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Let’s face the music and…?

It’s that time of year in TV world – everyone is singing or dancing. For many, it brings welcome respite from the tough times we are in, especially with the knowledge that 2010 will bring more of the same.

Next year the mantra will remain: ‘Do more, with less’. For the world around local government however, the expectation will be for ideas and solutions to keep flowing.

These pressures mean that local government must become more fleet-footed in addressing innovation and change. It calls for being nimble; for nurturing a deeper awareness of the world around; and for becoming experts at connecting challenges, solutions and resource as ‘inspiring enablers’ rather than owners and makers of change. When we crack this, it feels like the organisation is dancing: fluid, open and light.

This may sound woolly, but it is what a truly advanced ‘learning organisation’ is all about. This about creating loops of information, knowledge and ideas that lead to possibility and development without things getting heavy. The challenge for local government is to find space in which to do this against a pressure to batten down hatches. How to make this practical then? Here are some starters for ten on ‘lighter’ innovation:

1. Find your ‘free space’ - places away from formal, tangible work. Free space may take many forms – coffee breaks, short walks, away days, conferences. One example: Quakers using silence in meetings to let new thoughts emerge. At another level, we help people with playful workshops, simulations, even festivals as forms of free space. The key thing here is a common understanding that in this space it is ok to think freely; to play; to ‘rehearse’.

2. Be clear about your reasons for innovation, then, create tangible visions of the future – accessible and meaningful to all. These may be visual reports, models, prototypes and so on. The best visions illustrate the outcomes of innovation. They build a common understanding, they inspire people and they concentrate effort towards a greater goal.

3. Explore dialogue and collaboration techniques to help connect and empower people and ideas. Consider world café and ‘open space’ as ways of getting groups talking. Consider ‘unconferencing’ – conferences flipped on their head so many people can talk to many others. From here, collective wisdom can bloom.

4. Remember the power of networks and partnership. Find win-wins and ‘serendipitous’ possibilities with people that have common goals. Social enterprise is a fascinating place to start here. Think of corporate partners or other local authorities. Better still, communities you work with.

These aspects of working all support purposeful dialogue, learning and sharing – and innovation that is greater than the sum of its parts. This way of working will become more important as the role of councils shift from agents of change to brokers of change. And more, when we get this right it will feel more engaging, more meaningful and more fun. So take it away – let’s face the music, and…

- A special thank you to Andres Roberts, who is the founder of Eudemonic, an agency for collaborative learning and innovation. www.eudemonic.co.uk

Picture: A page of musical notes with thanks to JadeXJustice for publishing on Flickr under a Creative Commons license some rights reserved.

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