Knowsley goes for gold

April 16, 2010 at 8:57 am 3 comments

By Sophie Byrne

The Innovation Unit has worked with Knowsley Local Authority for over three years and this Tuesday, my second day on the job, we held a great workshop at Southmead Children’s Centre in Whiston on “Transforming Early Years: better services at lower cost for families with young children”. The workshop is part of the work that is being developed across the country as part of the ‘radical efficiency’  research being undertaken for Nesta. Radical efficiency focuses on the challenge of providing ‘more for less’ by fundamentally re-shaping services to be both cheaper and better.  The workshop is the practical implementation of this research, trying to test and apply our radical efficiency methodology in the ‘real world’.

The local authority in Knowsley invited a range of relevant people from within the local authority, form a Community Support Officer to the manager of the Southmead Children’s Centre, who all have a stake in improving early years provision in Knowsley.  The workshop has been carefully designed, drawing on insights from the radical efficiency model to challenge participants to think creatively about delivering different, better and lower cost public services in their locality.

The workshop was a real success, and a great way to start my time at the Innovation Unit.  As a fresh pair of eyes, so to speak, I was struck by a few things on the day.  First, this may be due to the wonderful Northern candour in the room, but the group showed an amazing sense of honesty and perceptiveness throughout the day, recognising the possibility and having a optimistic appetite for innovation in the locality.  One particular ‘eureka’ moment for the group was when they were asked to imagine how private sector and third sector organisations might approach transforming early years provisions in the area differently and how this might be relevant to their own work. One group discussed how Tesco might tackle this issue.  They were struck by the rigorous way that Tesco collects information about its customers and how for the supermarket chain there is no conception of “hard to reach” shoppers.  The example of different Tesco in the area stocking different products was used to illustrate their point; one of the local Tesco’s stocked a lot of Eastern European food indicating a population of Eastern Europeans in the area.  Unlike Tesco, the local services knew nothing about this group of people.  The participants came to realise that they held a wealth of information about the people in their area, but unlike Tesco’s they did not use this knowledge in a smart or consistent way to help them improve their services. 

The second thing that I took away from the day was the contribution of the young Community Support Officer who attended.  Initially sceptical about why she was there and what it was all about, she made very frank and pertinent contributions throughout the day.  For example, describing the division in a particular area demarcated by a road that was a literal fracture dividing the community. By the end of the day the CSO had met other people working in her locality that at the beginning of the day she may not have known and perhaps didn’t realise she held common interests with.    

By applying the radical efficiency approach throughout the day this group of people were able to interpret it in relation to their particular context and see different possibilities to tackling challenges in their area.  By the end of the day there was a good sense of progress and optimism in the room, that is typified in one of the imaginary headlines they were asked to write for their local paper in 2012 — “Knowsley go for Gold in Olympic Year”. This optimism stemmed from a realisation that although working in different services in Knowsley there was a real sense of common purpose in the room that could be built on beyond the four walls of the Southmead Children’s Centre.


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services, Local Authorities, Public Services, Radical Efficiency, Social Innnovation.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Claire McEneaney  |  April 16, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Sophie – this is great blog, really well written and insightful. Sounds like it was a fantastic day – always great to see those ‘eureka’ moments. Knowsley are a great team to work with – they really ‘get’ the whole radical innovation idea and are really committed to making it a reality.

  • 2. alecpatton  |  April 19, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Welcome to the blog, Sophie!

    In the public sector’s defense, part of the reason Tesco doesn’t have ‘hard to reach’ customers, is that nobody cares whether or not a particular vulnerable section of the population isn’t shopping at tescos – their goal is to get A LOT of people to go to their shop, whereas local authority services are supposed to reach EVERYONE.

    Having said that, it’s a really compelling point, and it’s got me thinking!

  • 3. s1i2b  |  May 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for the comments Alec, Claire.

    We also had a mid-afternoon debate in the office about Tesco’s plans to build hundreds of homes across the country. Imagine living in a Tesco home, shoppping at the Tesco superstore and driving between the two in your Tesco insured car.

    Strangely enough, the Guardian have also been thinking about the implications of these ‘Tesco towns’ and have just published an article about plans for Tesco homes and a hotel in Devon:


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