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Frontline staff key to town hall innovation, says research

Research published this week shows how local authorities can encourage innovation among frontline staff and harness ideas developed 'on the job' for service improvement.

The report Innovation on the Frontline: How engagement with the local government workforce can improve service delivery in austere times, is based on research undertaken in partnership between APSE and IPPR North. It follows on from APSE's previous study on the value of 'municipal entrepreneurship'.*

Launching the report, APSE's chief executive, Paul O'Brien, said: 'Council employees providing services to communities every day have the detailed, local knowledge that can help make those services as efficient and effective as possible. This report explores ways in which local government can encourage innovative ideas from its workforce and apply them to service design and delivery. While innovation alone is not enough to respond to the severe fiscal pressure local government is under, this research shows that, within a broader strategy for future services, frontline engagement can help in rising to the huge challenges faced.'

The report features case studies of councils that have benefited from encouraging their workforce’s:

  • Blackburn with Darwen’s innovation training has led to initiatives such as an accident prevention scheme.
  • Ealing’s environmental innovation programme took on board ideas from street cleansing staff.
  • Monmouthshire's 'Intrapreneurship School' and 'Intrapreneurship Cookbook’ encourage its workforce to embed innovation in service delivery.
  • South Lanarkshire's 'ideas matrix' and other processes have enhanced service reorganisation.
  • Staffordshire includes innovation as part of its induction and training for all new employees.

A survey among local authorities as part of the APSE/IPPR study found:

  • 80% of respondents felt their council regards it as important to encourage innovative behaviour among frontline employees.
  • 47% of respondents cited increased productivity, 47% cited service improvements and 38% cited improved employee satisfaction as benefits.
  • Respondents believed that making ‘innovation’ a job description requirement would help embed a culture of innovation.

Activities to encourage frontline innovation described in the survey include: award nights; one-to-one innovation sessions; suggestion schemes; regular briefing sessions; and, in some cases, financial rewards.

The survey also found, however, that support for frontline innovation was patchy in some authorities and dependent upon individual managers.

Bill Davies, IPPR North researcher on the project, commented: 'Our research demonstrated the clear benefits of sourcing ideas from the frontline workforce. In a range of local authorities we found leading examples of ‘intrapreneurs’ who are bringing innovative improvements to their daily working practices and those of their colleagues. ?We identified a number of common factors key to creating an environment in which frontline innovation can flourish, including culture and leadership, workforce development, and procedures to connect frontline staff with management. The frontline innovation landscape is not, however, uniform and the research also highlights barriers to be addressed and outlines methods to enable more councils to use their workforce's  knowledge to maximum effect.'

The report recommends that embedding a culture of innovative thinking on the frontline will require a comprehensive strategy and a package of incentives. These measures may include: involving innovation within the regular workload; using innovation as part of employee development through explicit training; using innovation as part of the appraisal process; and financial incentives if appropriate. It argues that promoting innovation must be an ongoing process rather than a specific event.


For further information Mo Baines, principal advisor at APSE, on tel: 0161 772 1810 or email: mbaines@apse.org.uk

Notes for editors

The Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) is a not-for-profit working with more than 300 local authorities providing frontline services throughout the UK. See: www.apse.org.uk

IPPR North is IPPR's dedicated think tank for the North of England, which specialises in regional economics, localism and community policy. See: www.ippr.org/north

* Municipal Entrepreneurship was produced by APSE in partnership with De Montfort University. This report demonstrates that entrepreneurship is alive and flourishing in local authorities across the UK. See: www.apse.org.uk/research.html

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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