How to… create a culture of innovation within a council


Can innovation be taught within a council? At Monmouthshire Council’s Intrapreneurship School, they’re giving it a go, as John McConnachie, the authority’s training lead, explains.

Like other local authorities, we are under pressure. Pressure to do things better, make huge financial savings and stay true to the needs of our communities. We know we can’t budget ourselves out of the problems we face. What we can do is tap into our other resources, the most valuable one being our people.

Through Nesta’s Creative Councils programme, we had an opportunity to look at the major challenges we’re facing and think differently about how we can best address them. We decided the best place to start was on the inside.

We developed the Intrapreneurship School – an internal training programme – to expose our staff to innovation and creativity and help them use their new skills to address the challenges we are facing.

Small-scale incremental savings are not enough now. We need to make big changes. Intrapreneurship School gives staff the opportunity to: look at what we, the council, do now; think about what really matters to our communities; and then implement changes so we can make those two things come together.

To enable this process and create the right organisational culture where innovation and creativity thrives, we encourage colleagues to:

  1. Listen. We are trying to get better at listening. We want to listen, engage and learn with our communities so that we know we are working on the things that matter most to them.
  2. Be entrepreneurial. We strive to be innovative, creative and solution-focused. We develop these skills through our Intrapreneurship School so that our staff are suitably equipped to face the challenges ahead.
  3. Be flexible. We believe that work is a thing that you do, not a place that you go. Our staff have equipment that means they can work wherever they are: a coffee shop, an office or library. It doesn’t matter. No-one has a desk and that means we have to be flexible, responsive, and networked.
  4. Look at the whole. We don’t just look at individual services; we look at how they work together and impact on each other. We look from the customer’s perspective and use systems thinking to help us develop efficient and effective services.
  5. Be open to ideas: We look for excellent work from across the world and learn from it. We know we don’t have all the answers and that other people are working on similar challenges. It makes sense to learn from the great things that are happening elsewhere.

None of this is easy and when you make any sort of significant organisational change you can expect a period of unrest. It’s part of the process. We’ve been labelled as ‘wacky’ because of the approach we are taking with innovation. It can be disheartening to hear criticism but the best thing you can do is be absolutely clear on your purpose. We are clear. We are working to deliver different, better, lower cost services that improve people’s lives.monmouth4cropped

So far, we’ve had 80 colleagues go through Intrapreneurship School and the number is steadily rising. We’ve also started training colleagues from partner organisations and hope to extend the offer to our communities and businesses soon. A good idea can come from anyone.

We’ve had loads of great ideas come from the Intrapreneurship School. The real hard bit is turning some of the best ideas into action. We’ve had some major success in our waste and recycling service and we have some exciting developments in our leisure services that will see a massive improvement to the facilities available to our communities. All of this came from giving our staff the skills and permission to innovate and try new things. And, if we want to measure success in financial terms we can do that too. We’re looking at making £600,000 savings this year with the changes to our waste service and the leisure service development will see us generate an income and boost the local economy.

Whichever way you look at it, the investment in our people is paying off.

monmouthshirecroppedHow to… create a culture of innovation in a council

  1. Clarity of purpose – Never lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. It will help you focus your energy and justify the decisions that you make. Yes, there will be much justifying.
  2. Be resilient – You will get criticism from inside and outside the organisation. And, until you have some tangible results that will validate your approach you’re going to have to be tough and take it on the chin. This is where clarity of purpose will help.
  3. Freedom to fail – Failure is part of the process. You need to be comfortable with the idea of failing if you really want to innovate. Being afraid will only hold you back. Having robust business cases, prototyping and piloting developments will help.
  4. Be inclusive – A good idea can come from anyone, anywhere. Inside or outside of the organisation. Often, you’ll find it’s the person out there, in the community, on the frontline who knows the service best and has the real gem of an idea.
  5. Get buy-in – Never forget that you operate in a political environment. Include and educate members. You’ll make quicker progress that way.





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