A design approach to problem-solving for those who’ve never done it before can be an uncomfortable and uncertain process. But it’s one that a team at Camden Council have been embracing as they work through a design challenge to improve resident lives.

We’ve been working with staff from Children and Families, Digital, Planning and Environmental Services in the council. All of which have no prior background or knowledge of design practice.

Inclusive Innovation Network

Camden Council is no stranger to experimenting with new ways of working to improve the way they serve residents. The council recognises the need to work alongside residents to solve complex social challenges, by nurturing their collective ability to generate, validate and execute new ideas.

The Camden Inclusive Innovation Network (IIN) is the newest way the council is upskilling their staff, growing capabilities and expanding the methodologies, embedding new collaborative ways of working across the organisation to better serve local communities. IIN has already attracted 250 staff from all areas of the council who are passionate about doing things differently. The network’s aim is to connect the innovation happening across the council, try new methods and share learnings.

Within the network, four members are part of a core team, working together intensively over 12 weeks on a design challenge: identify opportunities in Camden’s planning process and policies to maximise social value for residents and deliver an inclusive economy.

Building design practitioners

To date, the core team has been collaborating with planning and inclusive economy service teams in the council and carrying out research with residents on their experiences of developments in the local area to work towards a solution that benefits residents.

Our role has been to support the team to break down this design challenge by using new methods and agile ways of working as they solve this challenge internally.

Embracing new methods

The team adopted a user-led approach that introduced a range of new methods such as ethnographic interviews​, in-depth discussions​, workshops and asset mapping​.

To work collaboratively and flexibly, the team has worked with Council colleagues to adopt new tools like Slack, Google Suite and Trello which gave the team new spaces and functionality to work with.

This permission to try new approaches and tools has led to the core team developing their own ideas about how to share their work. One team member created a short video of the project to share on internal council channels and communicate the progress of the work.

Debunking myths

In a show and tell the core team spoke about how easy it was to get tasks done quickly while working in sprints, revoking their preconceptions that things would be much more complicated.

The team has coordinated interviews and set up sessions at pace by dividing tasks, pairing up and checking in regularly. They were pleasantly surprised by how quickly it could be done without barriers such as unnecessary checks and permission seeking.

Reflecting on an afternoon where they went into a nearby area to speak to residents and make connections with community organisations for research, the team ended the trip having a short interview with a resident about how developments in the area have directly impacted him, finding insightful research quicker and more easily than they first thought possible.

Working in the open

Despite the growing skills and value the core team is gaining from this process, a challenge can be shared with the wider organisation. To avoid creating a silo with those not directly involved, the core team are sharing the work on internal channels and speaking to people in the organisation, a crucial principle of agile ways of working which we have been happy to support.

Camden’s future design practitioners

Our focus in the INN has not been solely on delivering outcomes, we’ve been guiding the learnings of the team to help create Camden’s future design practitioners. Allowing the core team to direct the process in solving the design challenge has given them hands-on experience of using the tools, ways of working and methods we’ve shown them.

The Inclusive Innovation Network in Camden is supporting the council’s focus on 21st-century practices and is the latest approach in continually improving services for its residents.

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