The Agile Council

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Local Government is facing the new normal of continued austerity, increasing demands for its services and increasing customer expectations. Complex and economic and social needs mean that local government really has to change its way of working and indeed its organisational form.

In our latest talking points publication, we talk about the agile council and how that is the fundamental basis for future success in local government.

So Chris, what is an agile council?

It is a good question, it is a fairly rare breed today actually, but we see four key elements. First is agile councils are flexible and adaptable; they see themselves not as single entities but working in part of a local public services system. Secondly, they are very focussed on their customers; they respond very much to change in circumstances and change in demands very quickly. Third is they are very focussed around delivering outcomes and the interventions to delivering those outcomes, rather than services themselves and fourth they operate very simply, operating standard common processes across the organisation in many ways, back-office business support etc.

And so, to make the change to being an agile council, really what are the benefits that people will see and will drive them forward?

Well the fundamental one of course at the moment, is lower cost. Agile councils and the ways of working that support agile councils allow them to operate at much lower costs. But they are also able to improve customer experiences they may otherwise be fragmented and not joined up across different public sector bodies - and they are also, in many ways better performers with slicker, faster processes and systems and better decision making.

And I think if I can come in at that point I think that, you know for those two reasons in particular Chris highlighted at the end – I think actually they are better places to work, more rewarding places for individuals, more liberating environments than the current standard model of council.

But this sort of move is going to be a big change, how challenging will it be for many councils to, to make the change?

I think it will be challenging, I think that to start with we should acknowledge the tremendous progress the sector as a whole has made over the last two or three years in responding to, you know, it’s very significant financial pressures and austerity – and that has been a catalyst for quite a lot of innovation, but I think that it will be a challenge to move to the kind of model that we are talking about, I think there are three challenges in particular that I would highlight. The first is the need to make sure that there is adequate political engagement on this journey and that members fully appreciate and understand at the outset what is being asked of them and lead that change. I think secondly, there is a need for councils to look at this as a holistic programme, too often in our experience, councils still look at change through silos and segments as opposed to looking at organisation-wide change, and I think thirdly there is definitely a need to ramp-up the pace of change. Although the sector, as I say, has responded very well over the last two or three years, I do have a sense from some of the engagements I had recently with some councils, that there is a lessening-off of that pace of change, and I think that it is a timely reminder to the sector that it needs to respond again.

And so to make that change and become an agile council, Chris, what are the practical steps that need to be taken?

Well we are seeing five key trends at the moment. The first is, as I talked about earlier, continuing to reduce business complexity, the simplification and standardisation of the ways of working across, across councils, that is a prerequisite in many ways to becoming more agile. The second thing we are seeing is a lot of focus and improving customer intelligence. Councils are using techniques that have been used in the private sector – customer profiling, customer segmentation etc, to enable them to provide more choice and manage demand more effectively with their customers. The third is around the whole issue of managing demand and using commissioning techniques that have been used in the health service and elsewhere to really drive innovation and change in service delivery. Accompanying that we are also seeing lots of new forms of service delivery model emerging right across the sector, so we are seeing mutuals and other forms of delivery that are innovating around perhaps what was otherwise being traditional delivery models through councils.

And I think that we do see a lot of innovation of that last area in particular at the moment, not only with the mutuals but also a lot of councils very interested in trading models as well, which I think brings a whole new dynamic into the sector – a whole new set of requirements about capabilities and skills.

Yeah, and I think a lot of joint working as well. The final thing is of course, in order to support these changing organisations with back-office and business support structures, we are seeing big changes in, in that area of councils as well and the ideal aim is that to create a scalable agile back-office and business support function that supports the overall delivery of the council.

So, a fascinating discussion, Chris, Andy thanks very much.

An agile council, one that thinks and acts very differently, one that has a change-ready culture and one that focuses on exceptional outcomes for citizens. If you are interested in more detail download our publication from our website.

Thank you.


Becoming an agile council is about being change-ready – being able to respond to complex and ever-changing environments.

Agile councils think and act differently – they break down existing models in favour of new approaches that centre on the customer, they base decisions on strong business intelligence and operate through simpler, standardised organisational structures and processes.

We believe that to succeed in the current and future economic climate the creation of the agile council is critical. By embracing a change-ready culture they remain one step ahead of whatever social, economic or political environment is thrown at them, continuing to deliver exceptional outcomes for their citizens.

In our latest Talking Points publication, ‘The Agile Council: creating the change-ready organisation’, we discuss why we believe creating an “agile” council model is critical to the current and future success of the organisation. We look at the environment councils are operating in and five steps to becoming an agile organisation.

In this video, Andy Ford, Chris Buttress and Nick C Jones discuss the key points from this publication, focussing on the practical steps and longer-term solutions that councils are taking in order to better adapt to change.