The last decade has been a period of extraordinary growth in Camden, with our economy growing over 20%. During the same period we’ve experienced persistent austerity. Our budget has been reduced by nearly 50%, and the wider public sector in London has also experienced significant budget cuts. In our communities, for too many, the wealth and opportunities being generated on our doorstep feel increasingly out of reach, with growing inequality threatening our claim to being a progressive and inclusive society.
Whilst this growth imbalance is stark, we’ve refused to retreat from our communities, seeking to meet their ambition and creativity with our own. We believe that the public and private sectors have key collaborative roles in Camden — we are both sources of investment, innovation and the generation of social value. That’s why our “influencing” and “place shaping” roles are critical. We use different levers to do this.
1. We pioneer new ways of delivering outcomes that influence the wider agenda, often before others do
Many other councils look to just tweak what they’ve done or copy what other local authorities do, if they’re not fighting for survival. At Camden we’re not afraid to innovate where it can help improve the lives of our residents and reduce inequalities. And we’re not afraid to do it with residents, staff and our partners.
We pioneer new ways of delivering outcomes that try and influence the wider agenda, often before others do. Who would have thought that councils could build their own housing to be able to reinvest back into the community and affordable homes? Through our Community Investment Programme, we decided to be a house builder ourselves, several years before other councils, to ensure we could better deliver affordable housing and embed social outcomes throughout the development.
With our Employment Support work, where we want to support people furthest from the labour market and those in-work poverty, we’re focusing on how we can better redesign our offer, but also test radical ideas, like a hybrid basic income where people earn a living wage and grow themselves through coaching.
2. We’re not afraid to challenges ourselves and others to constantly put our communities first
We influence & lobby regional & national government on key areas that influence how we deliver services (i.e. testing new ways to provide employment support, affordable housing & support for the private rented sector, health & social care integration).
We’re also not afraid to challenge national policy to speak out on behalf of our residents and successfully lobby for additional funding as a result (i.e. HS2 compensation funding, Chalcots funding)
We develop new principles & standards that can shift behaviours towards the values we believe in (i.e. social value, environment & sustainability, blind recruitment) and help organisations & suppliers change how they work as a result (i.e. inclusive businesses)
We also challenge ourselves to continually improve. It’s why we launched an External Challenge, inviting people from different sectors to provide creative challenge to help us think differently, through immersing themselves in Camden — with our residents and frontline staff.
3. We mobilise the skills & energy of Camden’s communities & institutions to work together to tackle challenges that matter to our communities
Through our Community Challenges, we’ve’ brought together businesses, employers, communities and external institutions to develop practical and innovative solutions to issues that matter to all of us, from tackling climate change to social isolation. And we’re testing out how we can use our physical spaces to do that too, from our neighbourhoods makerspace behind the British Library, a living room for people to test activities in our library to a neighbourhood incubator/workspace with young people, startups and community organisations.
We also develop infrastructure that takes advantage of the strengths of innovative organisations for the benefit of the wider borough, as we’re doing partnering with universities to provide design (i.e. Public Collaboration Lab with Central Saint Martins) and policy expertise (i.e. UCL Fellowship), LOTI) to local services and increasingly community organisations. We also help towards the set-up of local institutions that can galvanise communities & businesses alike, as we’re doing through Camden Giving where we can pool our resources to increase investment in Camden.
4. We’re working out in the open to develop creative ways to tackle issues
We’re transforming how we work to create a truly 21st century council, which works creatively and out in the open, to deliver for our residents in challenging times.
One of our approaches to showcasing the innovation that happens throughout our organisation and injecting new ways of working is our Inclusive Innovation Network. Starting with a pilot project in October, our approach is to create multi-disciplinary teams, of not only practitioners and professionals, but we’ll be including our borough in new and creative ways. We will bring residents, elected members, academics, businesses and many more into our teams, throughout the lifecycle of the projects, iterating and learning as we progress.
We have talent and creativity throughout our organisation. By providing a way of surfacing and showcasing the great work being done and the outcomes we are achieving, we can inspire and influence our staff even further. This is the network effect at the heart of our innovation network.
Given the financial and social challenges we face, it is often more difficult to take risks. Our Inclusive Innovation Network is one of the ways we are creating an enabling environment for creativity and experimentation. We are giving permission for projects to fail fast, with learning as important as success. This needs resolve and courage at all levels of the organisation, particularly politically and that’s where we’re blessed at Camden.
5. We partner with others to develop networks that shape the future of our place as a hub of innovation
We partner with others to develop networks & institutions that play a significant role in shaping the future of our place. Indeed, who would have thought a few years ago that Kings Cross & St Pancras would become the gateway to Europe and one of UK’s leading knowledge quarters?
The London’s Knowledge Quarter is one of the greatest knowledge clusters anywhere in the world, located in a small area around King’s Cross, the Euston Road and Bloomsbury. There are few districts in any city across the world that can boast the sheer range and quality of knowledge organisations.
From centuries-old institutions such as the British Museum and Sadler’s Wells, to relatively recent arrivals like the Francis Crick Institute and Google, the area has that rare kind of vitality that comes from the daily collision of diverse ideas, people and perspectives. And KQ brings together over 100 of those organisations to better work together, involve our local communities and influence the wider agenda, as we’re doing developing the 2050 spatial strategy for the Knowledge Quarter.
We’re also partnering with Alternative Camden which is a partnership with our local BID working with residents & organisations to re-imagine how we could starting testing innovative ways that reshape technology, before technology reshapes us.
We are involved in various national initiatives to drive improvement on sub-regional initiatives. Camden is a founding member of LOTI (London Office of Technology), a pan London collaboration vehicle enabling us to experiment and scale innovations that benefit our citizens. Camden is currently leading 2 of the 4 agreed “enabling projects” to test ways of working and put in the place the foundations we need for successful collaboration. These include the setting up of an data sharing framework for all LOTI members (15 councils currently signed up) and supporting LOTI members to setup a WiFi system that allows all public sector staff and elected officials to have seamless connection to the internet no matter which building they are working in.
Influencing and being persuasive are great tools to have to get stuff done. What are your techniques for influencing, especially in challenging old ways of thinking to drive innovation?