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Innovation Explored: Putting people and communities at the heart of your operations 

April 4, 2024  
In partnership with

We brought together people from councils across our peer-learning network, alongside our partner Browne Jacobson, for an Innovation Exchange looking at how to put people and communities at the heart of your council’s operations. In this Innovation Explored we reflect on the key learning and insights shared by participants in the session.  

The session centred on how corporate teams can practically build a strong focus on communities (and enabling others in the council to work effectively with communities) into day-to-day operations. Participants reflected on the challenges for corporate teams who may feel further away from the communities that the council works to support. These teams can be focused on a particular technical specialism such as legal, procurement or finance with an accompanying set of priorities which may not always immediately seem to connect back to this focus on communities.  

While acknowledging these challenges, participants shared a wide range of practical ideas and experiences to support collaboration between corporate teams and other teams anchored around a clear focus on people and communities. These insights are grouped for senior leaders, and for collaborative working between corporate teams and other council teams.  

Insights for senior leaders 

  1. Develop a clear set of values and ensure teams have the time to think about how these relate to their role – It’s important to ensure that a strong focus on communities is reflected in organisational values. But beyond this, teams need the permission, time and practical support to understand how these values relate to their role in the organisation. This understanding then needs to be embedded, for example through objective setting processes.  
  1. Intentionally create space for experimentation – teams need space and permission to test out new ways of working centred on communities. Leaders should look at how corporate teams, as well as frontline teams, can be involved in this. One practical way to create the time and space for this experimentation could be to set up a small team focused on a particular area of innovation as a proof of concept.   
  1. Identify opportunities to try out new ways of working – the senior leadership team could identify a particular key programme or transformation process to use as a launchpad to develop how different parts of the council centre their operations on communities.  

Insights for collaborative working between corporate teams and other council teams 

  1. Involve corporate services early in processes – it can be really valuable to bring corporate teams into a new approach or process early. This gives them an opportunity to understand the objectives and be involved in shaping and problem solving early on, rather than only being brought in at the end. In working together, teams need to understand each other’s expertise, but should also try to focus on the ‘how’ of working together and anchoring this around what they are trying to achieve for communities. Asking lots of questions of each other and active listening are key skills to support this process.  
  1. Share knowledge and experience about how the council works with communities – more directly ‘community-focused’ teams could support colleagues across the council by sharing what they do and how they work with people and communities. Forums like communities of practice can provide a practical way to further develop knowledge and experience and bring together corporate colleagues and those from other teams.  
  1. Maintain a strong focus on impact – highlighting successes, linking to wider organisational goals, and sharing stories from people and communities can all help to illustrate the importance of community-focused ways of working. This can provide a helpful anchor for conversations about ‘doing things differently’ in order to support these ways of working.  

The Innovation Series

Innovation Exchanges give participants from our member councils a space to step away from day-to-day activities and engage with peers from across the country. Each session addresses a big challenge or opportunity facing councils and their communities. Sessions are peer-led and practically-focused, so participants come away insights, ideas and learning to share with their teams.

Innovation Explored series feature a write-up of the core points from the Innovation Exchange, alongside practical learning from councils and other experts pioneering new approaches to tackling today’s biggest challenges. Each Innovation Explored also shares a roundup of relevant resources from the sector and beyond.

April 4, 2024
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