tweet. He became disillusioned due to a combination of relentless negativity that can be found online, and the realisation that his presence on social media wasn’t adding anything to his work as a councillor. Cllr Liz Green from Kingston upon Thames remains a convert, but was keen to stress that social media should never entirely replace the myriad of other ways that councillors communicate with residents.

What has caused this hesitancy and caution over the use of social media? Access remains a key problem – an estimated 13% of adults have never used the internet. Interrogating this subject further can lead to some surprising findings – ‘Tech City’ in Shoreditch sits alongside a local population where 25% of households may not have the internet. Local politicians can also find they are engaging with people on Twitter who do not actually reside within their ward, while also giving priority to constituents who are able to condense their issue into 140 characters over those who have chosen to write a letter requesting a face to face meeting.

Getting the personal right on social media can be a difficult balance. The Facebook profiles from the Minnesotan politicians were definitely not a space for cat videos, pictures of a late night out or family updates – and are still a highly mediated version of the personal politician. But how much do we really need to know about our political representatives? Trust in local politicians tends to be higher than in MPs, but being active on social media can lead to criticisms that councillors are not doing their jobs. On the other hand, sharing too little risks politicians being permanently marooned on a soulless soapbox. Twitter might not actually be having much impact in breaking down these boundaries.

It’s about services too, not just politics. Local public services and voluntary sector organisations use social media, and many councils have successful corporately run feeds. This is opening up new virtual spaces for civil society. It is undoubtedly useful to keep track of what is going on locally, debate local issues, facilitate discussions amongst residents in an immediate and highly visible way. But that reality check remains important. Rejuvenating local democracy is not going to happen just through more people, networks and organisations being on Twitter.  It’s about how those different nodes of power and influence operate and interact – both online and offline.

The seminar ended with a set of challenges: Are there better platforms to engage? What are the metrics of success in the context of social media and local political representation? What are the features of a local area that mean social media might work well, and how do we recognise those?

In short, as we reach for our smartphone, we should be aware that Twitter and Facebook are not necessarily the platforms to rejuvenate civic life that we might have hoped for.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Setting out a vision for the future of Wellington centre


Wellington is failing to live up to its market town brand. On a national scale, medium sized towns like Wellington have been hit hardest, as retailers have become increasingly selective about where they locate. However, Wellington centre should be seen as having a much brighter future than many small and medium-sized towns, thanks to the size and income-diversity of its immediate population, along with its accessibility to a large and growing population across the wider area. OPM were asked to set out a vision for Wellington centre in 2020 and provide practical action plans on how the town can start to make real progress and improve its role as a busy, popular local hub

What we did

The research focused specifically on the future functions and prosperity of the centre of Wellington and included:

The report highlighted the following:


The report set out to the refocus the town council and its partners on a set of practical actions to support positive change in the centre of Wellington. These proposed actions were framed within a vision built on an understanding of local and  national drivers and trends, as well as the views and ideas of town councillors and local people.

As a result of the work, the town council has started identifying new opportunities for making progress against different strands of the vision, including the organisation of new market events and cultural activities. It has also started new conversations with local partner organisations to explore other routes to proactively supporting development.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Helping Shropshire councillors to unlock community capacity


In 2010, the Government announcement that it would be training 5000 community organisers to stimulate the ‘Big Society’ around the country. Shropshire Council wanted to explore how its existing elected members could be supported to play a similar role themselves. With council resources and councillors’ time increasingly stretched, the council set out to understand how elected members could focus their efforts to harness the skills and energy of local people. OPM had already built up a strong working relationship with Shropshire Council over the last five years, supporting officers and members through large-scale organisational change, so was well placed to help the council with this new programme.

What we did

The programme was launched at a day-long workshop, which explained the aims and underlying principles of the work to elected members and community action officers. With OPM facilitation, members and officers discussed what local projects they could focus on – ideally things they’d found tricky to address in the past, and where the local community could get involved.

Some projects morphed over the months that followed, and ultimately included projects to redevelop or revive community halls, bring a vacant rural pub back into use, using social media to build better communication between local people in a small community and setting up a partnership to tackle anti-social behaviour (ASB) and related streetscape issues on a housing estate.

This programme has not been about trying to impose a strict method on how councillors operate. OPM’s role has been to encourage members, community action officers and sometimes other community representatives such as parish councillors to reflect on how they approach an issue, to think about it differently or involve different people in finding a solution. This has involved staff from the core project team and other OPM colleagues sitting in on project meetings and giving feedback at the end, helping facilitate those meetings, offering advice on techniques and approaches (e.g. on use of social media and impact assessment) and acting as a ‘critical friend’.

Social impact

The programme has generated a huge amount of learning which is enabling councillors and officers to see what the main ingredients of a successful local community project are likely to be, and what sort of role they can expect to play. Some of that learning also points towards the need for the council to modify how it works behind the scenes to support councillors with officer time, expertise and sometimes funding. The projects that OPM observed and supported during this first phase of work in Shropshire have, to date, led to:

The creation of a community-led webpage where people are contacting elected members in a new way, and contacting each other about local events and activities.

This learning is informing the council’s future approach to community leadership and member development, and the programme is now being rolled out into other parts of the county.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Wellington 2020

This document sets out a vision for Wellington centre in 2020. It focuses specifically on the future functions and prosperity of the centre of Wellington, defined here as the area within and just outside the ring road.

It does not purport to be a comprehensive vision for life in Wellington – important issues such as education and skills, health and wellbeing are outside its remit. Rather it is concerned with how the centre of Wellington can respond to local and national trends and pressures in the years ahead.

As important as the vision statements are the proposed actions to help make this vision a reality. The intention is that this report at least serves as a starting point for conversations which lead quickly to practical actions. As such, the aim of this document is to move beyond warm words and wish lists towards a vision for Wellington centre which is not only positive but realistic and achievable.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The role of elected members in achieving social outcomes

Members could play a greater role in consciously building social capital and enhancing the contribution of individuals and groups to social outcomes (what is often termed co-production). This could contribute to a changed relationship between citizens and the state, and in turn, reduce demand for services. It might also lead to increased public satisfaction with local government and for some members increased satisfaction with their role.