6 principles for developing a story of council and place

November 3, 2021  

Recently, I really enjoyed facilitating a peer-learning session with our network of innovative councils on the topic of telling your story of council and place.

At New Local, we’re passionate about the power and potential of telling your story as a catalyst for local collaboration and action.

Our Chief Executive Adam Lent joined our peer-learning session to share six principles we’ve learnt from councils who are putting real energy into growing a shared story of place and their roles within it.

As these principles seemed to resonate with people in the session, we thought we would share them in this blog:

1. Keep it very simple

Simple ideas engagingly expressed will have far more power to inspire and shape behaviour than long, complex plans.

It can be challenging to come up with something truly simple that everyone can get behind.

But remember, this is about capturing what the council, communities and partners are trying to do together – it’s not your detailed corporate strategy.

If it is short, meaningful, and memorable then this will help people put it into practice.

2. Co-produce the story

A story of place can’t just be put together by a small team assembled in the council. This needs to be an inclusive process.

Ensure communities, partners and colleagues are involved in co-producing this narrative so it reflects their experiences and resonates with them and, ultimately, it is something they feel they have shaped and own.

3. Make it a story of continuity

Build on and celebrate current practices and initiatives that exemplify your vision, rather than making the story about the need for a revolutionary break (unless absolutely necessary).

Even when change is needed, a sense that the change is about accentuating the positive rather than just ditching the negative will mean colleagues and partners are far more likely to take the new story to heart.

4. Root the story in your place

Take the time and have the conversations to discover the story and language that is most likely to mean the people and partners who live and work in your area take notice and feel inspired.

Avoid generic phrases or bland corporate language and go instead for something that sounds fresh and has meaning in your local context.

5. Keep telling the story over and over again

It takes a very long time for a new vision and story to lodge in the DNA of an organisation, and even longer for it to have meaning for partners and residents.

Keep telling the story repeatedly through multiple mediums over a number of years.

This can be hard. But if your story of place is going to be a catalyst for real change and for new ways of working together, as many people as possible will need to hear and own that story.

6. Make it meaningful

It is useful to regard simple stories of place as a brand. But it is also important that they are not seen simply as a branding or communications exercise.

Make sure that you have the capability, resources and commitment to make good on any of the hopes or pledges encapsulated in the story.

That may well mean quite radical change in how your council works.

Reflections on the session

Reflecting after the session, I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm of the discussion – maybe highlighting something bigger about the moment that councils and communities now find themselves in.

Particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, people were galvanised by an urgent shared purpose. Ever since, we’ve often heard the hope that this spirit of collaboration will remain.

Perhaps then, as we reflect on everything that has happened and look ahead, now is a particularly important moment to think about shared stories.

I came away from the session with an even stronger sense of how powerful a story – a narrative of your place and your shared ambitions – can be.

Growing and articulating these shared stories helps create the space for celebration, reflection and change:

  • from reappraising organisational culture and values
  • to thinking about how you work with partners and communities
  • to ultimately finding common purpose.

These stories aren’t a distraction from action but rather a way to nurture and inspire it.

So, we hope you find these six principles useful as you start or continue your own conversations with colleagues, partners and communities about what’s important to you, what brings you together, and what you’re building.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

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