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EiPL - reflections on the programme

1 February 2021

As the first cohort of the ADEPT/Amey Excellence in Place Leadership (EiPL) programme draws to a close, and with the second cohort about to begin, Neil Gibson its facilitator, reflects on the programme.

If we rewind to 2018, ADEPT had a growing evidence that the pace of innovation and thought leadership amongst leaders in the Place sector needed to step up a gear more consistently.

We needed to support our membership, helping them to take the time to think creatively, learn from others, and to challenge the way they currently do things. The goal? To have some fun, but ultimately to seek improved productivity and value for money, by exploring how current ways of tackling our agenda can be improved in a rapidly changing world of technology, consumer expectations and environmental challenges. So, the EiPL programme was about raising the bar around thought leadership.

Amey – who had run a similar programme previously – approached ADEPT and the EiPL programme was developed jointly.

The EiPL programme runs in parallel with ADEPT’s other mainstream leadership programme, and we wanted to ensure no overlap. However, EiPL has proven to be complementary, focusing on growing, and leading, talent within the business, thinking outside the box, being ambitious and looking at how to do things differently.

We started from the principle that we did not want to be prescriptive. It was important that the cohort shape the content themselves, picking relevant, ‘wicked’ topics for themselves, giving a chance to explore real life problems, which are relevant to the sector.

This approach meant that the team could build their knowledge, then respond to problem statements or a brief by working together. The speakers at the events were not those that local authorities would normally see at a training event – we ensured different speakers from academia and the commercial sector.  The rest of the day was split into a series of intensive workshop sessions, where the group would build on their knowledge and understanding of the problem statements and develop a series of potential solutions or strategies to take forward.

For example, in the customer service session, the group considered customer satisfaction levels and looked at what the sector could do to emulate the very best in customer-centric engagement, service design and delivery.

Once the cohort had worked their way through the different problems, they developed an output at the end, ranging from blog pieces, to toolkits, to written documents. This was a critical part of the programme, ensuring that the thinking continued outside of the sessions and that the learning continued when people were back doing the day job. One example is the publication of a Green Finance Toolkit, designed to support place leaders in embedding green finance across local authorities.

EiPL offers the opportunity of time – the chance to forget the operational, tactical tasks and think in a structured way about things the need to get better. The programme offers the space to do it, unpicking problems and following them through.

The last two sessions were virtual, yet it didn’t change the dynamic of the group. It did mean we were unable to hold the programme in some of the stunning locations, we had intended, which I think does help to inspire and promote creative thought. I think we also missed out on some of the socialising that comes with a course held outside of your workspace – and this is a critical part of building a network.

Despite this, the group made a strong bond, and the cohort has now developed into a supportive, trusted network – they have decided they want to remain as a network, working together on a regular basis. The format has allowed the group the freedom to develop thought processes and ideas. The hope is that the network will be able to help ADEPT on other issues or used as a sounding board.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have said it has been one of the best learning experiences that have ever had. Because it is relevant, it has given people the space to think differently around the issues that really matter.

The experience has been so positive overall, that ADEPT and Amey have decided to run another cohort in 2021. This cohort had its first session in January 2021, looking at the future of place with the support of a global futurist, and utilising tools such as horizon scanning and scenario planning.

My main reflection, however, is on the people who took part. We have got some seriously talented and dedicated people in our sector. These are energetic, ambitious and creative people with strong intellect. This programme has just given them the time and permission to use those talents. Don’t let it be said that there isn’t great talent in the public sector – we have got it, in spades.

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 delivering a second programme during 2021.