Welcome to iNews

Read about the latest innovations across Kent County Council and beyond.

Find out who we are, how we research, what we do, as well as our award winning project.

Contact us

Tell us about the innovative ideas and projects you're working on! If it's new and exciting and let us know!

Sign up to our updates by email

Tell us what you think here


People, places and projects is what's interesting about social affairs and in 15 years of writing for national newspapers and magazines, latterly for the Guardian's Society section, writing about 'what works' is the part of my job that I really enjoy.

I launched The Social Issue to focus on individuals, communities and organisations that make a difference; The Social Issue isn't just a platform for opinions but will inform and spark discussion. Given the spending cuts, there's even more reason to share solutions in a jargon-free, accessible way.

By hosting guest posts from members of the public as well as from frontline practitioners, senior managers and experts, The Social Issue will be able to add a little something extra to the vast amount of great information already available online.

Thanks to Saba Salman.

If you have any articles you would like to write about on innovation in public services please contact us on Innovation@kent.gov.uk

- A special thank you to Saba Salman for the picture above taken from the Social Issue.com.

What next?Subscribe to iNewsE-mail us your ideas/thoughtsMore ArticlesAre You Experienced?Who said all pop-ups need to be blocked?All consuming Google?


The global financial crisis was a shock to the system. It changed the landscape of public services for a generation. Local public services across the country are looking ahead to a period of severe financial constraint and the public sector is facing between five and ten years of severe spending restrictions.

Society is not the same thing as the state, but the state provides the building blocks for an inclusive and equal society in which everyone can flourish. The Big Society and Your Freedom should therefore not involve the dismantling of the state, but rather help recreate a public sphere in which all citizens are better able to engage with the state and with each other. Without this approach, we could end up with a very small society that ignores the people we should be striving to enable and protect.

From as early as 2009, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have began to endorse the shift from centralised to decentralised government and affirm the significance of innovation to recovery and public service. Our last government published a series of reports calling for innovation rather than just improvement in public service reform. It laid out the role for central government as one of responding to and facilitating innovation through a smaller and more strategic state, and suggested that innovation will follow from devolving power to users and localities.

Few would argue with this approach; the question is how to a) reverse the trend towards increased centralisation, and b) build the capacity to make such a shift viable. This is significant particularly in the context of predicted public sector cuts and a widespread assumption that Government is responsible and therefore accountable for local service failures.

While technology-based innovation can be introduced from the top down, social innovation involves creativity and consequently is not something you can dictate. For instance, innovative solutions that involve co-design cannot be squeezed through conventional processes. They only work when people want to work together and are motivated to get involved.

Each place is unique, whether a village, town or city and one of the most common things people share is where they live.

Citizen Power is a collaboration between the citizens of Peterborough, The RSA, Arts Council East and Peterborough Council to explore new ways of making the city a better place to live.

The Peterborough Citizen Power report highlights the growing strength amongst place-based schemes and provides evidence of how a connection to one’s local area and community can provide the motivation for a more creative approach to innovation.

The RSA’s Citizen Power work in Peterborough is essentially a scheme to develop a range of methods for making mass involvement in civic life happen. 

Right now, within the Citizen Power programme of work, Peterborough are embarking on a Civic Commons project that aims to provide an opportunity for citizens to build knowledge and confidence in a range of themes and to understand different perspectives on local and national challenges.

The Civic Health project is about developing a tool that can be used to both measure as well as develop the capacity people have to shape the communities they live in. The tool will collect information that local authorities can use to understand how much ability people have to shape their local area and how they may better focus their efforts. It will bring together knowledge about local organisations, support groups, community leaders and funding opportunities into a 'civic directory' that the community can draw upon and use in the future. But more than just using the tool to understand the 'civic health' and vibrancy of a particular neighbourhood or place, it should also be used to encourage and enable people to participate in their community.

Through a mixture of surveys and individual case-studies, the tool should be able to paint a clearer picture of the skills and qualities people need in order to get involved in their communities. This information can be used by local bodies to understand which areas or groups of people are most in need of assistance and where to better focus their efforts. But more importantly, the tool can be used by local community groups themselves and the results played back so that people can reflect on their own skills, opportunities and behaviours.

The tool will also be designed so that it can collect not just information on behaviours and skills but also information about local organisations, community leaders, people who wish to be more actively engaged, and funding opportunities into a local 'civic directory'. The directory will be easily accessible and everybody in a particular area can tap into to it. This would allow it to really bring out the hidden opportunities and assets that everyone has and then link them with other people who may want to join up, get help or collaborate with one another - connecting the dots, which I personally think is a great feature.

The first pilot of the tool will be trialled with recovering drug users involved in the Recovery Capital project. At a time when power is being handed back to the people, we can't assume that everybody has the ability to take advantage of these opportunities, especially the most vulnerable. So looking at the ability of people recovering from substance misuse and how they can be involved in the community, how they might access and shape the recovery services they use, their emotional well-being and a whole host of other areas will be key.

An immediate benefit of this scheme is that it allows Government to become more sensitive to the difference between communities, as place based innovation is different in each location, and centrally designed frameworks need to be tailored to meet those unique conditions.

What next?Subscribe to iNewsE-mail us your ideas/thoughts


"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." Franklin D. Roosevelt, governor of New York, (1933).

When you think of the word innovation what springs to mind? Gadgets? Science? Technology? In fact these days innovation is something which affects our every day lives. Whether it's using a social media website on your phone or taking the latest medication to cure some horrible bug, innovation will have affected your life in one form or another. 

Likewise if I asked which would you associate more with innovation; public or private sector I expect most of you would reply private. And you’d be right! In fact studies show, in the private sector, innovation accounts for a staggering 85 percent of their economic growth. 

This said, innovation is needed just as much in the public sector. In fact, since the credit crunch crisis, there has been an unprecedented amount of talk on the topic and calls for introducing more of it. Yet despite all the ‘talk’ of the need to be innovative, there has been little specific action in bringing it about. So the big question is how do you get the ball rolling? 

How do you generate innovation in the public sector?

One organisation who believes they have developed an effective system to generate ideas for innovation is the American company ‘Centre for American Progress’ whose new project ‘Capital Ideas; Doing What Works’ has been created to promote government reform to efficiently allocate scarce resources and achieve greater results. 

Their report highlights the problem area for the public sector is generating new ideas and also stresses the importance for innovation. They claim not only does it reduce costs, but it also creates better products and help increase market shares. They too refer to the great success private firms have experienced from using innovative ideas to improve their sales and products, and maintain that understanding innovation is crucial in business strategy.

In this report Capital ideas’ argue innovation is essential for tackling complex social problems and make the point that as problems become more complex we need new and better ways to tackle these issues

That requires a much stronger system of innovation - from a constant flow of great ideas through evaluating the effectiveness of different approaches and then scaling those that are most effective. The report begins with a guide line of what they believe are the steps which social innovation follows from inception to impact six simple steps.

First step, they suggest that we need to identify the priority field where innovation is needed. This seems logical as solutions derive from problems and it is near impossible to think up a solution if you don’t have a problem to start with. In their cycle they assert teams should prompt, inspire and diagnose where the biggest issues are before any suggestion of solutions come forward, as the impetus for social innovation is often social problems.

Secondly they suggest that we should open up spaces for ideas. Proposals and ideas. Once a problem or new possibility is understood social innovators set about generating ideas for solutions.

The next stage is the fixing incentives and prototyping and pilots. This is basically the testing stage where you may want to take controlled trials. This refining process will allow you to find if your innovation needs tweaking and allow you to squeeze out any mistake.

Next is working out how you are going to finance your Innovation. For this finding revenue streams, writing supportive legislation and assembling the human and technical resources would be crucial.

Scaling and diffusion. At this stage the idea should start to take off. Reaping social economies of scale through expansion, replication and diffusion. Social solution often require government intervention and public-private partnership to grow.

And finally at stage six you will be able to introduce systemic change and watch your idea change lives and save money...

So by following these six steps we have a clear idea of the social innovation cycle, the process we should be using to introduce innovation. 

But are there any other actions we should be taking to help us actually generate ideas? The Capital Ideas report finished with a number of recommendations which they think could help organisation s and particularly the public sector to generate ideas better.

Tapping in house talent

This I thought was a great idea. Unleashing the creative talents of agency staff, who have enormous potential to be creative and also frontline workers who would have a powerful insights on ways to improve the way things are done - seems like a no brainer. And yet surprisingly all too often agency leaders do not seek these insights, instead referring to own a small pool of their own similar minded workers who may not see things from the same perspective or be able to offer as diverse and varied ideas. 
I think it is always important that leaders find ways of really listening to their staff, and encourage them to generate ideas to improve the way things are done, is a vital component of innovation strategy.

Dedicated innovation team

The report's second recommendation comes from viewing how private sector firms succeed. They claim private companies often have a whole team whose chief role is dedicated to researching and developing innovative ideas. 

These teams are provided space to think creatively about ways to enhance the firm’s long-term prospects. That they invest the manpower and resources into this research highlights how important they see innovation and this seems to be the chief difference between the private sector and the public sector. Therefore a key recommendation would be for public sector organisations to take a similar approach by setting up dedicated teams with responsibility for ensuring that the organisation is able to generate potentially innovative ideas.

Budgeting for innovation

Of course during a time when money is tight, no ministers or councils will be thrilled by the idea of pouring large sums of money anywhere, however this report heavily stresses that it is the public sector’s approach of only allocating small amount of their budgets to innovative practices which prevents them from coming up with amazing potential to really invest in generating innovative ideas and scaling up those that are proven to be the most effective. For example, the Young Foundation’s Launch Pad, Regional Innovation.

Shifting perspectives

You could use participatory appraisal to understand community problems. Developed in the 1980s, this approach works by really trying to understand the perspectives of those who live in poor communities in developing countries. Sometimes simply walking and noticing things can be surprising powerful tool for seeing possibilities in a new way.

Seeking outside wisdom

Why does the public sector only rely on the public sector? Collaborate with outsiders to help solve problems. Capital Ideas suggests could be key methods of obtaining important information, especially as Government do not have a monopoly of wisdom. The public sector could really benefit from collaborating with the private and non-profit sectors to develop innovative solutions. This can be done either by working with successful commercial organisations that can help the government be more innovative or by harnessing the energy of those in civil society who want to help address social issues but are rarely asked for their thoughts. Example – DeepDive, Innocentive.

What next?Subscribe to iNewsE-mail us your ideas/thoughtsMore ArticlesAre You Experienced?Who said all pop-ups need to be blocked?All consuming Google?


Innovation is not a new topic. We know public sector leaders have been discussing innovation for numerous years. However the agenda has been given added impetus in recent months by the impact of the recession on public spending. Anyone who reads the papers will know that the public debt we are accumulating because of the economic downturn has led to deep cuts further down the line. After a decade of vast sums of money being pumped into public services, the tap has now been firmly turned off.

Yet despite these cuts, people are more demanding in what they expect from public services. Also government targets are getting tougher and tougher. The need to "achieve-more-with-less" moved from being the latest Civil Service buzz phrase to a very stark reality with the announcement of “George Osborne's first budget which indicated that over the next four years, certain departments will have their budgets slashed, by almost 40%.” So the reality is that the public sector faces higher public expectations, stronger targets, and less money.

For many, including some government officials, the only solution out of this crunch is to innovate in how we deliver our public services. This report by Sunningdale Institute for the Cabinet Office argues that there is an under-developed appreciation of what public sector innovation might mean in practice and how it can best be supported. The report also provides a useful account of what innovation means in different circumstances and describes an approach to leading and nurturing innovation in the public sector. The headline here is that we need to develop a framework which provides a repertoire of types of innovation and relevant support models which key stakeholders can use to design innovation into their own organisations and begin to fill the gaps in innovation support.

"There is danger that government departments are constrained by what they do. Sometimes you need to have a near-death experience to get innovation on course. The public sector is facing enormous cuts. That is a golden opportunity for innovation and collaboration." James Gardner

A key finding of the report is the negative approach to motivation. Most of the systems which control work carry implicit messages that innovation is not recommended. All of the people interviewed maintained that the incentives against innovation are greater than those for it.

Recommendation 1

Systems audit: develop and implement an innovation audit of systems such as HR and finance, commissioning and procurement, IT systems and estates and building management and other systemic controls, to assess where traditional practices might be adjusted to create more space for innovation.

Recommendation 2

Strategic leadership: ensure that the right kind of innovation and the right kind of support systems are in place and that leaders create the space, rewards and recognition for developing and adopting ideas. This is critical if we are to develop successful innovative approaches, which allow us to succeed in our aims.

More than just good ideas

Lots of bright ideas will not improve services or make a dent in the deficit unless they see the light of day. To make the most of the more-with-less opportunities innovation presents, we need to bin the imagery of light bulbs flashing on above people's heads, along with the one-size-fits-all approaches.

Recommendation 3

Education: to support, and develop a more subtle and sophisticated understanding of what innovation is and how it can be supported. Coming up with imaginative ideas alone is not enough. The challenge is to identify how to make innovation practical and accessible; ensuring that they are spread, and adapted and adopted by others.

Thinking differently

At its most basic, innovation requires public servants to reconsider what they do; redefining problems and approaching them from different perspectives. This report looks at how organising services around places and citizens can achieve better outcomes at less cost. Those involved state the power of engaging with citizens and understanding services from their perspective. From this starting place, the pilots are now rethinking public services in their locality.

The 13 Total Place pilots have been a catalyst for public servants from across agencies to come together to do just this. The Croydon pilot, for example, engaged with frontline workers and managers, utilised video ethnography and collaborative techniques, mapped customer journeys, and took advantage of brokering organisations to challenge their thinking. Building on this insight, the partners have developed a new vision for early years support in Croydon, with a focus on working with families, building resilience and social networks, early intervention, targeted interventions and joined-up support, which they estimate will achieve "significantly improved outcomes at reduced cost". The ability of public servants to take a step back, redefine the issue they face and revaluate their approach will be vital over the coming years. 

Recommendation 4

Creating the right environment: making opportunities for platform innovations from which other innovations may spring. This means being continually open to new ideas from both inside and outside the organisation, and making the most of networks, scouts, intermediaries and brokers to nurture and spread innovation.

The level of discretion held by frontline workers will affect the type of innovation needed – continuous improvement (e.g. lean) may work for those with limited discretion (e.g. benefit delivery staff), but won't work for doctors and teachers.

Recommendation 5

Engagement: where possible, innovations should be co-produced with frontline workers and citizens.

Overall the key point from this article that the public sector dictum of the time must be: different and better for less. But this will not happen by itself, it will require top officials to take on the strategic leadership responsibility for making it happen, leading and nurturing innovation throughout the public sector.

What next?Subscribe to iNewsE-mail us your ideas/thoughts