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A public value approach for renewal: Designing missions in Camden

Photo by Zck_ on Unsplash

By Ryan Bellinson and Sarah Albala

A s the impacts of COVID-19 began to emerge in the spring of 2020, the London borough of Camden devised a novel plan for responding to the crisis. Instead of focusing on how to recover from the pandemic, the council decided to embrace a vision for transformative renewal.

The need for change was clear: out of London’s 32 boroughs, Camden had the fifth highest rate of childhood poverty before the pandemic hit, standing at nearly 40%. It also had extremely high levels of income inequality, with the median household income in the wealthiest ward being nearly twice that of the poorest ward. These underlying inequalities have resulted in dramatically uneven impacts from the pandemic for Camden’s diverse residents.

From the very beginning, the council looked to use the pandemic as an opportunity to re-examine its role in actively shaping the local economy towards delivering public value. It also examined the tools and resources that could be used to respond to the borough’s immediate needs as the crisis unfolded.

Designing, planning, and monitoring a programme of borough-wide renewal requires a holistic place-based approach to transformation. To have legitimacy, the process demands representation from organisations and communities across the borough to collaboratively shape a pathway for collective change that can tackle and overcome the entrenched barriers that have exacerbated inequality and deprivation over time.

In the fall of 2020, Camden Council launched a Renewal Commission to kick start its process of transformative renewal. The Commission embraced the mission-oriented approach pioneered at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), which has been working with cities and public sector organisations across the globe to solve their particular ‘grand challenges’ using this new form of innovation policy.

The Renewal Commission was co-chaired by leader of the Council Georgia Gould and IIPP Director Professor Mariana Mazzucato and supported by sixteen commissioners. These commissioners were a diverse group, representing key organisations that are significant to Camden’s social and economic ecology. Included were experts in equality, sustainability and healthcare such as Farhana Yamin of Track 0 and Sadia Farah of First Step Action; those representing local ‘anchor institutions’ such as Marcel Levi of UCL Hospital and Christine Foster of the Alan Turing Institute; those engaged in community leadership and organising such as the social commentator George Mpanga and Athian Akec of the UK Youth Parliament; and those leading voluntary and community action initiatives such as Alexis Keir of Elfrida Rathbone Camden and Delia Barker of the Roundhouse.

The Renewal Commission formally met four times between October 2020 and April 2021. During these meetings, commissioners developed four concrete missions for Camden and sketched out preliminary mission statements:

  • By 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden are as diverse as our community — and the next generation is ready to follow;
  • By 2025, every young person has access to economic opportunity that enables them to be safe and secure;
  • By 2030, everyone eats well every day with nutritious, affordable, sustainable food;
  • By 2030, Camden’s estates and their neighbourhoods are healthy and sustainable.

These four missions have been devised to erode existing structures that perpetuate inequalities and supplant them through an ambitious and radical renewal pathway that puts the wellbeing of residents at the centre of everything the council does. Alongside these mission statements are accompanying roadmaps that plot out a series of hypothetical ‘mission projects’ that form a portfolio of connected innovation activities that support the various types of experimentation needed to achieve the overall objective.

As these missions were being developed in Camden, the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority subsequently adopted missions as part of the London Recovery Programme which seeks to oversee long-term economic and social recovery, reshaping a fairer, more equal, green, resilient city than existed before the pandemic.

The Renewal Commission has provided initial thinking and served as a key component in Camden’s trajectory of becoming the equitable, inclusive, healthy and sustainable community it aspires to become. Now, Camden is turning its attention from designing its missions towards delivery. The Renewal Commission is officially concluding in its current form and the council has now begun to engage and enlist residents, community organisations and anchor institutions in taking actions forward that support the mission roadmaps. In the first step of this process, the council is engaging stakeholders with the intention of spreading the missions’ delivery activities across Camden — not just actions that will be led by the council — so they can truly be held as a borough-wide platform for action.

The council has also restructured some of their internal teams to enable new ways of working that can accelerate the process of bringing the missions to life. One way this is taking place has been through the formation of four new teams of policy designers that have been assembled from previously existing teams of policy officers. The four new teams are bringing together policymakers with different areas of specialisation, each under the direction of an elected councillor, to collaboratively encourage societal innovation in support of the mission. This novel internal structure is a new approach for the council that they hope will better enable experimentation, risk taking and stakeholder engagement.

The council has also begun considering how it engages key partners in the missions moving forward. Some of the commissioners that served on the Renewal Commission will remain closely involved as ‘mission advocates’ — key stakeholders that will help champion the missions and broker relationships with other organisations throughout their network to support cross-borough ownership of the agenda. As ‘mission advocates’ commissioners can work with communities as collaborators to enable and inform the mission’s delivery, serve as links across the borough to help spread responsibility for the missions across sectors, or work directly with officers on technical policy development, mission governance and evaluating progress.

IIPP is also continuing to engage and support Camden’s missions. We were awarded funding through the UCL Knowledge Exchange programme to support the missions and also to learn from Camden’s initial delivery approach. Over the next few months, we will design and facilitate a series of workshops for Camden council and its key stakeholders that will explore different approaches to cross-sectoral partnerships. We also hope to work with Camden as a ‘Studio Lab’ supported through a new partnership with the Laudes Foundation. The Studio Lab would enable IIPP researchers to support Camden’s teams of policy designers through a process of ‘practice-based theorising’. Lastly, we hope to support the missions by working with Camden on the broad scoping of a ‘community wealth fund’ or ‘development bank’ that will utilise publicly owned assets to harness new streams of finance, accelerating public value delivery through the missions.

Throughout the summer Camden council will also be releasing a series of visual podcasts which will explore each of the missions in depth and examine some of the delivery activities that have begun taking place. This hopes to inspire interest and potential participation from residents and local organisations to participate in the mission activities. More information can be found at We Make Camden.

We will be sharing more content about Camden’s missions in the future. For more information, check out the Camden Renewal Commission website or get in touch with Sarah Albala from IIPP: s.albala@ucl.ac.uk




The official blog of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose | Rethinking how public value is created, nurtured and evaluated | Director @MazzucatoM | https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/public-purpose/

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UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

Changing how public value is imagined, practiced and evaluated to tackle societal challenges | Director: Mariana Mazzucato | Deputy Director: Rainer Kattel

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