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Short Process Guide



Background on the Process


Councils and local public service delivery organisations are under constant pressure to deliver ‘better for less’, to improve performance, to reach out to citizens who are disadvantaged, and to support socially excluded communities. Incremental change is unlikely to be sufficient to respond to this pressure forever; more radical change will be needed to make significant improvements to the lives and life chances of the most disadvantaged. Local organisations will need to be innovative if they want to improve performance, value for money and the quality and reach of their services.

Looking at social problems through a ‘technology lens’ can give a fresh and new perspective, which can yield new solutions and opportunities. Many of these solutions will use simple and readily available technology — not expensive, complex new system developments — enabling a relatively straightforward adoption of new ways of working into existing operations. While this new perspective lies at the heart of this innovation process and was behind its creation, that does not mean that it cannot be used more generally or lead to the adoption of solutions not based on technology.

The innovation process was developed in partnership with five local authorities to deliver robust business cases for change projects that are firmly rooted in social issues, problems, needs or challenges. The process is grounded in innovation practice as well as theory.
This short process guide provides a brief overview of each of the phases of the local service innovation process. It only provides a high level summary of each phase. For information on each phase read the more detailed phase guides. This document is part of a broader toolkit, which provides advice, tools and worked examples on the full process.


Overview of Process


The local service innovation process has been developed around a typical innovation funnel as illustrated in Figure 1. There is a key driver for change such as a political priority, rising demand, or financial or resource pressure. In the set-up phase it is agreed to run an innovation process that will deliver robust projects that are genuine alternatives to business as usual, and timed to respond to the driver for change e.g. to plug in to the annual corporate planning process, performance planning, inspection preparation etc. The high level arrangements are made to run the process and a senior stakeholder allocated to oversee it. In the planning phase the key challenge or issue to tackle is defined and an innovation event (e.g. a meeting, workshop etc) is prepared. The innovation event brings together people with different perspectives on problems and solutions, from across the public, private, charity and academic sectors.

During the innovation event many ideas emerge for solutions to key problems identified against the main issue or challenge. These ideas are consolidated to a smaller number of better-defined solutions. During the project definition phase, solutions are shortlisted against robust and transparent criteria and then further researched to begin to answer questions about how they might be practically delivered.  In the business case phase a further short-listing meeting is held to make recommendations on a few projects for which to go ahead and develop business cases. Finally in the action decision phase, decisions are made, based on robust business cases, about which projects to take forward and the early stages of project implementation are completed. As Figure 1 illustrates, at each stage of the process the quantity of ideas, solutions and projects has been reduced (funnelled), but their degree of definition has increased.

Figure 1 Innovation Funnel


Summary of Each Phase


Phase 1: Set-Up


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to establish a clear rationale for implementing the innovation process, achieve senior buy-in, develop the overall approach to the process and initiate the project. In this phase a senior stakeholder agrees to oversee the process, and the decision is made on whether to run the process internally or procure some external support and expertise.


Phase 2: Planning


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to establish the focus of the innovation process, identify a diverse list of relevant stakeholders to attend an innovation event, prepare some stimulus materials for the event, develop some pre-work for attendees, and plan logistics for the event. Good stimulus materials will get event attendees thinking about the same issue, and will challenge and motivate them to think of new approaches and solutions. So this phase might involve preparing some video of service users or doing a bit of research.


Phase 3: Innovation Event


The key aim and objective of this phase is to bring a diverse set of stakeholders together to clearly define a common issue or problem and then to generate ideas and potential solutions. The focus is commonly on tackling disadvantage and exclusion. Attendees are encouraged to think about how technology, in particular, can enable new solutions. This approach brings a fresh perspective to problems, which can yield creative ideas, some of which don’t necessarily even involve technology. Broad ideas are refined into more detailed solutions through cycles of review and challenges. These solutions are prioritised by attendees.


Phase 4: Project definitions


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to reduce and ‘filter’ the large number of solutions from the innovation event to a manageable quantity for further research and amplification. This must be done in a transparent way against pre-agreed criteria. At this stage shortlisted, broad solutions need to be turned into sharply defined and focused projects. A market scanning exercise is undertaken to see if there are pre-existing solutions and potential delivery partners elsewhere. Researching the answers to some straightforward standard questions can produce clear ‘Project Definitions’, which outline to all stakeholders the justification for, and practicalities of implementing the shortlisted solutions.


Phase 5: Business Case


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to select a small number of projects, from the 5-10 project definitions emerging from Phase 4, to take forward and develop business cases. Activities in this phase will typically involve determining what level of business case is necessary and sufficient to support the decision to take a project forward, and then developing a case for each project. The business case development is undertaken through collaboration with the key stakeholders who will help to deliver the project or be impacted by it. There are plenty of toolkits and guidance to help develop simple, robust business cases – particularly for small to medium sized projects, including one specially developed for this purpose and included in this toolkit.


Phase 6: Action Decision


The key aims and objectives of this phase are to make a clear decision on how to proceed with projects for which business cases have been developed, and then to develop project initiation documents as the first stage to implementing the projects. If the project requires a ‘proof of concept’ trial run, or is being run as a pilot initially, then an evaluation should be established from the outset to measure against clear success criteria.


© City of London 2010