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1. October 2013

Service Co-Design

Caketember in Lambeth: Co-designing quick wins with staff

Everyone thinks innovation is great, everyone thinks working with the public is great. But how do you actually get this to happen? My colleague Tom Hoy has shown how it’s possible. Check out the next Made in Lambeth weekend make-a-thon to see how he’s helping create an alliance against violence, stopping pay day loans, and creating a brand identity for a local Brixton paper. Made in Lambeth now gets people from across the local community contributing and doing stuff. Most of the work is done in an amazing 48 hours.

But what about creating change within the council? Recent research in the sector has shown that the majority of council officers think innovation is one of the answers, but feel pace is far too slow.

So what can you do? Do you need to spend millions on branding, fancy buildings, and lots of experts? Do you need to launch more initiatives? I’m sure that could help. However, in Lambeth, we’ve gone back to basics. We’ve shared our ideas about what really seems to create a buzz on the ground. We’ve look at what captures our imaginations. Some of it is rational, some of it unexpected.

My colleagues Giles Gibson and Sue Sheehan have been baking delicious cakes. Sue is famous for her lemon drizzle, and Giles for his chocolate brownies. I have been pouring the tea. We find that it’s enough to get people talking and coming up with ideas and plans. We’ve also found that many of our colleagues love baking, and we have been able to capitalise on this tradition of sharing.

We decided the most important thing was talking to people, listening to their ideas, and giving them practical support. Money was rarely a barrier to coming up with ideas. Instead of using external designers, we found an artist amongst our council colleagues, and we designed our own promotional materials and worksheets. We produced all of these within seven days, from start to finish. Get in touch if you want to see what we came up with.

We have a letter from our Chief Executive Derrick Anderson, supporting each team to see what they can do over 30 days over the month of October. The idea is to help people try something new. We know that there is too little risk taking, too little experimentation and sometimes people need explicit support to try something new. We now have a dozen teams, with ideas ranging from re-launching an unused kitchen in the town hall, to involving residents in carrying out environmental inspections in their neighbourhoods, to growing and sharing vegetables in GP surgeries. We are supporting them in overcoming any barriers they encounter. At the same time, we are developing an in-house school of innovation, based on creating networks within the organisation, and working with local residents.

But we are not spending money on new buildings, or fancy prizes. We are working on the basis that people enjoy collaborating to solve challenges, and make life better. We find a little piece of cake and a cup of tea can go a long way.

This blog has been written by Governance International Associate Ajay Khandelwal, email:

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