The changing role of public servants

I spoke at the IMECE summit which was focused on the changing role of public servants, and how we make the unusual more usual. Here is what I said! I was just on the cusp of leaving Camden, so much of it is focused on that area!

Why is innovation needed?

I always come back to the example of Muhammad Yunus who was inspired during the Bangladesh famine of 1974 to make a small loan to a group of families as start-up money so that they could sell things they’d made, without predatory lending.

We’re experiencing waves of change and new inequalities, people living next to each other living very different lives and organisations and sectors having to.

The pandemic has shown innovations in neighbours creating mutual aid groups to support each other, beer manufacturers repurposing to create anti-bacterial gel or the public sector repurposing their spaces to enable communities to deliver food.

So innovation is best triggered by:

  • A crisis or a need
  • The curiosity of people to learn from others
  • Collaboration to bring new tools & resources to create the tools

How can we stimulate and encourage more innovation in a local government context?

  1. Mobilise people around causes that have a visible impact on people’s lives and that can be tackled at an individual, community and institutional level

We’ve developed a Renewal Commission around four missions where local & national policymakers develop propositions rooted in the lived experience of residents, and which are tested out on the ground to create feedback. Think & Do where we created a physical space where people could find out how to live more sustainably in practical ways, like through retrofitting to taking part in activities that tackled the issue, like a library of things, to running activities themselves like a food coop on a housing estate, to developing a whole liveable neighbourhood experiment combining changes to physical infrastructure. People will think hosting a pop-up space is at best playful and at worst superficial in the face of the climate crisis. However, you can’t develop future policies or practices if you don’t create the space for imagination. But you can’t just imagine those futures, you need to start enacting them so people can see what they might look like and then adjust & challenge them.

2. Root innovation in the distinctive identities & strengths of the place’s neighbourhoods to develop a movement that celebrates the creativity of its local communities and economies

The way people feel and make decisions is also influenced by people’s environment — like their education, their workplace and their communities. What is the culture of your communities — how can you root innovation in your communities or neighbourhoods?

Like we’ve done with We Make Camden where we’re celebrating the stories & activities of residents who “make” Camden what it is, and we’ve linked that into celebrating the stories of staff, whether that’s the poet in residence we’ve got in our social care team or young people who helping people from gangs fix smartphones

To think differently, we need to come out of our comfort zones and e our unconscious biases.

Creating communities where you have people from different practices — designers, strategists, playwrights, community organisers — naturally gets people to be curious about each other’s perspectives because they don’t know enough about the other’s practices to make assumptions. It also creates a form of collective accountability.

3. Enable staff, partners & residents to experience, experiment & embed innovative ways to tackle issues together

  • Enables people to immerse themselves in experiences that give them the confidence & context to take part in more structured activities
  • Provides stepping stones for people to work differently so that they can take the skills developed and take them back into their teams

One of the ways we’ve been doing this in Camden is through the Public Collaboration Lab, a partnership we’ve developed with Central Saint Martins University to bring together researchers, students, frontline staff and community organisations to tackle issues in creative ways.

  • Use skills that councils wouldn’t normally call upon to tackle an issue, in this case getting industrial designers to prototype furniture in overcrowded housing, storytellers to develop narratives with young people to develop new youth hubs or product designers to help separate waste better.

4. Focus on inviting people to participate at points in time that will have the greatest impact on them

  • For staff: New teams forming as a result of a redesign of a new programme or new staff
  • For partners: New partnerships or collaborations as a result of a change in commissioning or practice
  • For residents: People leaving school/work or joining college/university or the workplace or going through a crisis

5. Help the innovation scale at a human level

Public Collaboration Lab as a partnership bringing design support to public services and then to community organisations. We then scaled it by rooting it in a specific neighbourhood and making it a physical space that was co-designed with residents who wanted to focus on “making” stuff. We turned it into a maker space partnering with a property developer, a library and a community organisation. Having a physical space helped make visible the change taking place in that community. This has now become a platform for different projects in that neighbourhood and part of a wider European programme to influence master planning. Public services have different levers which go beyond funding or delivering services, but also as landowners, employers, regulators or place makers.

Finally, creating time for people is the greatest support to help people innovate

Strangely more affluent people have had more time to observe the inequalities on their doorstep faced by people who are poorer and with less time on their hands. They’ve also had time to see which employers were paying their staff and supporting their wellbeing through this difficult time and which were laying them off. Some of us at work who may have saved money as a result of not commuting or going out to bars and restaurants may be using that cash to donate to good causes or businesses on our doorsteps.

To summarize:

  1. Mobilise people around causes that have a visible impact on people’s lives and that can be tackled at an individual, community and institutional level
  2. Root innovation in the distinctive identities & strengths of the place’s neighbourhoods to develop a movement that celebrates the creativity of its local communities and economies
  3. Enable staff, partners & residents to experience, experiment & embed innovative ways to tackle issues together, Public Collaboration Lab
  4. Focus on inviting people to participate at points in time that will have the greatest impact on them
  5. Help the innovation scale at a human level

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Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese

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noelito

Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese

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