Tag Archives: innovation

Is ‘common sense’ more useful than ‘process and the rule book’ for taking well managed risks?

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Good Practice Exchange held a pilot seminar on how you manage risks around organisation change, service transformation and innovation. In this post, Chris Bolton looks at what people use to help them make decisions about risk.

This is the second in a series of posts following a pilot session we ran on well managed risk taking. An explanation of our approach to the session is in the first post, ‘Context is Everything’.

What is helpful when we make decisions?

There are many factors that influence how we make decisions. Some are highly logical, rational, and based upon extensive evidence and information; whilst others might be driven by ‘gut feeling’ and emotion.

We wanted to see if there was anything in particular that influenced how people thought about decision making in relation to the two risk management frameworks and the three scenarios we presented to them. The thinking that shaped the questions we posed people is explained below.

In each case people were asked to move the white ball on the triangle to a position that bests reflected their thinking – the closer it is to one statement, the more important it was to them (in the context of the risk management framework and scenario they were thinking about).  An example of one of the triangles we used is below

A triangle where people moved a point to show whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

  • The question ‘what would be helpful to decisions?’ is quite straightforward.
  • The choices for each apex on the triangle are all things which should be positive and helpful when making decisions.
    – Clear process and rules,
    – Common sense, and
    – Freedom to act.
  • There was no right or wrong in where people moved the white ball to on the triangle.
  • Their choice was literally to identify a place where they felt most comfortable (in the context of the Framework and Scenario we were discussing).

What does the data tell us?

Graphic 1 shows the distribution of the 218 dots in the triangle. Each one of these dots was placed in response to the question; ‘what would help you make decisions, and within the context of the two frameworks and three scenarios.

In Graphic 2, we have highlighted what look like 4 distinct clusters of dots.

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

In Graphic 2, the 4 areas highlighted appear to indicate:

  • Top centre – a preference for clear process and rules (in favour of other options, including common sense)
  • Bottom centre – a preference for using common sense in combination with having the freedom to act (rather than clear process and rules)
  • Middle centre – using all three options (in balance)
  • Right bottom – a preference to have freedom to act, with limited rules, process or common sense (superficially this could be interpreted as reckless approach to risk management – which highlights that the data does require some further examination and understanding)

Examination of the data, using a number of different perspectives follows:

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

Observations & Questions: What would help making decisions?

  • Graphic 3. For the Safe to Fail Framework, common sense and freedom to act are preferred (quite strongly) to rules and process
  • Graphic 4. For the Failure Not an Option Framework, there is a more dispersed pattern. There is a grouping towards process and rules, but many dots are scattered elsewhere.
  • Question 1. Do some people prefer to not use process and rules, even when failure is not an option?
  • Question 2. Does a preference for process and rules (compliance) reduce the need for common sense?
  • Question 3. Does a pressurised environment (failure is not an option) lead to greater indecision and variability in  how people approach decision making (a more scattered pattern of dots)?

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

Observations & Questions: What would help making decisions?

  • Graphic 5. For the scenario about a Complaints Handing process the dots are scattered around the triangle approximately matching the overall distribution for all frameworks and all scenarios.
  • Clusters are seen with a preference towards clear rules and process, and another towards a preference towards common sense and freedom to act.
  • Graphic 6. For a scenario linked to tackling obesity, the overall pattern has formed with a preference towards common sense and freedom to act, with few dots close to the process and rules apex.

For clarification, the Complains Handling scenario was about an organisation improving its internal complaints handing process. It was a big challenge, focused in internal processes. Tackling obesity was about a society wide challenge involving multiple partners, citizens and stakeholders.

  • Question 1. Does distribution of dots for the obesity scenario reflect the context? It is a complex situation with many unknowns. There are not clear rules on how to achieve success so, would people prefer to make decisions based upon common sense and the freedom to act (rather than what might appear to be arbitrary rules)?
  • Question 2. Do the dots close to the Freedom to Act apex, distant from both Clear rules and process and Common sense raise any concerns? Is making decision without rules or common sense something that should be avoided?

Common sense the rule book and decision making

Similar to what we described in the first post, the context in which people approach risk management has an influence upon how they make decisions about managing that risk.

The broad conclusions from this test indicate that in a ‘safe to fail’ context, people would find it more helpful to use a combination of common sense and freedom to act to make their decisions, in preference to clear rules and a process. If the challenge they were facing was a situation where failure was not an option, there was a shift towards using clear rules and process, but not a wholesale move. Many people still edged towards wanting freedom to act and using common sense.

The scenario about tackling obesity might help to explain this as it described a complex situation with many unknowns. The desire to have freedom to act and use common sense appears to be more helpful than following clear rules and guidance (which may be arbitrary given the unknown nature of the challenges).

These findings raise a number of questions. Many organisational project and risk management approaches are built upon a clear process and rules. If the organisation places a high value on compliance with the process and rules, there is likely to be a conflict with the desire of many people to use a combination of common sense and freedom to act to make their decisions about risk management (rather than rules and process).

So is common sense more useful that the rule book? Based on this limited analysis, of a small set of data which focused upon people using a safe to fail approach, the answer seems to be yes.  But it does deserve some further examination and wider discussion.

Finally. As mentioned earlier, this is an experiment for us and an example of us ‘working out loud, doing things in the open’. There is still a lot more we would like to do with this data. We are certain that we haven’t got things right and would appreciate any comments and feedback on what we have tried here. If anyone would like to have a look at the dataset and help expand our understanding, please get in touch, we would very much like to talk.

This post is linked to others that look at:

  • Post 1. Context is everything. This is a brief description of what we did in the session and some observations on how people think they would respond to failure in the context of different risk management approaches.
  • Post 3. Does service user involvement in decision making lead to better decisions? This tested the technology we used and pushed our understanding to the limits.

Frontline Futures: changing behaviour and empowering people

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

How do we ensure that organisations work together to provide the right service in the right setting, with better outcomes for frequent users of public services? Dyfrig Williams spoke to Melys Phinnemore to learn from the Frontline Futures Programme.

Is Housing fit for the future? The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Cymru have undertaken research on where the housing sector is and where it needs to be, because service delivery is taking place in a rapidly changing environment. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act means that public services will have to work together in a different way too. Not only that, but there’s much less money to go around, and the financial footing of Housing Associations is less secure now that Universal Credit is paid directly to claimants instead of housing associations.

Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales repeatedly talks about the need to take well managed risks. The above situation is one such situation, where housing associations cannot continue to work in the same way.

What is Frontline Futures?

CIH Cymru developed Frontline Futures to help organisations to work differently in this changing environment. It‘s a practical course where learners identify, plan and develop a change project for their organisation. The programme is attended by a mix of about 3 or 4 people per organisation and typically this might be a number of frontline workers and a supervisor or line manager. They each identify and work on a change challenge after learning about the theory behind change. The programme is based over 5-6 months for a day a month. CIH have run two cohorts so far, which have looked at changing behaviour, practice and mindset.

Melys Phinnemore and Penny Jeffreys are working with CIH Cymru to develop and deliver the programme. They are particularly interested in leadership and cultural change. How can we enable people who access social housing to be the best that they can be? And how can we get staff, whose behaviour may have inadvertently taken away people’s independence, work differently. Supporting not advising by having coaching conversations with people?

Melys says that parent child type of caring or advising conversations very rarely change people’s behaviour. Saying “ I need to advise you that if you don’t stop doing this or start doing that ……you will or could become homeless” rarely leads to a better outcome. Neither does doing things for people, like filling out forms. Our helping behaviours don’t empower people to take control or encourage people to develop confidence in their own abilities. Our legacy of helping has meant that typically people will expect their social landlord to sort out noise nuisance and ball play where as private home owners do this for themselves.

Melys feels that frontline workers need to be empowered to use their discretion so that they can free up and target their resources based on need and take the well managed risks that the Auditor General describes.

What does all this mean in practice?

Melys shared an example with me of how changes had been made at Gwalia by a frontline worker. When a house became void, materials within the house were disposed because of health and safety guidance, whether they were useful or not. This rationale would have been enough to stop many projects, but this frontline worker set out to prevent this waste and developed a recycling project. She organised people to become patent qualified so that they could test and recycle electrical goods. When it was suggested that the Housing Association would be liable if anything went wrong, she worked on developing disclaimer forms. There is now an exchange shop supported by community volunteers which is thriving and not only are there savings from landfill many tenants’ are having a better start with semi-furnished homes. Early indications suggest that one of the side benefits has been some of the hard to let properties are now full and turnover at these properties has reduced. Gwalia are now looking at whether there may be an opportunity to expand this approach and even maybe develop an upcycling scheme.

How do we get people on board with changes in service delivery?

The above example clearly shows an empowered staff member that’s making tenants’ lives better. It’s early days, but staff have changed the nature of the way they talk to tenants. How can we help this change to happen within our organisations?

Melys mentioned the use of Johnathan Haidt’s theory about the elephant, the rider and the path, which is handily summarised in the video below. Haidt says that in order to enable change, you need to think about the rational system, the emotional system and the external environment.

The rider represents the rational system, which plans and problem solves. The elephant represents the emotional system that provides the power for the journey. There is a power imbalance here, so changing behaviour is difficult. The path represents the external environment. The two are more likely to complete their journey if you remove obstacles that stand in their way and it’s as short as possible. Haidt recommends that you:

  1. Give direction to the rider, so that they know where they are going
  2. Motivate the elephant, so you need to tap into emotion
  3. Shape the path to allow for easy progress.

Melys says that you have to empower and support people to make a change – give them the power to make incremental change through small initiatives that they can take ownership of. Once they’re party to the design and development of the initiative, it takes off. They can’t be part of the solution if they don’t understand the argument that’s being made. Having encouraging coaching conversations with staff help empower them to go back into their organisations and lead change.

Melys also referenced Simon Sinek’s TED talk on inspiring action, where he suggests that you should start with a clear purpose and outline your cause. He says:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it… Why is it important to attract people who believe what you believe? Something called the Law of Diffusion of Innovation.”

In the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, innovation relies heavily on human capital and must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Sinek describes how changes aren’t embedded until a tipping point – the early majority won’t try something until someone else has tried it first.

A bell curve graph that illustrates when people adopt new innovations, from early innovators to early adopters,early majority,late majority to laggards

A graph illustrating the law of diffusion of innovation

Frequent users of public services who regularly contact organisations make up a significant proportion of the demand on services, which amounts to huge costs in terms of time and resource. CIH Cymru’s practical approach to learning and development is leading to financial savings and improved public services. It’s been fascinating learning about the changes that are being made, the theory behind them and most importantly about the empowered staff and tenants that the programme has produced. The Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office is currently working on a national study on behaviour change, which will share examples where public services have changed behaviour effectively. If you’re changing behaviour or the way that you allocate resources to frequent users, we’d love to hear from you.

More information about the Frontline Futures programme can be found at the CIH Cymru website at www.cih.org/cymru/frontlinefuturesprogramme.

The writing’s on the desk!

Melin Homes’ white board desks have promoted positive behaviour change, saved money and resources, and also improved Data Protection practice! Ena Lloyd blogs below on the story behind the desks.

I recently popped up to see Trisha Hoddinot at Melin Homes after Mari Arthur from Cynnal Cymru said what good work they were doing on their Car Scheme. Not only saving money and achieving positive sustainability results, but also showing some early signs of positive behaviour change too.

When I got to their office, I noticed all the desks in the Sustainable team were white, and on closer inspection, there were lots of written messages on them too! So I had to ask what the story was. Turns out they were white board desks. I’ll share information on their car scheme in a later blog! Here’s Trisha’s story on the white board desks.

A photo of a Melin Homes whiteboard desk, with writing on it

A Melin Homes whiteboard desk

We are the Sustainability Team, formed in February 2016 to capture what Melin Homes was doing in terms of sustainability in order to get the best out of everything we do. We wanted to lead by example, show things are possible and demonstrate that as a team, we could be totally paperless. We had no excuse, we were a brand new team – an innovative, but realistic team. We didn’t expect teams to go paperless overnight (we have less restrictions than some teams in terms of external auditing and record keeping), but if every team did a bit of what we are doing, it would really make a difference.

What we’ve done differently

Here’s how we’re encouraging others:

  1. Every month we advertise the top three teams who have reduced their printing on our internal TV screens.
  2. We’ve changed what we buy. All future Melin Homes desks will be white board desks.
  3. We make people think. There are laptops and tablets in every meeting room so that people can log on to make notes, share meeting agendas on screen and access documents, instead of using pen and paper.
A photo of Melin Homes staff using their whiteboard desks

Staff at Melin Homes using their whiteboard desks

We decided to use A4 sized whiteboards instead of post it notes and paper for notes, and purely by accident, we discovered that our white desks were in fact whiteboard desks, which can be used for ‘to do’ lists or notes for when you’re on the phone. Our excitement was not initially shared by everyone, but within 2 or 3 days less enthusiastic colleagues were coming around to the idea and asking for whiteboard markers so that they could join our revolution! Our customer contact team also use whiteboards, which not only reduces paper usage but also helps Data Protection as notes taken on calls with residents can be noted while the call is being resolved, but wiped out immediately after.

How we did it

For us, the only way to do it was without exception, no excuses, no printing and no notepads. When we meet with others and are given papers, we scan and save them on our team system and destroy them. One challenge that we did have to overcome involved one of my colleagues, who was updating information from our contractors onto a database. Historically, they would print one document off while updating another one on screen. To resolve this, we connected a second monitor.

A photo of a Melin Homes staff member using two monitors to save paper

A Melin Homes staff member using two monitors to save paper

What are the benefits?

The benefits are much wider than the environmental benefits and the financial savings on paper and printing costs. Staplers, pens, scissors, etc. aren’t needed now and our desks are much less cluttered. The added benefit is the opportunity to remind people that we are paperless when they ask to borrow a pen.

What learning would you share with others?

My first piece of advice for others on becoming ‘paperless’ would be that you should not enforce a massive expectation for change on all staff. It will alienate people immediately. It’s better to set the challenge and lead by example.

You should also use every opportunity to reinforce what you want to achieve. Whenever a member of our team attends an internal meeting, there is always a member of staff who apologises for having a paper and pen with them as they feel guilty. We don’t have to mention anything, but we always welcome the opportunity to remind people that we are Melin Homes’ first paperless team.

You do need to be aware of external meetings. I always feel the need to explain to others why I am using a phone or tablet to make notes, so they don’t think I’m being rude and texting friends or checking social media.

If you are positive about making the change, you can work around it. Good luck!

What I learnt from taking part in the #NatterOn Podcast

The way that we learn and consume information is constantly evolving. Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from taking part in the NatterOn podcast.

A copy of the NatterOn Podcast logo

For the last year or so I’ve been listening to podcasts to broaden my awareness of what’s happening in the world and to get a better understanding of how I can improve my work. The Podcast Addict app has been great in managing interesting podcasts because it brings a range of podcasts together into one feed.

Podcasts that I’ve found particularly helpful are:

I’d add the NatterOn podcast to that list too. It’s a podcast the looks at digital and marketing that’s put together by Helen Reynolds and Ben Proctor, who are two of the most switched on people I know. Helen gets how communications are being changed by social media more than anyone else I’ve ever met. And I’ve learnt so much about data from Ben. I particularly recommend his post on Data Maturity in local government, which has been the basis of my thinking on acquiring data with the Wales Audit Office’s Data and Tech Working Group.

So when they asked me to take part in the podcast, I jumped at the chance because I’d basically get an hour to pick their brains on interesting public service improvement topics.

So what did I learn?

Unsurprisingly, a lot. Helen shared a really interesting post on Unconscious Bias, which brings together many different types of bias into four main problems:

  • We aggressively filter information to avoid information overload.
  • Lack of meaning is confusing, so we fill in the gaps.
  • We need to act fast, so we jump to conclusions.
  • We’re working in complex environments so we focus on the important bits. Decisions inform our mental models of the world.

So what does this mean for public services? For me, it’s about awareness. If we take the time to actively reflect on these problems, then we can be more conscious of our bias as we interact with people and deliver services. We’ve already identified this as an issue at the Wales Audit Office, so we held an internal event to reflect on this. The Storify includes lots of useful resources, including Harvard’s Implicit Associations Test.

We also had a really good conversation about trust, PR and public services after Ben shared a post on the war on truth. Helen looked at the professions topping the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds that people’s trust in government is generally a reflection of how content Britons are with their lot. This has big implications for how we interact with people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

As a project, we’ve undertaken work ourselves on looking at the importance of staff trust in public services. It’s interesting to take some of the lessons around staff trust and applying it in a wider context of working with communities:

  • Ability – have we shown that we are competent at doing our job?
  • Benevolence – do we have benign motives and a concern for others beyond our own needs?
  • Integrity – are we principled? Are we clearly acting in a fair and honest way?
  • Predictability – are people aware of what we’re likely to do?

After sharing a post on GCHQ’s Digital Approach, I also learnt from Ben that the analogy of frogs in boiling water is a complete lie.

What else did I share?

The Good Practice Exchange is also pondering how we can help public services develop their approaches to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. So I shared Chris Bolton’s post on Sustainable Decision Making and Simulation Games as it’s been useful in getting me to think differently about how we as a project might respond to the legislation in order to help services improve.

I’ve also been pondering about how we learn and develop in the workplace. In my ten years or so of working in public services, only three of the training courses I’ve attended have actually had any impact on my work. So how might we tie in our own learning and development with better organisations and improved public services? Carl Haggerty has written a great post on this.

Horses for courses

We have a slide that we use at our events that shows the many different that we share information – through our blog, social media, Randomised Coffee Trials, email and phone calls. We recognise that not everybody wants to receive information in the same form, and not everybody processes it the same way. One of the key principles of our work is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach for better services. Podcasts are another useful way of sharing learning and information, so it’s well worth having a listen to this and other podcasts to see whether they can help you improve your work and what you do.

The strategic importance of digital: a conference about culture change

What were the key messages from our recent events on digital? Kelly Doonan from Devon County Council reflects on the main learning points that she took away.

Image of speech bubble linking people to clouds, phonoes and documents

On 13 September I attended an event organised by the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange called; Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital. Although I’ve referred to it as a conference for title alliteration purposes, it was actually a seminar event with interactive workshops – and some really fabulous catering – held at the SWALEC Stadium in central Cardiff.

This is my take on the event and the six key messages I came away with. Which, as the title suggests, aren’t actually about digital…

1. Digital means different things to different people… we need a clear understanding of what it means to us

The event kicks off with a speech from Auditor General, Huw Vaughan Thomas. In the speech he states; quite accurately, that: “Digital means different things to different people.”

It does and I think that is a huge problem. When he says that we need a clear understanding of what it means to ‘us’ I think we need one clear definition that everyone understands. It’s the only way that we can have aligned conversations and make aligned decisions.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has just released their new digital strategy (as a PDF) which explains that Rotherham is putting digital at the ‘forefront’ of their journey to become a modern authority. It links to local health digital strategies, but doesn’t seem to link to a wider culture change or service redesign strategy. Does digital mean the same to Rotherham MBC as it does to the WAO or to Devon County Council? Can we work together effectively if we don’t have an agreed definition?

2. Digital is not doing the same work, but digitally

Huw Vaughan Thomas goes on to clarify that: “Digital is not doing the same work, but digitally.”

Which begins to move us towards a definition of digital, and suggests that we’re starting to talk about culture change and service transformation, not creating a new digital strategy.

3. Mistakes are inevitable; we mustn’t shy away from that

Also from Huw Vaughan Thomas’ speech. This is an interesting one. If common sense was a thing this statement feels like it would be a classic example. Of course humans make mistakes; it’s one of our defining characteristics and how we know that we’re not actually machines surely? Still, it feels weirdly radical to have an auditor stand up and say this. It also feels hugely positive and (hopefully) liberating.

We have to move away from a culture that assumes all mistakes can be ‘policied’ out if only we policy hard enough. Instead we have to encourage reflection, learning and individual responsibility. Back to culture change again.

After the Auditor General’s speech there’s a quick fire question and answer session with the panel. The first questions are prepared by the organisers, but the rest are sourced from the audience – it’s a brilliantly engaging approach and works really well.

4. We can’t ‘do digital’ until we understand what citizens actually need

My cavalier approach to note-taking means that I don’t actually know which panellist said this, but it was definitely one of them.

I get an email every other day from a software development company telling me how their customer portal is going to revolutionise back office systems and save money. They’ve even got a snazzy customer testimonial video featuring a local authority IT manager explaining how this digital transformation has saved him pots of money and tidied up all his back office systems, and no-one ever ever mentions user needs.

We can’t put any digital tools in place until we know that we need them and that they’re solving the right problem – and surely we can only do that if we’re talking to our citizens? Surely we can only do that if we are clearly articulating our purpose and we understand why we’re doing anything at all? What we need is culture change and a different approach to understanding our citizens.

5. These things are not technology problems… digital is an enabler. Buying a load of iPads won’t change your culture.

Beautifully succinct quote from Professor Tom Crick in his workshop session, A digitally competent, digitally capable workforce. For me this session raises some really interesting questions about digital capabilities.

  • Is there a basic digital standard that our workforce needs to achieve?
  • If there is, then shouldn’t this be part of our job descriptions?
  • Do we have a hierarchy of digital capability in our workforce with a digital ‘elite’ who have lots of skills and are working in radically different ways to those further behind?
  • How do we make sure that staff are learning digital skills rather than learning how to use separate pieces of proprietary software?
  • Do we have senior leaders who know enough about digital to make these kinds of decisions?
  • Does every organisation essentially need a benevolent hacker at the top table wielding some real power?

Which is all to say that we probably need to look at changing our culture around staff training and recruitment.

Also in this workshop I share a story about a piece of work we did under the heading ‘ask forgiveness, not permission’ which literally makes another delegate’s mouth fall open in shock.

6. Can you build agile, interdisciplinary project teams that can work iteratively?

For the final session I attend the workshop Learning from the Digital Innovators Network run by Jess Hoare and Amy Richardson from Y Lab, which involves marshmallows and spaghetti.

Y Lab is an innovation lab for public service created by Nesta alongside Cardiff University. They have some wonderful, practical resources – most of which are available on the Nesta website.

The workshop involves a quickfire session answering some provocative questions such as ‘[In your organisation] What is the perceived role of IT?’ and ‘Can you build agile, interdisciplinary project teams that can work iteratively?’. We then identify a digital problem and use the Nesta tools, and Jess and Amy’s support and input, to work the issue through.

Fairly quickly we start talking about articulating the problem, identifying users, understanding needs and gathering evidence. We spend the rest of the session looking, essentially, at redesigning the service and the processes.

The problem with digital transformation

Every conversation I had at this event that started with digital transformation ended with looking at culture change and system transformation.

I think we do need to have an agreed definition of digital and it became clear through this event that many people – but definitely not all – understand that digital is an enabler and not an end in itself. I would say that we don’t need digital strategies (sorry Rotherham) rather we need system transformation strategies which include digital enablers. We need to start with purpose and start with users and understand what we’re for and what they need.

I think there’s a real opportunity here though. To start conversations about digital transformation and, through events like this, show how that conversation must move to one about system transformation.

WAO Good Practice Exchange are planning more events in this series and it would be great to see them challenging participants further to think about how we use digital as a catalyst for real organisational change – not just buying a load of iPads.

Failing to learn from failure

How can public services make use of learning and information that result from failure? Dyfrig Williams blogs on learning from failure.

Last week I attended the Learning from Failure workshop in Cardiff. Before I go any further, I should clarify that these reflections are very much on my own process of working, rather than the work of the Good Practice Exchange.

The event was a bit of an eye-opening session, as it gave us all as participants the scope to look at aspects of our work that are not traditionally discussed. But why not?

In her paper on ‘Strategies for learning from failure,’ Amy C. Edmondson shares the Spectrum of Failure, which shows that blameworthy failure rarely results from the actions of any one individual. So why do we still tend to think that an effective and productive workplace culture is one that shuns failure and casts blame at all costs?

Order, order!

In the group exercise, each table designed an enabling environment for innovation, and each one was an environment where failure was accepted. Which makes sense, because we’re not encouraging innovation by cracking down on failure, we’re cracking down on ideas for new ways of working.

I was given the task of feeding back our table’s thoughts, which were based around the point that an enabling environment is complex and messy. What I personally meant by this is that a traditional approach, and the way that I’ve tended to approach innovation, is messy. My own innovation has often been a by-product, rather than an outcome or focus I’ve chased. It’s not been something that’s been identified in my appraisals, and it’s not been something that I’ve had to report back on to measure success.

This messiness is complicated even further by the environment that we’re working in. There is no one-size fits all solution for issues around public service access and delivery. What works in one community may not work in another.

However, there are approaches to innovation in the wider world that are much more rigorous. It was interesting to look at the work of the Bromford Lab, who have got a much more structured approach to innovation by testing ideas. One of their founding principles is ‘to fail fast,’ which means that they uncover lots of information and learning from their tests.

This planned approach makes it much easier to measure the success of innovation. Whilst there is no doubt innovation taking place at Bromford outside the realms of the Lab, taking issues and ideas to the Lab gives scope to evaluate them in a more formal way. This is at its most obvious with their Trello, where evaluation is planned and built in to their testing process.

Making space to evaluate

Making the time to evaluate impact has been the main learning point for me. I’ve tended to treat evaluation as something I do when I get the chance, rather than a process to embed into my work. And if you don’t take the time to properly look into why something’s failed, then there’s little chance to learn from it.

And so my more rigorous process of evaluation begins. The dates are now in the diary – I’ll be taking some time out from my day to day work and getting on with my evaluation. I’ll be leaving the physical space of my desk, which will help me get away from the usual distractions like email and the pile of paper on my desk, and get me in the right headspace to approach a different aspect of our work. Wish me luck!