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Solace blog

25th October 2015

Leading for Innovation: New Solace case studies and interim report

How can leaders in local government achieve more major innovations more quickly? That’s the question we’ve been studying for the last four years.

We’ve conducted interviews with leading chief executives and politicians, run focus groups with frontline employees and middle managers, and held discussions with local government leaders.

When we started this research, many local government leaders appeared to be taking a piecemeal approach to innovation and most were mainly achieving small scale ‘nice to do’ innovations in services.

Some appeared quite naïve, for example just telling their people to “be creative”, or expecting their frontline staff to come up with great ideas for innovations in a vacuum, or pursuing ‘bright ideas’ without having first investigated the underlying issues and opportunities.

Over the summer, on behalf of the Solace Innovation and Commissioning Network, I’ve been interviewing senior and middle managers in leading councils around the country to discover what more they’ve learned about the leadership actions that help to deliver innovations.

In the councils visited, leaders were taking a much more large-scale, comprehensive, strategic approach to innovation. They were bold, confident, and upbeat, almost relishing the opportunity to rethink their purposes and ways of operating.

They were clear about their innovation priorities, united in leading for innovation, properly resourcing innovation processes, and developing many more significant innovations with partners. They were prepared to take necessary, calculated risks. They were persistent and determined, taking a focussed and disciplined approach to ensure the delivery of innovations.

Many more were genuinely engaging residents and employees in developing innovations. Most were using “more agile’ approaches, reflecting and learning as they progressed towards achieving their desired outcomes.

In some of the councils, there was scope for doing more. Few were actively seeking disruptive ideas from outside, and few discussed commissioning external providers for innovation. More councils would benefit from developing greater innovation expertise. In some, politicians needed to cut some current services, to create the capacity and resources required for more major innovations.

The final report will be produced early in 2016, when we have completed more case studies and examined what more local government might learn from other sectors, from abroad and from other studies.

We welcome your comments on the findings so far to

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