“I saw people have light-bulb moments…”

January 8, 2010 at 6:04 pm 5 comments

By David Jackson

This piece is partly about a fantastic workshop in Croydon just before Christmas, but it will be a while before we get to that, I’m afraid!

Addicts of this blog will remember our early December post about the ‘radical efficiency’ research being undertaken for Nesta.  Radical efficiency focuses on the public sector challenge of providing ‘more for less’ by fundamentally re-shaping services to be both cheaper and significantly better for users.  Essentially, we have been looking across the world for compelling public service innovations which are both better and cheaper – and we have been astonished by the range and quality of what we have found.

To save you trawling our blog, the original post can be found here and you can also download a copy of the interim report here.

Transfer of great ideas

Whenever you come across great public service ideas implemented effectively, you can’t help being astonished that they travel so badly.  If High Tech High can do such inspiring work (blogged here) why aren’t all schools adopting some of their practices?  If Narayana Hrudalaya cardiac hospital can revolutionise diagnosis and surgery protocols, why isn’t this happening elsewhere – in India and across the globe?

And there are lots of reasons, of course.  Some relate to the uncertain evidence base in many public service innovations – because innovators tend to be more focused on user gains than on measurement.  Then there is the issue of the extremely poor knowledge management and learning strategies across public services generally (health being something of an exception in the main).  Within services practice tends to travel pretty badly. Across or between services, on the other hand, it travels hopelessly.  It is also the case that many radically efficient innovations require cross-service collaboration – and that is a radical logistical and cultural step in itself!

Put simply, even if the transfer-of-knowledge hurdle wasn’t so damned great, the change challenges for Local Authorities seeking to innovate in public service delivery would seem pretty insurmountable.  Ask the Total Place pilots, for example, or check in with front-line service workers about ECM integrated service delivery, or enquire of post-16 students how 14-19 entitlement pathways are going in their locality.

The bad news is the good news

However, here is where the situation gets interesting.  The most ubiquitous finding about major change is that it requires either a ‘burning platform’ to kick-start it, or what John Kotter called an ‘enlightened sense of urgency’ that unites people around alternative possibilities.  We can, of course, have both.

We know that there will be significant budget cuts in the years to come and we can respond by cutting provision (the ‘slash and burn’ approach) or we can get creative and use the bad news to create our own preferred new world.   Our previous blog post concluded as follows:

success relies on aspiration, not desperation; on quality outcomes, not cost-cutting. We can have it all: different, better and cheaper public services today and in the future. But only if we think radically – and positively – about what people really need.  We need a no fear approach to public services.

Of course, that’s just rhetoric – good rhetoric, but still just words, not deeds.  So since then, we have grasped the radical efficiency nettle and designed an intervention that we believe might be able to help Local Authorities to think smarter and to do so in way that are both deeply collaborative and collectively energizing.  And we think it is really helpful, but then we would, wouldn’t we?

That Croydon Workshop

So, we had a go, just before Christmas, at applying the materials we had designed in Croydon, which is a Total Place Authority that is taking the work seriously.

What happens, then, if you gather together about 25 people in a room (from across education and children’s services, health and a range of voluntary sector agencies) whose formal roles extend from Chief Executives of the Council and NHS Croydon through to local charity fieldworkers and all points in-between, and facilitate them to get inside the methodology and to apply the Radical Efficiency Framework and disciplines?  (Now might be the time to download that interim report!)

What particularly interesting was  how people responded to the interventions,  getting really excited about putting themselves in the shoes of their third sector colleagues – and thinking about how they would approach our shared challenges differently. People were brilliant at imagining new and different ‘units’ of users who might illuminate new ways of doing things – from older siblings to ‘birth families’ of adopted children

Telling the full story of the workshop will not excite, but some of the comments from participants might.  These need to be set in the context of Croydon being a Total Place authority who had already worked up some powerful propositions for the redesign of practices – and whose staff were open-minded about the event, but not at all sure that they needed it.

The two Chief Executives’ comments were:

I wish we’d done it two months ago – which is recognition of its usefulness and generative capacity.

Jon Rouse, Chief Executive, Croydon Council

A really helpful morning, which will make us think differently – and more radically – about our proposals for improvement.  Thank you for a brilliant morning.

Caroline Taylor, Chief Executive, NHS Croydon

Other comments included the following:

Really interesting and stimulating.  It added that vital extra 20% on our existing ‘innovative’ thinking.  A very helpful framework for applying the thinking more widely.

Damian Roberts, Director of Strategy, Croydon Council

An extremely useful workshop which raised awareness of issues and provided insight into a useful tool for a new way of thinking about alternative service delivery.

Carole Parnell, Head of Strategy and Analysis, Croydon Council

Stimulating!  Thank you.  The (Radical Efficiency) Framework was incredibly helpful in rethinking propositions and how radical we are being.

Linda Wright, Head of Service, Youth and Social Inclusion, Croydon Council

Great facilitators and clear information in what could potentially have been difficult for the group.  The model was very good for the Council, but will also be good for any organization in the voluntary sector to think for themselves about how they can radicalize their services.  I’m definitely taking this back to my organization.

Juliet Bellagambi, Senior Parent Support Coordinator, Parentline, South London

It (the Framework) challenges traditional thinking and moves you out of your comfort-zone, but in a safe and supportive context.  It also stimulates and excites.

Rosemary Sloman, Head of Adult Learning & Skills, Croydon Adult Learning & Training

Coming to a place near you

One thing’s for sure: radically efficient thinking and design will be needed in your locality in the very near future.  We are keen to help, because we believe that we have an approach and a set of tools that can make a real difference to local authorities across the country. Croydon is only the beginning.

As one of the Total Place consultants said at the end of the workshop:  “It was incredible, really, really powerful.  I saw people have light-bulb moments.  It enabled us to articulate things that have been germinating, but which we couldn’t quite express.”

If you would like to know more, just contact Sarah Gillinson.


Entry filed under: Innovation Policy, Local Authorities, Local Innovation, Public Services, Radical Efficiency, Regional Bodies, Third Sector Innovation.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Cross  |  January 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Certainly one of the problems in education is that teachers in general don’t *know* about the great stuff that’s going on in other places.

    I High Tech High to a few colleagues after the Innovation in Education conference, and they’d never heard of it before. In schools, one of the challenges seems to be that teachers in general don’t tend to be interested in looking beyond their own schools, or learning from great examples of innovation.

    The finger is usually pointed at teachers’ workload for being the culprit – but I don’t think this is necessarily the reason for it. The target and data centric mentality in schools is perhaps more to blame for this insular thinking.

    We need to instil a passion and excitement for new ideas and a hunger for innovative practice in teachers, and for them not to be afraid of failure and blame if new approaches don’t immediately yield the results and the system is judging them on.

  • 2. John Craig  |  January 14, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Sounds like a great conversation. Really looking forward to participating in more such convrsatons with more local authorities.

  • […] public services. The principles have aldready been put to the test in a series of workshops in Croydon, Central Bedford and […]

  • […] and lower cost public services. You can read more about one of the workshops we did with Croydon here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)No TitleRadical Efficiency spreading the message […]

  • […] own on this topic. What I can say is, as someone who has worked briefly with Total Place as part of Innovation Units work with Total Place Croydon, is that the civil servants we have worked with have been truly excited about the space Total Place […]


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