Innovation in Public Services: Small is Beautiful

An interesting item on NESTA’s website, with some accompanying useful resources, summarising the recent launch of the ‘Small is Beautiful’ paper on innovation in local government.

NESTA supported the Local Government Information Unit to analyse the entries to its ‘Small is Beautiful’ competition, which asked local authorities to submit examples of innovation they had implemented in non-statutory services.

Glyn Gaskarth from the LGIU described the entries received and what they suggest about the state of innovation in local government. Glyn noted the number and diversity of the entries received, but also that the key to their success was that they were often led by small teams with small budgets. While some of the examples might seem quite marginal from a national perspective, they have made a decisive difference to their local area (for example, in reducing offending or improving social cohesion), and some of them could be seen as the ‘Big Society’ in action. Glyn outlined the main proposal from the report – that local authorities could establish a new way to encourage and support these types of activities by creating innovation funds drawn from their own discretionary spending.

The Small is Beautiful paper is here (PDF warning).

At the event, Rochford District Council provided a case study of the work they have been doing to support local retailers, called ‘Shop at My Local’. Here’s the slides (again, PDF warning).

In the following discussion several barriers were identified:

  • While there was a shared recognition of the barriers (such as funding, risk-aversion and evaluating the benefits), there was some concern about the risk of painting too negative a picture of the ability of local government to innovate, and so this becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was also noted the many large private sector organisations face similar challenges in establishing a pro-innovation culture.
  • Many in the audience pointed out that local government could make more use of the resources and organisations that already exist in order to innovate, from volunteers and the third sector, to funders such as NESTA, in lieu of establishing their own funds.
  • Similarly, there was a lot of discussion about existing mechanisms used by local authorities to support innovation, for example the Innovation Unit described the innovation lab they are helping Knowsley to establish, and another member of the audience highlighted the Local Strategic Partnerships that have innovation boards and funds.
  • There was, however, shared concern that time was against us, and that many of the innovative approaches such as those highlighted in the report, and the mechanisms that can support them (such as local invest-to-save budgets), are now at risk of being cut in the current age of austerity.

There’s more on NESTA’s website – including a whole load of resources for innovation in public services.

Thanks to Dom for highlighting this in his link round up.

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Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.