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Time to unleash frontline innovation

It's an old cliché that staff are an organisations number one asset but just because it's old doesn't make it any less true. My view is that more now than ever we need to harness the ideas of frontline staff to make services more efficient and effective. Those on the frontline who interface with communities on a daily basis have the detailed, local knowledge that can help make those services more efficient and effective. And local authorities that are capturing ideas developed by frontline staff during the course of their day to day work are seeing the benefits. Yet, attention to frontline innovation is too often down to individual managers or one-off events, when it needs to be an on-going process that is embedded into organisational culture. APSE’s recent research, delivered in partnership with IPPR North, looks at ways in which local government can encourage innovative ideas from its workforce and apply them to service design and delivery. It shows how a new breed of municipal entrepreneurs are bringing improvements, increased productivity and enhanced job satisfaction to daily working practices in councils around the country. Innovation on the Frontline: How engagement with the local government workforce can improve service delivery in austere times features examples of best practice from authorities that are reaping rewards from engaging their workforce in innovation. Monmouthshire County Council, have developed an Intrapreneurship School and Intrapreneurship ‘Cookbook’ among other measures, as methods for encouraging its workforce to think about innovation in the services for which they are responsible. South Lanarkshire Council has encouraged innovation through a variety of processes, including a matrix for scoring ideas, resulting in a number of innovative projects to reorganise services. 80% of respondents in our survey on frontline innovation said their council regards it as important priority. Activities to encourage frontline innovation described in the survey include: award nights; one-to-one innovation sessions; suggestion schemes; regular briefing sessions; and, in some cases, financial rewards. However, support for frontline innovation was patchy in some authorities and dependent upon individual managers. Encouraging innovation on the frontline therefore cannot be simply a one-off event. The research identified common factors key to creating an environment in which frontline innovation can flourish, including culture and leadership, workforce development, and procedures to connect frontline staff with management. This requires a comprehensive strategy and a package of incentives, such as: involving innovation within the regular workload; using innovation as part of employee development through explicit training; and using innovation as part of the appraisal process. It may involve financial incentives if appropriate. Top-down management structures can be barrier to encouraging on the job innovation and managers must be accessible to frontline staff to discuss potential improvements to services. At a minimum, councils need to establish methods for formally and informally sourcing ideas from their staff. APSE's earlier study on 'municipal entrepreneurship', showed that innovation is alive and well in the UK's town halls. Innovation on its own is clearly not enough to respond to the sheer scale of fiscal pressure local government is under. But this research shows that, against a tough financial backdrop, unleashing the ideas of frontline staff can be a tremendous tool in local government's armoury within a broader strategy for future services.

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit local government body working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

           

 

          

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