Posted by:9 August, 2012
Nesta, together with the Local Government Association, is supporting innovators in local government across England and Wales through its Creative Councils programme. In the second blog of our series on our Creative Councils programme, David O’Leary from Monmouthshire County Council discusses how the ability to ‘fail fast fail forward’ has been the best route to innovative new ideas.
I became involved in the Creative Councils programme, run by Nesta and the LGA, one busy afternoon, when asked if I wanted to help with a video that was being put together as a submission to a competition. I went to a room that would become a ‘lab’ and tried to help. Did I? No, not much but trying has opened a new world.
This was my introduction into something different. A more radical and aware organisation than I had realised I was part of. Local government and society are on ever diverging paths and basically we have to find a way to get them running parallel. There was already an answer; we just had to change the culture…
In Monmouthshire we are in the midst of what is entitled ‘Your County Your Way’ - less of a programme of work and more a mind-set. It is implemented via five key interventions. These are the seeds from which we hope our new culture will grow. They did not come in one grand eureka moment, they arose through reflecting on our work with Nesta, what we were doing already, what we needed to achieve in the future, and identifying what the key ingredients were:
- Establishing effective listening tools such as ‘open space technology’ that allow us to take part in more meaningful community-led engagement
- An agile and networked organisation that sees the right people working on the right things at the right time, taking down walls, real and metaphorical, to create a fully agile working environment
- Promoting the spread of systems thinking and doing because our experience tells us operating in silos doesn’t deliver and things work best when we understand whole systems
- An Intrapreneurship School that provides mixed cohorts of officers with the innovation tools, techniques and training to engage in developing the creative solutions needed to transform key areas of our business
- Encouraging our people to ‘go find, come play’and seek out global best practice in order to develop next practice through developing new networks and working more collaboratively
You can take a look in detail at ‘Your County Your Way’.
One way we are introducing the interventions to the workforce is via our Intrapreneurship School. I was part of thefirst cohort. It was a testing time, during and after the course. Intrapreneurship opened me up to not thinking like a local government worker. Not to be bound by what has been before, but to innovate. This creates freedom and just as quickly removes your safety net. We were told we have permission, to Fail Fast, Fail Forward, to iterate, to make mistakes – “the best way to have a good idea? Have lots of them”. When it feels like you are breaking new ground there’s elation and a real sense of being able to make things happen. Often followed, just as powerfully, by feeling you don’t know what you are doing, you are out of your depth. Going back into the workforce maintaining the energy, passing the baton, answering challenge and opposition has been hard and rewarding work. We have gone about some things in the wrong way, but we Fail Fast and Fail Forward. We are always learning and despite the difficulties, more often than not enjoying it, and actually having fun.
One thing that has become very clear, innovation needs to be a constant in our organisation if we are to achieve the culture we need; there will be more highs and lows and a lot more work to do, it’s a long journey ahead and I wouldn’t want to be working anywhere else.
David O’ Leary, project support officer, Monmouthshire County Council
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From Innovation in the UK
Nesta is the UK’s innovation foundation. We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life by providing investments, grants and mobilising research, networks and skills. We are an independent charity and our work is enabled by an endowment from the National Lottery.