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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 blog session 3 - transforming the UK by spreading opportunity & prosperity

James Crosbie, Assistant Director of Planning, Transport & Public Protection at Reading Borough Council, talks about the third session of the Excellence in Place Leadership Programme (EiPL).

This session followed on from our discussions at the previous session, which focused on Data Driven Decisions’. This clearly has a big part to play in levelling up, but metrics only ever gives you part of the narrative for your area.

Session 3 was based up in Manchester, at EY’s offices which gave stunning views around the city, but also gave physical context to the discussions throughout the day.

We started with a review of the previous session, looking at how we had applied the ADEPT/EY model to help identify the ‘killer’ metrics needed to measure levelling up outcomes and impact; what steps we had taken to embrace data and move analysis of impacts from hindsight to foresight; whether we had become ‘choice architects’, and what steps we had taken to become a ‘trust engineer’.

Session 3 focused on collaboration, looking at how partnerships that provide the necessary leadership can effectively communicate the levelling up mission and foster co-design across all interests. It also looked at how these partnerships can mobilise and align all available resources to invest in agreed levelling up outcomes.

Thought leadership sessions – the role of collaboration in levelling up

We then moved onto the thought leadership sessions, the first of which was on Leadership through Partnership, from John Wrathmell, Director of Economy at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

We heard how the success of GMCA was not just down to the local authorities, but was truly about partnership between the private and third sectors, who had recently rallied around the convening power of the Mayor, Andy Burnham. The GMCA is continually evolving, but the power balance across the area is united around common strategic and longer-term goals, supported by a charismatic leader who - through his non statutory ‘power’ - has brought partners together to deliver common purpose.

We then heard from Alex Pratt OBE on the Changing Face of Power. This was a provocative session, in which Alex talked about the loss of trust in institutions, the ‘versus’ society and the lack of a vision which creates common purpose towards true change in society.

Alex talked about how, in any project there are typically three character types, known as ‘pigs, chickens or diners’. Alex explained how the pigs are those who are completely committed to the project and prepared to die for the cause; the chickens are those in organisations who are committed, but more pragmatic about success; and finally, the diners are those who support the project if it serves their own interest.

I found I could easily define the ‘pigs and chickens’ in our project teams. However, it was interesting to think about the influence of ‘diners’ in the context of partnerships and the need to ensure that support is being sustained through ‘trust engineering’, amongst other tools.

Finally, we heard from Chris Dabbs, Chief Executive of Unlimited Potential, who argued that communities can be seen as a problem to overcome rather than a resource to tap into by local authorities.  Rather than looking at their needs, he encouraged us to define them by their skills, knowledge and experience.  Chris wanted us to consider how we could work with communities to create an environment for wealth generation, focusing on community health and wellbeing. Co-production was highlighted as a tool to engage, and he provided some great examples of how that had worked elsewhere.

Workshop sessions: great collaborative leadership

We explored the design principles of collaborative leadership, and the blockages which prevented these being adopted. These included a lack of diversity in thinking around solutions, self-interest, a lack of clarity of the issue, competing priorities and insufficient resource. It was helpful to share tips on how to tackle these blockages, including having consistent funding cycles, focusing on the right narratives to help generate the right relationships, using the community as a resource, collaboration and co-design, and creating a long-term plan with shorter term actions to sustain engagement.

The second workshop discussed two challenges, the first was about what prevents the private sector contributing to levelling up partnership working. Relationships with SMEs need to be developed and they need to understand the benefits. Local authorities also need to trust businesses motives for engaging so that a true trust-based partnership can exist.

The second element of the challenge related to blockages around community empowerment. Groups found that there was still a failure by local authorities to involve communities through co-design - the language we use is still too jargonistic, relationships are governance heavy and there is a lack of diversity in our engagement.

Levelling up: spreading opportunity & prosperity

It was a content rich day and I really felt that this started to consolidate all the sessions so far. Colleagues on the programme helped to bring to life how they were using our learning and this inspired me with ideas on what I might do at Reading.

There is always lots of learning to take away from the sessions, but it really reinforced a few things for me. As Place Leaders we don’t have all the answers and we need to engage more with our communities and partners, particularly using co-design approaches to really level up our Place.

Another key learning point was that applying disruptive thinking as a key leadership tool will help me take a more strategic preventative approach, rather than a shorter term reactive or proactive approach – this is often the default, which we revert to as a result of daily demands.

I also believe that to create lasting partnerships we need to think about leadership, being less hierarchical and thinking about who is best placed to gain a community’s trust.

Finally, I need to think about who my pigs, chickens and diners are, and make sure the balance is right!

So far, the EiPL course is changing my ways of working significantly. I’m adopting disruptive thinking techniques and applying them, taking a more questioning approach, looking at our overall vision and considering the impact on our communities. It’s really brought into sharp focus the need to accelerate action – we need to act now to make an impact on our communities and our environment.

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