Styles of Local Government Action

Just over a year ago, three of us (Cat Drew, Noel Hatch and David Ayre) sat down together and said we’d like to bring together a group of people who wanted to think differently about local government. We know there are people out there, some who work explicitly in Government design and innovation, some who are on the margins of it, and some who don’t they know are doing it, but quietly are. We wanted to provide a space for having some more stretching and unusual conversations (i.e. not the ‘usual’ innovation conversations about the potential of AI or outcome-based budgeting), provide the psychological safety to explore new ideas, and — because it often feels hard and lonely — offer mutual support to those ‘who stick their heads above the parapet and try new things’, to quote one network member.

We’ve been convening regular meetups for the last year, in London and Sheffield (and via hangout) and have around 130 members (of whom about 30 attend regularly). We’ve met in studios, pubs and innovation spaces and covered city prototyping, a new community paradigm, and digital mindsets. We’ve even prototyped a neighbourhood innovation game. We’re slowly moving from sharing and discussing to visualising the outputs in ways which others can continue the conversation.

Last month we were kindly hosted by Vasant from the Policy Lab in the wonderful SKYrooms (a turret of the Treasury building transformed into an open innovation space). Vasant and the team have been iterating a table of styles of Government action, clearly visualising the different ways that Government can intervene to achieve a social goal. Obviously, over the last 12 years these have evolved (e.g. nudge being introduced in around 2010), but I wish I had something like this when I first started back in 2004. We’d been starting to use this in our local gvt projects (e.g. myself at FutureGov, Noel at Camden Council), so we thought we could co-design it further with the network. We had people from the LGA, GLA, MHCLG, Nesta, Snook and local councils (e.g. Bexley and Doncaster) in the room as we co-designed the version below.

Policy Lab’s Styles of Government Action
Our co-designed Styles of Local Government Action, also inspired by Eddie Copeland’s new operating model and conversations with Jonathan Flowers.

Some reflections:

  • It doesn’t need to be perfect or finite. It is most useful as a conversation starter with colleagues to help them to identify other ways of acting (outside their usual role) in order to achieve a social goal.
  • There is obviously cross over between the boxes (and we could probably spend ages trying to visualise it in a different way).
  • We had lots of discussions about the words ‘leader’, ‘steward’ and ‘placemaker’, as well as ‘collaborator’ and ‘convener’. We felt that the overall role of local government is a placemaker, but ‘steward’ captured the style of leadership it needed to take to do so, understanding needs and assets, setting a plan collaboratively, and then empowering its citizens, convening organisations across the place and influencing government and other structural issues.
  • Local government is obviously different from national government in many ways, and our discussion focused on its role as disruptor, the greater need for soft power rather than hard (legislative power) and the nature of investment in local places to stimulate markets and economies.
  • Local government cannot legislate (although it can create local by-laws). Its role is to implement statutory duties, but then there are other national policies and powers that it has more freedom (or is constrained by budgets) to adopt locally, and then to enforce if it has done so.

We’d love to iterate this further and to find out how people are using it. Please feel free to download it, to adapt it and show us how you have used it, and the value it has had. Join the conversation by coming to our next meetup.

Chief Design Officer at the Design Council, previously FutureGov and Uscreates. Member of The Point People.

Chief Design Officer at the Design Council, previously FutureGov and Uscreates. Member of The Point People.