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Excellence in Place Leadership Blog

This blog page features regular updates about the Excellence in Place Leadership programme.

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EiPL - The Levelling Up Challenge

Beau Stanford-Francis, Director of Public Realm at London Borough of Newham talks about the second session of EiPL3, which focused on ‘Data-Driven Decisions’.

In the second session of the EiPL3 programme, we looked at data-driven decisions, applying it to the levelling up agenda. The session was based around using quantitative and qualitative metrics to give us the insight needed to create levelling up strategies.

Levelling up is the plan to: “transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it”(1) and the government published its White Paper on this in March 2022. We began the session by looking at understanding the White Paper and its missions, and then looked at identifying the best tools and techniques to measure progress.

As a group, our consensus is that having a data driven approach is key to tackling this, ensuring that we target resources effectively, develop suitable strategies and measure success accurately. We need to have an outcome-based approach and a clear vision on what we want to change and what impact it will have.

The day began with an introduction from our host Microsoft, who spoke about how digital technology and data is fundamental to every aspect of modern life – and how it must be central to accelerating levelling up in the UK. They explained that a culture shift is critical to this, moving from a ‘fixed mindset’ to a ‘growth mindset’. I found the presentation to be really interesting, in particular the focus on culture. Clearly making structural or policy changes will only be delivered in our work if we can change the culture and approach of our organisations and the partners we engage with.

We then listened to three thought leaders: Michael Clifford from EY, Max Mawby from Kantar UK and Glyn Halksworth from Southend-on-Sea Council.

Michael Clifford talked about a metrics model that EY has developed with ADEPT, designed to define the measures and create a baseline for levelling up. Together, they are developing a dashboard which looks to apply 16 metrics to the multiple measures identified in the government’s White Paper.

Max Mawby then spoke about behavioural science. Levelling up requires systemic change in the behaviours of all of us - communities, businesses, politicians and professionals. Max kicked off with an interactive exercise and explained how, as humans, we usually over-estimate how successful our interventions will be. This was followed up by a number of examples that had been delivered in the UK and by Max’s team. As a local authority, understanding behavioural science can really help us plan our approach to stakeholders to change or influence attitudes and actions.

Finally, Glyn Halksworth spoke about Southend, Britain’s newest city, looking at how they have been adopting a longer-term vision to 2050, and how data is driving their strategy towards this. The importance of organisational engagement in conjunction with collaborating with the community was stressed by Glyn. The approach taken by Southend of ‘1,000 Conversations’ to orientate their future vision was a really inspiring approach and one that has stayed with me.

These sessions were all fascinating, rooted in practical experience and expertise. They provided a key insight into the art of the possible and provided an excellent lead into the afternoon workshop sessions.

We then split into workshop groups to delve deeper into the subject areas. The first workshop was on ‘killer metrics’, where we considered killer metrics in our own localities that expose our levelling up challenges. We looked at whether these metrics could underpin future outcomes, whether we could use these to develop strategies to address levelling up, and how we would use them in our locality.

Each group had to discuss and reflect on killer metrics in our areas, looking at whether they were the same across different areas, or different. For example, in some areas, educational attainment is a useful metric, as it reveals which areas need support – however, in others, educational attainment can be high, despite a low GDP. We concluded that metrics vary enormously between different geographical areas but agreed that they should influence our strategy for levelling up – however, they need to be understood within the wider context of the locality.

The second workshop focused on behavioural insight, looking at how Place Leaders can use behavioural science, nudge theory and choice architecture to enable the changes required for levelling up. In this session we agreed that behavioural change is a critical element of levelling up. We also considered barriers to this and looked at how we would tackle these in our different local authorities. One example of a barrier is that many projects are capital based, which means that ongoing revenue costs are not factored in. To address and maintain behaviour change, we need to take a longer-term approach and consider whole life and revenue costs as well.

At Newham, my local authority, an example of behaviour change has been around our award winning ‘Better Streets’ programme. This project aimed to tackle fly-tipping in the borough, by using targeted interventions with local residents, helping them to understand the issues and co-designing solutions with communities. Underpinning this work was data, using research and evidence to measure the impact of the project at key points. We believe that the behavioural change elements were critical to success in this project.

Understanding that interventions can be small scale to make a difference is really important. For example, the introduction of emission-based parking permits can make a real improvement on air quality and on lives. I also took the opportunity to speak about the  citizen assembly approach that we are taking in Newham. Colleagues in the room provided overviews of the ways in which their authorities are harnessing community participation and engagement to drive change and support the levelling up agenda.

One of the main discussion points for the day was around the need to ensure we reference local priority and need and understand the wider context of an area outside of just the data. As a group the clear consensus was that levelling up needs to be rooted in the needs of the local community and place. A one size fits all approach will struggle to deliver the full range of benefits – does success for different areas look the same? Ultimately, no. Different areas have different needs and priorities. Levelling up is not about creating a monoculture, it needs to reflect an area’s character and aspirations. Having a data driven decision making approach will also ensure that, if we invest money into something, we need to understand how it is spent.

Session 2 was an extremely positive day. We have all been considering how we can apply this learning within our own organisations to understand and identify opportunities for our local areas and to support ADEPT. Each of us have been developing actionable insights, that we can use to deliver for our communities, underpinned by data to identify the areas of most need and to understand the effectiveness of our interventions. The thought leader sessions in particular provided us with real world examples of what can be delivered with the right approach and commitment, I know that we all left the session inspired and ready to get back to it.

At the core, we are all ambitious about the levelling up agenda – we all want to create places where people want to live and thrive. Encouraging a strong sense of place can have multiple benefits: lower crime rates, a greater sense of community, improved connectivity and a more prosperous economy.

Behavioural change has a huge impact on levelling up and should be intrinsic to our plans. Using behavioural science and changing our internal culture is critical to creating a society where all areas of the UK are empowered to provide their populations with access to economic, societal and cultural opportunities.

The Excellence in Place Leadership Session 2 summary document is available here.

The ADEPT Excellence in Place Leadership programme is sponsored by Amey, who pioneered this approach within the highways sector in 2018. ADEPT and Amey continue to collaborate and are currently delivering the third programme during 2022.


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