One of the most significant aspects of the Social Council is the fact that it has been released into the world without being fully formed – the thinking is going on in public. To make this thinking in public meaningful we believe its important to embed the learning and research process from the start of the project rather than coming to it later. Knowledge creation can be argued to be critical to any kind of innovation process and this post is a brief discussion of what this might mean for the Social Council. Specifically, I have just been doing some viva reading on Communities of Practice and I also wanted to capture some points on this for discussion with the Social Council team.
Communities of practice are informal groups and networks which bring together people from across an organisation (or beyond) with a common interest. They achieve additional significance when they are acknowledged by the organisation as a source of knowledge creation and innovation but this can only happen if there is some intersection with the formal structures in some way. In the Social Council project you could consider the social media cafe as being a nascent community of practice and so one of the things I want to do is to spend some time looking at how evolved this is in terms of self-sufficiency and effectiveness. There are clear points of connection between the Cafe, the Canteen (the name of the Social Council steering group)and the hierarchal leadership structures but as we start to think of measurement criteria for the Social Council it would be worth expressing these in terms of knowledge acquisition as well as practical outcomes in order to explore how to more fully align the three groups.
The Social Canteen is designed to be an Action Research group but with only two meetings in the bag this has not yet emerged – the setting of measurement criteria is a critical aspect to this (we prototyped this with the We Live Here project – more on that here). Action Research is a way of combining robust research with value laden practice and I have proposed it here as being a practical and ethical way of exploring new ways of working in a way which captures and disseminates learning. It is in this point about learning is also intended to actually deliver the innovators mantra of ‘allowing failure’ – in the Social Council projects that don’t succeed operationally should at the very least yield reusable knowledge.
We have designed the Canteen schedule so that I attend every other meeting and my role is to push the reflection point and help embed this in the behaviours of the group so I will be nagging them all in the meantime to capture their discussions in the last session but also to get into a more regular dialogue on the intranet. I have just been given access to the intranet so I am planning to be more virtually present in Solihull to do this nagging – you have been warned….
I think that the inclusion of the community of practice aspect – the Social Media Cafe – is one of the unique features of the Social Council but I would be really interested in hearing from other projects which are combining this emphasis on innovation and system change with an internal community like this.
Finally, I encountered an interesting illustration of the way in which the Social Council might make change happen within Solihull. I was speaking at an event when I met one of the Directors (as well as the CEX of the CCG) from Solihull.This not only gave us chance to talk briefly about the community strand of the Social Council which will be creating civic spaces which are co-productively shared by the community and multiple services (more on that in the next couple of weeks) but also to discuss his experience of the Social Council. One of the projects that has been included in the scope comes from his area and he described his initial inclination to try and control it – the bring it to within the usual process for projects. However he then reflected on the fact that this missed the point and that by controlling it he would suppress the energy of the idea and its potential. He said it much more eloquently than this so I am hoping to persuade him to blog about it but the point is that by creating an organisational narrative around the Social Council a project which has actually been in the minds of its creators for some time, but which perfectly fits the vision of ‘future Solihull’ has got up and running without the friction that would have otherwise been in its way.
It sould be great if the Social Cafe had a larger group if regular attendees; we did discuss this issue this week. We also need to look at how we can engage the business and voluntary sector.
Catherine – thanks for this. One of the calculated decisions I took about the Social Council work was not to run it through the leadership team format, but to go with the idea of a Social Canteen and its pre-existing common interest group the Social Cafe. One of the anticipated consequences was that my senior team wouldn’t be as sighted or informed about what was developing and that this would both help and hinder – but mainly help in that a message would go out that this is not controlled by “the management”. However, a little knowledge may well prove to be a dangerous thing, so I have now recognised that not leading is not the same as not knowing – and they do need to have more information and to get involved.
Thanks for sharing this Catherine, it’s so helpful to hear about what is being tried out, and honesty about progress so far. We’re so accustomed to hearing ‘case studies’ which I think are often dressed up to reflect mainly success (just as ‘good practice’ or ‘best practice’ is). To have an insight in to the bumpy process of something being developed in local government as it is tested and refined feels quite unusual and is most inspiring.
Mark’s comment above intrigued me. It sounds to me as though there is some fantastic leadership at play in this work. Leading, in my opinion, isn’t the same as controlling or managing something, and I think having knowledge about what is happening and being open to hearing what people think and feel about it demonstrates great leadership. I’d suggest tha you don’t need (and perhaps shouldn’t have) a Leadership Team (aka a place where a privileged few have access to and share information and ideas and make decisions without inolving others?) to lead. (I am part of a ‘Team Leaders’ group in my organisation!)
Well, no one’s ever accused me of having a plan – I love the organic approach (albeit underpinned by strong values and a clear purpose). As for not having a leadership team? I think everyone needs somewhere where to cry in private and amongst friends?