Everywhere we look we see change. Breakneck change. From every corner of the world the old norms are not just being challenged they are being destroyed.
Local government is at the centre of some of the largest changes. But we’d be wrong to think these changes started with the global economic crisis.
These changes also started with the evolution of the internet and the growth of the social web.
Euan Semple in his seminal book ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet People Do’ talks of how we are used to thinking in terms of big things like nation states, society and the media. We’re used to those big things looking after us and protecting us. But the internet breaks them apart, he says.
What we find when we look closely are networks of individuals and each with their own voice.
As Euan says:
“If we are going to survive the changes we need to see in our institutions we need to help them find that voice.”
What that voice sounds like is vitally important as it will help local government continue to represent the views of residents and to talk to them.
Local government has always existed to serve its residents. It does that best when it is in tune with what residents are saying and has the ability to hold a conversation with it. Sometimes that’s an ability to take heed on some comments. Other times it is the ability to explain and to keep people informed.
In any organisation we need to realise that there are those that will innovate and those that won’t. Those that will innovate are finding ways to experiment that are defining what local government will look like.
Case studies, examples and best practice can, when handled correctly, be an inspiration. They are shafts of inspiring light from sunny upland pastures that show one way of tackling a particular problem.
But just as the English archers in the mud of the Battle of Agincourt were succeeded by better ideas and technology case studies should not be a template. In an ever changing world they should be a beacon along the path that helps shape better case studies.
In short, the success of Best by West Midlands 2013 will not to be preserve in aspic the social web but is a staging post along the way.
With case studies we aim to do two things. For leaders, we aim to give an insight into the fine work that is taking shape across the region. Much of it taking in uncelebrated corners of local government by uncelebrated officers who are doing work often out-of-hours and almost always outside often obsolete job descriptions. For officers, we want to inspire, cajole and show what is possible. If the case studies act as a green light for them to carry out some similar work that’s fine.
Who are the people who have drafted the case studies?
They work in local government across the West Midlands and are a more dedicated talented bunch you won’t fail to meet. They believe in what they do. They believe in local government and they know that that the world has changed. They’re not too busy doing something about it to miss what went before.
David Barrie in his contribution to the Tessy Britton-edited book ‘Hand Made’ would calls these people ‘militant optimists.’
“They’re the people who are committed to improving the world, they’re prepared to organise very often and they’re always keen to ‘give it a go.”
“‘Militant optimists’ are high on motivation, low on ready-made road maps to get them to their destination, get easily bored with playing strategic war-games and distrust marketing. ‘Militant optimists’ understand that to take a hostile region, it helps to establish a series of safe areas. ‘Militant optimists’ are also highly creative. They understand what fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière of Balenciaga – a man who works the extravagant, not the austere – was getting at when he said:
“’We have idols but no models to follow. You have to define your own model.’”
– David Barrie, Hand Made, 2010.
Earlier generations may think of these innovators as what come to be called ‘positive deviants.’ They’re the ones who are deviating from the norms and are finding solutions that go against the grain. They also crop up in unexpected places.
What is common amongst those who have contributed to the list of case studies is a willingness to share. This is the good thing about the public sector in 2013. If anyone is in this together it is people who work in local government. But unlike the private sector they are happy to share their knowledge.
The role of the senior officer in local government is simply to identify and support. They need to hold the gate open and not fear innovation. The role of the militant optimist in local government is to make a difference. No matter how small. Because you believe that things can be better.
There are examples here of good work from across the sector in the West Midlands from museums to press offices to libraries to the coverage of public meetings. But it’s not just the easy things that have inspired best practice. Which is where the use of Twitter to communicate school closures and gritting runs at 3am have come in.
Each case study can provide an inspiration for something that you can do.