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Solace blog

29th April 2016

Key Leadership Actions for Innovation: Latest findings from Solace Research Project

How can the political and managerial leaders in local councils achieve more major innovations faster? Over the past four years, we have conducted extensive research on this topic, including interviews and discussions with many chief executives and leading politicians, as well as many focus groups with middle managers and frontline employees.

In this latest study, supported by Solace’s Innovation and Commissioning Network, we worked with twelve councils – including three pairs of district council partners – selected because of their reputations for innovation.

In each council, or partnership, we interviewed a range of senior and middle managers to discover their views on which leadership actions were having the greatest impact on achieving significant innovations.

Nine case studies have been produced. Each describes the innovations the councils or partnerships are accomplishing, and the key leadership actions the managers identified as critical to their achievements.

The project’s final report ‘Key Leadership Actions for Innovation’ is now available on the Solace website. It analyses the case study findings as a whole and highlights variations between the approaches leaders are adopting.

It also introduces other relevant research findings and suggests areas where more leadership attention might be needed.

In the participating councils, we found that the political and managerial leaders appeared to be taking a much more comprehensive and strategic approach to innovation than seemed to be the case in many of the councils involved in our previous studies. They had a sophisticated understanding of how to create the conditions for innovation, but they were also upbeat and enthusiastic, excited about what they were doing and achieving. The report concludes by suggesting that political and managerial leaders in local government might achieve more
significant innovations if they:

– Are clear, united and determined about the outcomes they want to achieve and their priority areas for innovation;

– Are bold and ambitious whilst also understanding residents’ concerns, learning from elsewhere, setting realistic objectives, and taking well-considered risks;

– Engage with key partners in an open way, evolving innovations together;

– Create an organisational culture that encourages creative approaches (particularly in the priority areas for innovation);

– Develop and empower other innovative leaders (e.g. middle managers);

– Invest time, resources and effort into developing their innovation priorities;

– Convincingly communicate the reasons why their priority innovations are important (e.g. engage in dialogue with their managers, employees, partners, residents and other key stakeholders);

– Genuinely listen to, and involve, relevant others in developing innovations (e.g. managers, employees, residents, service users, partners, businesses);

– Track the development of their priority innovations (e.g. using programme and project management, or ‘more agile’ techniques, as appropriate);

– Persist for long enough to embed and scale up their priority innovations.

We welcome your comments on the research findings, as well as your suggestions regarding the priorities for further research on this topic. We would also be happy to be invited to present our findings at events for senior managers.

Please do get in touch with Joan Munro, Director, Accelerating Innovation in Local Government Research Project on or @joanMICL

By Joan Munro, Director, Accelerating Innovation in Local Government Research Project