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Learning by taking risks…

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3 April, 2013

Nesta, together with the Local Government Association, is supporting innovators in local government across England and Wales through its Creative Councils programme. As the programme approaches its latter stages, Melani Oliver, Director for Local Government Innovation in Nesta's Innovation Lab, kicks off our short series and discusses the bold ideas that are beginning to generate significant learning for the wider sector. 

In the coming fiscal year Local Government will continue to face the challenges. Of reduced budgets and Whitehall's relentless focus on efficiency means that Councils once again need to do 'more for less'. There are examples emerging of how councils are addressing this fiscal challenge including shared services, new forms of business models and new governance arrangements.  The new London joint procurement board is one example, among many, of how this is being achieved. But at Nesta, we're interested in a broader concept of value which encompasses both social value and "value for money”.

In discussions about Local Government efficiency, comparisons are often made with the private sector. Companies may primarily focus on the financial value of their work. Is the product easy to use? Is it cheap to produce? Most importantly, does it generate a profit? In the public sector, and at Local Authority level, this can be much more difficult to measure, something that may be ‘cheap to produce’ could be damaging in the long term.

We think that councils should have a relentless focus on the broader social value of their work. Are they delivering services that have a tangible, positive impact on the people they serve. Are they investing in a strategic way to generate cost saving over the longer term? Can they reimagine the way that they work with residents and businesses to better meet their needs and free up savings?

Through our Creative Councils programme, we have begun to see how this can be achieved. Derbyshire's Creative Councils project is investing in children in care now to achieve both financial outcomes (reducing cost savings through avoiding welfare payments, demand on social housing, teenage pregnancy etc) and social outcomes (children with positive aspirations lead better, more fulfilled lives). In the next blog Stoke-on-Trent council will discuss how they are rethinking local energy, revisiting a role that has been shown to have a positive local impact. The potential to secure jobs for Stoke, whilst addressing fuel poverty and support local business are all drivers for their work.  With a view to being energy self-sufficient by 2030, Stoke have set themselves an ambitious target but what they are learning along the way is beneficial not just to them but to all local councils grappling with huge challenges.

That is the role of the Creative Councils programme. Not to promise to bring scalable solutions to all local authorities challenges but to share what we have  learnt from the creative councils for the benefit of the wider sector.  To help the wider sector use innovation to address their challenges. Local challenges and solutions vary across the country, what we need to know is what went wrong and what worked, it is through this approach that we can make progress on the challenges that are up ahead.

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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.

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