There is a discussion, elsewhere, on whether skunkworks (the link is to Dave Briggs' post on the subject) can work in local government, and in passing whether local government is the right place for innovative ideas to be thought of, thought around and then implemented.
It's an alien discussion to me. I don't know if that's because I am not a manager or because even if I were I would be wired the way I am, but I just can't agree with the belief that local government is full of boring, unimaginative, follow the line painted on the floor types. Even in my old Department, Enviromental Services, there were more than enough big ideas, small ideas and frankly, ridiculous ideas to go around. For example, in the face of cuts and despite refuse collection being ringfenced as it is a legal requirement for a Local Authority to provide waste collections, someone pitched the idea that collections should switch to 4 days a week, terms and conditions should be re-assessed and changed and as a result, a large amount of money has been saved, contributing to the over all pot of savings. (I don't know exact figures but I can get them if anyone is interested, it's just no one in that Department tweets yet!).
The same amount of bins are being emptied, but the way in which they are being emptied is more efficient, better use of time, gives crews 1 day off a week, doesn't effect their pay, but reduces costs and overheads on vehicles, yard space and overtime. That, right there, is thinking outside of the box. Doing more with less. Thinking differently. And I don't think the person responsible will mind if I say that he's not exactly in the top 5% of known innovators in our LA. In fact thanks to being 3 miles away from the Town Hall on a remote site, hardly anyone knows who he is which is a whole different story around being better about shouting about the stars that we do have, but there you are.
Stories like this, as a result of internal consultation, are coming thick and fast. Our Chief Executive asked for ideas on how we could save money. He published every single one on the intranet, and every single one got a response from someone in a relevant Department about whether it was a valid suggestion, if it wasn't why it wasn't with supporting statistics, and if it was viable, where the suggestion had been sent and who it was sitting with to be implemented. One of those involved using Eco Font across the whole organisation to save money. We already set all new printer installation of drivers to print double sided and in black and white - but there's always one more idea, one more step, another level to take things to - perhaps in the absence of someone seeing that it was possible that a suggestion could be made about printing double sided across the whole org, and seeing it being implemented, perhaps the eco-font suggestion would never have been made?
If you sit and think that innovation, ideas, changing cultures, suggesting and doing the ridiculous things is not possible, as a leader, that attitude will permutate throughout your organisation. If you decide that whatever suggestion someone makes will receive consideration and you are transparent about the process in examining those suggestions for their validity, you will cause a snowball effect. Employees right now have to feel valued. Have to feel listened to. Have to feel that they are not simply throwing words into the wind.
Being dynamic is a weird thing. The people who are, don't think they are. My old Head of Service, over in Environmental Services, most definitely doesn't think he is. But he is. Because he sees a problem, thinks about it for a bit, writes a proposal, consults the unions, and then he implements. And the last stage of the process is the most important but with the attitude of 'we cannot innovate in this space', the last stage will never be reached.
We must do more with less. We must accept the voluntary and community sector cannot fill the gaps, that big society is a concept, and we must accept that there is simply no money any more. Instead of becoming frustrated and depressed and demoralised, it is imperative that those people left behind in the great cull are continually updated and communicated with, but also continually encouraged to inspire, to lead, to dare to think, to destroy boxes and shoot for the skies. Social media can play a massive part in this, but it must be a part of a wider strategy, one of openness, transparency, humour, determination, leadership, dynamism and passion.
It's going to be a tricky one.