Sharing stories as part of Local Area Research Fortnight 2015…

By John Heneghan – Head of Policy & Strategy, Kirklees Council.

We’ve started a major transformation programme in Kirklees, with the aim of creating our ‘New Council’…

We want to become a more enabling council … a council which connects ideas, people and resources, so we can support communities to harness and build on their strengths. This shift of focus is about creating trust and synergy. We will be collaborating – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – to find new solutions.

To support this vision, we’re developing a new approach to policy and strategy. We see reconnecting policy and practice as a key part of our new council ethos.

Our new approach will be more connected, collaborative and citizen-centred. We will generate solutions through experimentation, prototyping and iteration. It’s a much more dynamic and adaptive process than traditional strategy design and implementation.

Here are some of the key stages in our new strategy model and my reflections on the essential role played by research and intelligence…

Problem framing: We begin by problem framing – because trying to solve the wrong problem is, well, a common problem. Many strategies fail to articulate the problem they are trying to solve or to describe what success would look like.

Does our intelligence, insight and analysis suggest there is a need for a solution?

Using insight from customer or citizen engagement is a critical part of problem framing. By understanding the problem through the lens of the service user, customer or citizen we can avoid creating the perfect solution for the wrong problem.

Ideation: Through collaboration and citizen engagement we seek to generate different perspectives on the problem and ideas for possible solutions. Insight, in its broadest sense, is essential for idea generation – we need to seek out perspectives that are different from our own to avoid fitting the problem to our existing expertise.

We must use ideas which flow from customer insight; to bring in fresh perspectives by working collaboratively; and to ensure that our ideas are not just top-down. To do this, we need to use approaches which engage the whole workforce and are highly participative.

We rely on our research, intelligence and analysis to test if the ideas that emerge are credible hypotheses, not random shots in the dark.

Logic model: The logic model or “theory of change” gets us to focus on how we will evaluate potential solutions and how we will measure success. It aims to develop a logical proposition – we believe that if we do x it will lead to y – and a clear relationship between our activities, outputs, outcomes and longer term impact. It challenges us to isolate metrics for all our activities – describing what we will measure and developing a plan for how we will collect this data.

There are three big reasons why measuring impact is important:

  • Measuring impact allows us to check and see if we’re on track, and this can inform whether or not we should adjust our plans.
  • Having clear goals and ways to measure our progress towards them helps bring stakeholders together around a common purpose. It keeps everyone focused on the end goal, which is very important when working with multiple partners.
  • Having data to help tell our story gives us a clear and compelling way to communicate what we’re doing, what we’re going to achieve and what we have achieved so far.

Altogether, this helps us to gain support for the programme both internally and externally.

Hypothesis testing: Traditionally, we write a strategy, consult on it, refine the strategy and then implement it through a delivery plan. We take a different approach now, taking a cue from The Lean Start Up, Eric Ries’s bible for entrepreneurs. Ries recommends seeing business as a real-world experiment and making a hypothesis about what will work – a minimum viable product – to test with real consumers.

We need to acknowledge that all strategies – and, I would argue, most of our projects and programmes – contain assumptions. Too often though, it’s not until we’re well into our delivery that we realise our assumptions were wrong, and the strategy is not having the traction or impact we had planned for. Experimentation and prototyping are key for making our strategies less risky. Using these methods, we can test our core assumptions in a small way early on, experiment to see what works in the real world, then iterate or pivot until we can show success.

Our capacity for research, intelligence and insight is central to this and to all the stages in our new strategy model. It really is the engine of effective strategy implementation and public sector innovation.



(Photo credit: Ray Morris1, Byram Arcade – Huddersfield)