Councils urged to adopt a bold ‘changemaking approach’

A new thought leadership report published by NLGN discusses how local authorities must change over the coming months and years if they are to survive, deliver top quality customer service and remain relevant.

At a time of intense financial pressures and when central government’s mind is on other things, many are asking themselves where local government goes next. In the in-depth piece that launches NLGN’s new vision, Adam Lent and Jessica Studdert call for councils to embrace a bold ‘changemaking’ approach focused on the core values of creativity, collaboration and self-determination.

“Our contention is that the reinvention required is not the redesign of rigid structures or the institutional remodelling of organisations. Instead, it must be a change which considers function over form and focuses on raising social impact above all else,” the authors say. “This, we argue, involves nothing less than a major cultural shift towards three core values: creativity, collaboration and self-determination.”

The article goes on to explain that this is a ‘changemaking’ vision which local government must actively embody within their own organisations. Maybe even more importantly, local government must also find ways to embed the core values of that vision within the communities and places they lead.

Within the article, which can be found here, a clear set of changemaking values and principles that can be shared and reinforced within the local government sector have been outlined. This approach offers a route starting from the local and working out from there and focuses on using shifts in culture and norms to ramp up levels of impact. It recognises that without that cultural focus there is a risk that organisational restructure simply continues negative behavioural norms such as inertia, territorialism and hierarchy under a different banner.

The changemaking approach offers a particularly useful way forward in this context on a number of levels:

WITHIN THE COUNCIL: By focusing on working culture and mission, the Changemaking Council would reorient the whole organisation towards a shared purpose. Embedding the core values of creativity, collaboration and self-determination would focus capacity on working in an efficient and impactful way.

WORKING WITH PARTNERS: Embedding creativity, self-determination and collaboration within the council creates the opportunity for the Changemaking Council to extend these underlying values beyond the organisation.

All public services are experiencing resource and demand pressures, and there is increasing recognition that no single service has all the answers when complex socioeconomic challenges do not sit neatly within distinct organisational remits.

WORKING WITH COMMUNITIES: The most important element of the Changemaking Council will be its ability to extend the three values of creativity, self-determination and collaboration to the communities they work with to develop a more active approach to prevention, early intervention and resilience. This would involve understanding the role of the council not always as service provider, crisis responder and regulation enforcer. Instead it would recognise the strength of councils’ soft power, and their role supporting existing networks or assets, and enabling people to act themselves.

 

No one size fits all solution

Commenting on the publication and its recommendations, Paul Knight, managing consultant in Transformation at Agilisys said: “In the context of continued austerity, rising demand for services and increasing citizen expectations, the NLGN makes an excellent point. The scope and scale of the challenges local government face are of such magnitude that even the most inspired and visionary leader is not enough on their own.

“The report goes on to emphasise the importance of fostering creativity, enabling self-determination and encouraging collaboration within local government organisations and their communities. Looking back over my time in local government, some 16 years now, I see more of these transformational leadership behaviours than ever. But an issue persists – balancing the important with the urgent. In other words, meeting the very real challenges of today, whilst developing the organisation of tomorrow, something of which has become the focus of what we do at Agilisys and of those we work closest with.

“There is no easy answer and no one size fits all solution, but there are some examples of organisations innovating for the future against a backdrop of short term pressures. Most recently, my team and I have been supporting the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, helping deliver a transformational approach that will bring about real and meaningful change for generations to come.”

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