Standing on the shoulders of Giants

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9 Steps to solve collective problems

  • Define a problem in terms of the outcome – the change of state you need
  • Try and solve it (experiment)
  • Tweak it to eliminate the error and failures
  • Deconstruct how you did it – write it down – make it repeatable
  • Make it as flexible, transferable, repeatable, cheap and quick as possible
  • Find other people with a similar problem who want help and will listen – and help them
  • Share your solution
  • Make it work in the widest possible environments
  • Move on to solving the next problem

Where is progressive problem solving breaking down?

Can UK Local Government innovate and save money faster by less reinvention – more humility? Why have we been stuck for 20 years with so little progress compared to the outside world?

On holiday this summer in the Netherlands I had a phone call from a fun SME that has already sold their product to 60 Local councils in the UK. They had read my Nesta blog on how SMEs should engage with the public sector – apparently the only information they could find on the internet on this subject.

They asked our cooperative Sleuth to help find the best opportunities for new software products that help solve local government problems.

This is about asking Local Government what they want – when they want it – and developing solutions to problems iteratively and in partnership.

The best example of an SME growing exponentially through this approach is Egress. It is worth following their story. It came about through Local Government’s common and simultaneous need to respond to Information Commissioner inspections. Which was a big stick applied to all Local Authorities at the same time.

Can Local Government come together proactively (rather than reactively in response to big sticks) to co-ordinate their requirements so that SMEs can at last break into the public sector software market and freshen things up? Or are the local issues too varied?

Our research is finding out

We are reviewing English Local Government savings and efficiency plans to find out what the common problems are that they need technology solutions – and (critically) when they are needed.

The surprising thing is that across the piece – for all types of local authorities and in all regions – 12 common high value savings areas stand out. What is extraordianry about our findings is not the variation in approach but the similarity.

The main differentiator is how sophisticated and convincing those action plans are – what stage of development each Council is at.

Almost all share the same problems and the same ideas about how to make savings. What we are doing now is articulating and deconstructing those problems and looking at the gaps that technology can help to fill.

How can we speed things up?

This is the opportunity to speed things up. If the least developed plans – those Local Authorities which are lagging in terms of their stage of development – could use the thinking and expertise of the most developed – the whole sector could be moving at the pace of the trailblazers.

Local Government could co-ordinate their efforts and get the timing right to make a concerted effort with ‘Heritage’ software suppliers to open up their systems to SME plug ins.

Once we have finished the second phase of the research – the deconstruction – I’ll start to detail the key technologies that will bring about real change. And you might be surprised how simple, repeatable and cheap they are – and how little hype there is around them.

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