From ivory tower to the real seat of power?

After a short break, we are firing up the Sociable Organisation blog with updates about new ways of thinking and exploring more sociable ways of working.

We start with a post by Matt Lund, who works in the council’s consultation and engagement team.

Ivory Tower

Ever been accused of sitting in an ivory tower?

Well it happens if you have a corporate policy role in a Civic or Town Hall. I suppose it’s an easy statement to make and a perception for folk like me, who have such roles, to be acutely aware of. However, a new opportunity is giving us a chance to disprove it by working in a different way.

We successfully bid to be part of the Design in the Public Sector (DIPS) regional programme run by the Design Council and supported by Local Government Yorkshire and Humber. It provides training and support to local authorities and their partners who want to explore ‘design thinking’ as a way to improve local issues.

We asked Voluntary Action Leeds to join us in getting support over a 90-day period starting in early July 2014, alongside six other organisations in our region. In Leeds, our initial DIPS focus is on improving community engagement in the Inner South area of the city but we’re really interested to see how design can be used on other issues we face too. People tell us they want to have greater involvement in the decisions that affect them in their areas, so this is a great opportunity for residents to help shape the ways they get involved.

We realised during the first two training days that we have to truly understand the places and communities of Inner South. (It’s only the council that calls this diverse area ‘Inner South’ by the way). Others on our team have the advantage over me, working in the patch, so the other week I spent time working in the area on Dewsbury Road. That’s where our project space is so we should be part of it. It’s also where we met with the local Community Committee chair, Cllr Gabriel, to talk her through the project and ask for her support in trying to do things differently.

What happened was an afternoon road-trip. Cllr Gabriel drove us around the whole area, going way beyond our expectations. She lives there, knows each community inside out and could point out issue after issue where (without saying it herself) ‘service design’ would have made a difference. So, when we finished the tour, the discussion about DIPS was natural, positive and we had her support.

We’ve got a plan of course, and know what steps to take next to involve partners and local people, but that first step of getting the project understood and supported by those with influence seemed critical to me, especially as what we learn from local people may challenge engagement practices, and ultimately, where power lies in the system.

But, one step at a time, and the first one was firmly on the ground!

Matt Lund


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
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