But that could all change as the new North Down and Ards Shadow Council is set to put qualified local people at the centre of policy-making, after Councillors unanimously supported a proposal to be the first local authority in Northern Ireland to investigate the implementation of an Innovation Lab.
The Innovation Lab project “will enable the Council to harness the expertise of local people, organisations and Council officers and in seeing how we can do things differently, and better,” said Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker, whose proposal to investigate the use of the scheme has been approved unanimously by the Council.
“In its simplest form, the Innovation Lab concept is a way for Council to harness as much expertise as we can muster to help inform our Policy making in the future. When faced with an important policy challenge, we would trigger the formation of a Lab. This would bring together the challenge along with individuals and organisations with relevant knowledge and expertise from throughout the Borough and beyond to undertake real ‘blue-sky’ thinking around the issue.
“The ideas and solutions that arise from the Labs will then be taken and folded into our Policy making to result in highly informed, well thought-through policies which will work toward our goal of making ours the most vital, innovative and successful Borough in Northern Ireland.”
Council officials are now undergoing leadership training with the William J Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s University. The training will help improve their overall effectiveness and will help identify the first Council project that could benefit from the Innovation Lab techniques.
Anne Phillipson of the William J Clinton Leadership Institute said, “Leadership is critical to innovation. Leaders must challenge thinking, and create the right environment for innovation and creativity to thrive. That’s why we’ve been delighted to be asked to work with North Down and Ards Council managers to help them develop the leadership skills to embrace the opportunities presented with this new organisation.”
“Innovation is now recognised as the single most important ingredient in any economy, and we want to help this council be as innovative and creative as possible. We have challenged the participants to each develop an innovation project, and we are excited to see the ideas they come up with,” Anne added.
“We’re very pleased to be working with the Council as it helps meet our aims of creating positive change in society here, and providing opportunities for individuals, organisations and institutions to grow. And in the words of President Clinton, to help build creative networks of co-operation,” she added.
Innovation Labs “are widely used by business in the US and increasingly in the UK and elsewhere, but there is a growing interest from public bodies, including the Northern Ireland Executive.”
Said Gavin Walker: “Traditionally decisions are made by Council Members and officials. But an Innovation Lab creates the mechanism to give powerful voice to individuals and groups who could add insight and inform policy-making.
“The successful Councils of the future will be those that engage citizens and communities in working with government to achieve shared outcomes in order to meet the new and complex demands being placed on the governing institutions of today.
“One of the main motivations for me to become a Councillor was to help create a Council that is as inclusive as possible. Local government does look for new ideas, but in too few places.
“We need to look at the world beyond local government, and to capture the knowledge and views of those, for example, in business, academia, or the third sector, to deliver an effective service and a shared future to our community” he added.
“We intend to deliver Innovation Lab projects from within our existing resources as we set about building it into how we work in the future.
“In addition to community involvement, we will include our own officers. They will have powerful and important insights that could generate significant innovations, but who may not previously have been given the time or space to unlock their ideas,” he concluded.