Don’t be embarrassed to talk about failure, councils told

New Local Government Network report on collaborating to innovate urges councils to trial new ideas, host hack days and be honest about work that didn’t have an impact

Councils need to be honest about what they got wrong, says NLGN – Photo credit: Flickr, Sebastian Wiertz, CC BY 2.0

Local authorities need to “radically overhaul” who they work with and how they collaborate in order to boost productivity, which will require them to be more honest about projects that fail, a local government think tank has said.

A report from the think tank the New Local Government Network, Producing the Goods: Collaboration as the Next Frontier of Productivity, which was published last week, set out ways in which councils could make a greater impact by working more effectively with partners.

This included identifying new partners outside of the local government groups they might already have links to, for instance with third or private sector organisations that work with the general public.

“Local authorities could start by mapping all the universal customer service providers in their areas, ranging from bus drivers and binmen to pharmacists, and identify who they could fruitfully collaborate with,” the report said.

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The report said that councils should appoint collaboration champions to identify new and unlikely partners and co-ordinate work to assess what has been more effective.

Part of this will need councils to be better at sharing their work with others, and about being honest about what did and didn’t work.

“Doing something new requires experimentation – and councils need to be able to test what works and be honest about cases where something doesn’t have an impact,” said report author and senior researcher at NLGN Lucy Terry. “This will ultimately benefit the whole of the sector.”

The report acknowledges that it can be hard for councils to say when something goes wrong, but advocates an agile approach to make it easier to share learning.

Councils need to take part in small scale trials of new ideas that are quickly evaluated and then moving on if they are not working, the NLGN said. “The sector should then be less embarrassed about admitting failure, and better at sharing these examples of what does and does not work, to prevent unsuccessful ideas and pilots being repeated in other councils.”

The report looks at places where collaboration has been a success, including on behavioural insights, where links with social science experts helped Wealden District Council to encourage tenants to get in touch about their housing arrears on average 25 days earlier.

It also said that the potential of digitisation “has not yet been realised fully” when it comes to collaboration, with many opportunities available for closer work with the technology sector.

Councils were also encouraged to make better use of their staff by hosting hack days to harness good ideas for reforming existing processes and making short-term productivity gains.


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