Collaboration and innovation – the unusual suspects?

Collaborate director Dr Kippin shares his views in The MJ on social innovation and collaboration and discusses the upcoming Unusual Suspects Festival. 

Collaboration and social innovation are things we talk about a lot in  public policy.  They are axiomatic solutions to a supply-and-demand  context that is already changing the way local government is organised.

We need more of both if public services are to be saved from  a slow and steady slide toward marginalisation, under-funding and  irrelevance. On this, many of us will begrudgingly agree.

Doing  something about it and – crucially – making it sustainable – is more  difficult.  Innovation and collaboration are rife across our localities,  with difficult times giving stimulus for a huge amount of creative  thinking and novel partnerships.

Whitehall could certainly learn a thing or two.  But at the same time,many would say these practices remain mostly at the margins; pockets of innovation in the face of budgeting processes and service contracting that are actually squeezing mandated savings in very traditional ways.

Those advocating a different approach (including myself!) need to be very mindful that the pressure on public leaders is immense, with many local authorities requiring year-on-year budget cuts that make the brain water, never mind the eyes.

We therefore have a duty to show why collaboration and social innovation are not marginal, but are central to addressing the hard challenges that are written clearly on budget sheets and organisational charts.
If we are honest, no one has made this case clearly enough.  Partly because the case for, say, preventative work with families or co-production in elderly care can be hard to quantify and highly compartmentalised.

Where pilots have been rolled out, they have necessarily relied on mechanisms that reduce complex problems to binary triggers for payment and accountability.  Innovation and collaboration are there, but they are isolated from the mainstream and the major budget lines.
The onus is on all of us to develop and bring a better evidence and methodological base to bear, both to understand what else could be done, but also how to work with the grain of enterprise already within local government.

This is the rationale behind the Unusual Suspects festival which is taking place next week, from 2nd-5th September.

Over four days, Collaborate, the Social Innovation Exchange and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation are bringing together over 30 organisations and 1,500 people to ask what could happen if we really pushed these concepts to transform public services.

What would be the impact on communities?  On commissioners and providers?  And on the very nature of public service itself at a local level?
Organisations as diverse at Microsoft, Oxfam, Seoul City government and the Cooperative Councils Innovation network have committed to bringing together a group of ‘unusual suspects’ who will build a network and begin to force a change.

They are exploring a proposition: that innovation needs collaboration to thrive, and that public service collaboration can’t be sustained without innovation from communities.  We welcome your views on how this is playing out for you.


This article was written by Collaborate director Dr Henry Kippin for The MJ on 27 August 2014. Click here to read the full piece.

About Henry Kippin

Dr Henry Kippin is executive director of Collaborate. He is a visiting fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London, and at the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence. Henry was previously a founding partner of the RSA 2020 Public Services Hub, an advisor to Accenture’s global Public Services for the Future programme, and head of research at an international development agency. He has a PhD from the University of Sheffield and is co-editor of ‘Public Services: a new reform agenda’, published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Press.

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