Three local councils prove that innovation in the public sector goes beyond doing ‘more for less’

  22nd April 2013      
 CIPD, Company News

CIPD research shows how social and human capital can be unlocked to deliver better services in new and cost effective ways.

The key to delivering a more innovative approach to service delivery is unlocking the potential of social capital within local services, by thinking of customers and suppliers as equal partners in the co-production of services. But this will require a new generation of public leaders who foster climates of trust, collaboration and confidence. That’s according to the second report in a series of CIPD research insights on HR and its role in innovation, written in collaboration with researchers at the University of Bath.

Based on detailed case studies of three local authorities across England, the researchers found that innovation flourishes when people are empowered to work collaboratively, with service users and across organisational boundaries, to engage in problem solving. In this way, the councils have been able to mobilise existing knowledge and skills to generate creative new solutions to the increasing demands placed upon them.

According to the research, the crucial catalyst for these new ways of working is the appointment of senior teams who demonstrate new styles of leadership. More open leadership behaviours help to create climates of trust and self-belief, giving staff at all levels the confidence to explore both incremental and radical ways of changing the way they work. What’s more, public sector HR and learning and development (L&D) teams must be prepared to energise the organisation by designing change programmes that instil a sense of pride and possibility into the workforce, as well as leading the way by innovating HR and L&D service delivery too. For example, one council faced with making redundancies turned its approach to internal recruitment and development on its head by creating a ‘talent pool’ instead of an ‘at risk’ list, which enabled existing staff’s skills, knowledge and experience to be redeployed in other areas of the organisation. Similarly, another council’s HR team delivered on its commitment to zero redundancies by creating an internal jobs market which enabled the council to radically reshape and redesign services whilst also allowing them to offer job, rather than role, security to their workforce. It has also allowed them to develop a flexible and adaptable workforce better suited to meet future challenges.

The research also identified seven key barriers that often thwart innovation in the public sector:
–    Siloed working
–    Evaluation systems, which are not designed to support innovation
–    Public service users rarely being invited to engage in the innovation process
–    “A fetish for new shiny stuff” results in inappropriate allocation of scarce resources
–    A lack of disciplined systems of innovation
–    A narrow focus on financial measures of value
–    Complexity caused by being required to meet the demands of too many ‘masters’.

John McGurk, learning and development adviser at the CIPD, comments: “In today’s challenging local authority landscape, innovation really is the key to making an impact.  Even though a high proportion of what we call ‘cautious innovators’ are found in local government, our case studies provide excellent examples of authorities who are firmly embracing innovation. They know that engaging everyone, from employees to customers and suppliers in the innovation effort will pay dividends in service delivery and efficiency.”

The findings of the full series of research insights will be explored at HRD, the CIPD’s annual learning and development conference and exhibition, when the final report will be published. John McGurk will be joined by CIPD CEO Peter Cheese, Robert Tinlin, CEO at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, and Tim Pointer, head of HR and Pentland Brands, to discuss the integral role of L&D in ensuring continued innovation within organisations. For more information, visit

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