Lessons for leading local cross public sector innovations - RSA

Lessons for leading local cross public sector innovations


  • Picture of Joan Munro
    Joan Munro
  • Public Services & Communities
  • Public services
  • Leadership

Which leadership actions most help to achieve cross public sector innovation?

That’s the question we set out to answer in our 2017 RSA research by examining a range of local government led partnership innovations.   

In late 2019 we contacted the partnerships again. We wanted to find out how they were progressing, and to discover what more they had learnt about leading for collaborative innovation.

We found stories of dramatic progress and identified 10 leadership actions that appear to have the greatest impact.

What progress have the partnerships made?

The Healthier Wigan Partnership, which involves the council, the clinical commissioning group, the local hospital and GPs, has achieved a stunning transformation over the last two years. In 2017 there were “mismatched ambitions” and many unresolved issues between the partners. Now health and social care services are being fully integrated, and budgets are pooled or aligned. Read the case study

The South Tyneside Alliance, created by the council and clinical commissioning group, is providing integrated support for people with learning difficulties, frail older people, people with autism and their families, children and young people with mental health concerns, people with long term conditions, people with palliative care needs, and families with babies and young children. Read the case study

Cheshire East’s Emotionally Healthy Children and Young People Partnership, led by the council, has expanded its impact exponentially since 2017. It’s provided tailored development support for 95% of secondary and primary schools, making a positive impact on children’s readiness to learn and attainment. It’s now expanding to cover early years settings. Read the case study

Monmouthshire county council’s and the local health board’s integrated health and social care community hubs have been successfully supporting frail older people, some for over 12  years. And their integrated assessment and reablement service is helping to stem the demand for care services. Read the case study

South Tyne and Wear’s Waste Management Partnership, launched by three councils in 2007, continues to both eradicate landfill, and achieve major savings, despite losing some of its original leaders. Read the case study

Surrey’s Unpaid Carers Partnership of over 100 organisations has been thriving and developing for over 30 years, supported by a determined council officer. Despite being so well established, the partners are continuing to introduce innovations. Read the case study

Brighton and Hove’s council managers support many partnerships, including the city management board that leads the extensive Brighton and Hove Connected partnership. They’ve also successfully developed a Greater Brighton Economic Board, and with Surrey and East Sussex county councils, they are part of a large and very effective shared services partnership. Read the case study

See all case studies

The 10 leadership actions with the greatest impact

What can we learn from these case studies? We identified the 10 leadership actions that appear to have the greatest impact:

1 Promote both partnership working and innovation

The decisive impact of leaders who consistently promote partnership working and innovation was clear. The most successful innovations were in locations where the key leaders had a systems focus, building a shared ethos, and encouraging entrepreneurial approaches.

2 Build mutual trust

Interviewees strongly re-endorsed the fundamental importance of leaders helping partnerships to build mutual trust. Understanding each others’ contexts, pressures and ‘red lines’ was an important, as was “surfacing conflicts and addressing them in a purposeful way”. As one leader commented: “Partnerships proceed at the pace of trust”.

3 Understand local people’s views, experiences and priorities

Central to all the partnerships was improving the lives of local people and places. Almost all had made great efforts to understand residents’ views, experiences and priorities. Several interviewees also emphasised the importance of an effective united approach to communicating their plans to local residents — particularly in areas where transformational proposals had been met with initial public disquiet.  

4 Learn from elsewhere

Many partnerships had expended considerable effort to learn from other successful collaborative innovations in the UK, and from elsewhere in the world.

5 Agree a clear purpose and united strategic approach 

The interviewees again highlighted the importance of leaders encouraging partnerships to agree a clear purpose, shared outcomes and a united strategic approach.

6 Encourage long-term political commitment

Long-term political support was critical. Impressively, in several locations the leaders had managed to maintain this despite significant changes in political leadership.

7 Gain the support of managers at all levels, as well as frontline staff

Successful innovation leaders had won the commitment of all the partners’ more senior managers, as well as key clinical and professional leaders. Most interviewees also stressed the vital importance of fully engaging and empowering middle managers and frontline staff. 

8 Reflect, learn, adapt and grow success

The well-established innovations had taken many years to develop. Almost all had started with small scale pilots. They had reflected and learned from these, enabling them to adapt their approaches and grow their successes.

9 Be passionate, determined and persistent

Absolute determination appears to be vital to overcome the many barriers that the partnerships encountered. Leaders need to be strongly committed for the long term.

10 Promote success

In several partnerships some key leaders have retired or moved elsewhere. All these partnerships have continued to flourish. It appears that promoting successes has helped to recruit new managers who want to take the transformation even further, creating a virtuous circle.

Key challenges to cross public sector innovation

Alongside the good news the leaders we spoke to highlighted 3 major challenges to achieving cross public sector innovations.

Several raised the problem of demonstrating that integration contributes to achieving savings. As one explained:

“You need to recognise that some of the things you do don’t have instant results. And, even if you are doing well, demand keeps increasing: our population is getting older and their needs more complex. So it’s about what our performance might have been relatively. And that’s a much more complex story to tell rather than we did A and we got B.” 

In many areas there has been significant organisational churn across the partnership. This makes maintaining both senior management support and strong personal relationships with partners more time consuming. (And is one of the reasons that promoting success is important, as we recommend above.)

Financial pressures have also taken a huge toll, meaning insufficient capacity and resources to invest in developing innovations.

Developing more cross public sector innovation

We believe that achieving many more major cross public sector innovations is vital, to improve public services, and to reduce costs.

We would welcome the observations of a wider group of people to enable us to provide public sector leaders with much more in-depth advice on leading for collaborative innovation at different stages in the process, and in a range of different circumstances.

If you would like to contribute your experiences and your views to the next stage of our research, please email: accinnlg@btinternet.

Full case studies

Wigan: Read case study summary online / Download full case study (pdf)

South Tyneside: Read case study summary online / Download full case study (pdf)

Cheshire East: Read case study summary online / Download full case study (pdf)

Monmouthshire: Read case study summary online / Download full case study (pdf)

South Tyne & Wear: Read case study online 

Surrey: Read case study summary online / Download full case study (pdf)

Brighton & Hove: Read case study summary online / Download full case study (pdf)

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