Turning Ideas into Reality: Latest Steps on Harrow Council's Innovation Journey

This blog is the latest in a series documenting a journey of culture change within Harrow Council to create an environment which attracts, catalyses, and incubates innovation as a way to better deliver services.

To see the previous instalment, click here. To read an overview of the programme, visit this Nesta blog.

Preparing to innovate

Far from experiencing the traditional local government summer hiatus, we have been pushing forward with our work to create a culture of innovation at Harrow Council. Having done a lot to show the potential of technology to innovate the way we deliver services, we wanted to get ourselves into a position where we could implement some of the potential solutions which we now had on the table.

We had many ideas, from different departments. What we found though was that none of these potential solutions could be treated in isolation. All had a need to integrate with a central system or server at some point; with the potential for costs to simultaneously escalate. All had a data output which was valuable either to its own service or another department. And one of our ideas was even a cross-department data platform.

So when deciding what to take forward, there was a need to work in a joined up way. We also needed to be pragmatic; we wanted to push the innovations beyond a discussion topic but couldn’t ask our already-stretched staff to put everything else on hold.

We decided to do two things. First, we set up an Innovation Board under the corporate team. This team takes a view across the council anyway and has various teams whose functions spread across the council in a similar way. Keeping with the success of the cultural change programme to date, we also asked various councillors to sit on this board, including the Finance Portfolio holder and the Corporate Portfolio holder.

Second, we decided that one of the innovations we would take forward would be the data platform (more on the details of this later). With data demand from each innovation we couldn’t ignore this aspect, and felt this could form the basis for innovation in the long-term.

Innovation Board

The Innovation Board brought together key stakeholders and decision makers from across the council. It now meets regularly with the mandate to:

  • Encourage innovation in all areas of service delivery
  • Bring together resource - internal and external – to support the development of ideas
  • Ensure ideas have a robust business case and are future-proof
  • Strategically prioritise solutions

It therefore became the place where the decisions about what to take forward were made.

Data platform

We were acutely aware that the council already has many different systems it uses to gather and disseminate data. From the techUK workshop we were given the belief that there were platforms out there that could do this better, and therefore lead to better decision making.

We decided that instead of trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution – as has been attempted in the past – we would concentrate on trying to find a platform that works for one service area, but has potential to expand and work for others.

It was therefore important that in the first instance, we would work with a team which had an immediate need for better data or the better use of data.

We identified and reached out to a few teams across the council, before eventually deciding on who to work with to scope out their data platform requirements over a couple of workshops.

Ideas to solutions

We realised that it wasn’t feasible to take all 6 innovations that were on the table from the techUK workshop forward, mainly due to timing.

Through our travels and the mandate of the Innovation Board though, we did discover other sources of innovative thinking going on across the council. We received ideas and updates from other teams, who had been taking their ideas forward in parallel to our work.

This was incredibly exciting, as it showed the importance and impact of getting the culture right. It meant the innovation didn’t stop with the small group of people who were working on the 6 ideas; it had a ripple effect. This made it easy for us to park some of the ideas originally on the table, and take forward those that were better positioned.

This blog is part of techUK's Council of the Future: Preparing for Smart Cities project and for more information on Cllr Niraj Dattani click here

For further information on techUK's work with Harrow Council please contact Georgina Maratheftis or Aimee Betts-Charalambous.

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