The type of community involvement endorsed by President Clinton underpins a “brains trust” scheme which Ards and North Down Borough Council will be the first to use in Northern Ireland aimed at giving ratepayers a unique opportunity to influence what the council does.
The Council has asked Officers to present a report on how the “Innovation Lab” project “would enable the Council to involve both staff and local people in seeing how we can do things differently, and also doing them better,” said Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker, who proposed the new scheme.
Council officials are now completing training at the William J Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s University which is also helping to identify the first policy decision to be looked at using the new scheme.
Ms Anne Phillipson of the Institute said: “We’ve been delighted to help the Council officers develop their leadership skills to embrace the opportunities presented with this new organisation.
“This work 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 said.
Added Ms Phillipson: “Innovation Labs are widely used by business in the US and increasingly in the UK and elsewhere, but there is also a growing interest from public bodies, including the Northern Ireland Executive.”
Mr Walker said an Innovation Lab would be triggered “when the Council was deciding on a major issue. We would then bring together individuals and organisations with relevant knowledge and expertise from within our area and beyond to do some real ‘blue sky’ thinking about the issue, led by officials with the leadership skills honed at the Clinton Institute.
“The ideas and solutions from these meetings will be used by the Council to help us produce informed, well thought through policies for the benefit of the Borough,” added Mr Walker.
Mr Walker said that “traditionally decisions are made by Council Members and officials, but an Innovation Lab gives a powerful voice to individuals and groups who could add insight and inform policy making.
“One of my main motivations as a Councillor is to help create a Council which is as inclusive as possible. Local government has always looked for new ideas, but often in too few places. The Innovation lab concept will be a step-change in innovation for local Government in Northern Ireland.”
The Innovation Lab concept is already successfully employed by the Department of Finance & Pensions. The Minister, Simon Hamilton, has not only endorsed the use of the scheme in Ards & North Down Borough Council, but last week offered to allow Council officers access to Department officials who can share their learning and expertise in its implementation.