Local Government Communities of Practice strategy wins award

I’m pleased to announce that the IDeA CoP Platform won an award at the GC Awards yesterday evening. The award was for the best public sector project for collaborative working, and can be placed alongside the award we won at the National e-Government awards ceremony that took place in December 2008.

I’m particularly pleased for the IDeA Knowledge Management team who have been instrumental in getting Communities of Practice firmly established across the local government sector as means to encouraging more effective learning and sharing, which will in turn drive the development of good/next practice for service improvement.  And not forgetting the many CoP Facilitator’s who do such a good job in maintaining the energy for their CoPs and providing inspiration for their members.

For those who know me they will know I have little or no ego,  but in the absence of any recognition from IDeA, I would at least like to note that I was the original creator of the concept and have led the business and strategic development of the platform since its inception in 2005. I only mention this because I’ve been almost alone  in trying to promote this strategy over the past few years and was even beginning to doubt myself whether this would ever achieve the original vision for changing and improving working practices across the public sector. I think having this recognition from two independent awards bodies has renewed my self-belief and will provide a good foundation for taking the strategy forward.

The actual entry for the award is reproduced below:

Aims and Objectives

The IDeA’s Communities of Practice (CoPs) is a professional networking site that utilises web 2.0 technology to support the sharing of knowledge, know-how, skills and good practice across local government. Since its official launch in December 2007, CoPs has enhanced working practices across local government throughout the UK. Enabling officers and councillors to connect to peers, information and knowledge, across the nation, has driven the effectiveness and efficiency of the sector. Additionally, CoPs is now driving improvements across central government and the third sector as the site is expanding to other organisations who wish to realise the benefits of online collaborative working.

CoPs now has over 30,000 registered members and is growing at a rate of 100 new members a day, (a rate more than double that targeted at the beginning of the project). On the site there are over 700 individual communities managed by the IDeA, councils, civil service departments, and other public and third sector organisations. The individual communities range across areas such as countering extremism, health, migration, ICT and many more. By the end of 2009 CoPs is expected to exceed 50,000 members and support 1000 communities.

How the solution was developed

Local government accounts for the second largest proportion of public spending in the UK, and employs about 2.1 million people across over 700 service areas. Accordingly, this represents a vast variety of skills, knowledge, experience and expertise. Prior to the introduction of CoPs, however, the sector’s ability to share knowledge and expertise across organisational boundaries, and learn from each other in order to improve service delivery to local populations was limited and ad hoc. IDeA’s Communities of Practice has enabled all local councils to share and learn with and from each other. It is enabling local government to transcend traditional organisational boundaries, allowing colleagues in all different councils across the UK to work and collaborate together, to drive efficiency savings and improve the sector.

CoPs has enabled this learning and sharing through utilising collaborative, new social media (what has been referred to as Web 2.0) tools, such as wikis, blogs, forums and libraries, which allow users to contribute and generate their own content for the site. This has meant that costs associated with CoPs have been kept exceptionally low as the site’s consumers also act as producers.

CoPs was developed as a bespoke and secure platform designed for simplicity and accessibility and with it’s target government audience in mind. There is nothing directly comparable to the IDeA’s CoPs in terms of size and reach anywhere in the world. In the social networking sphere, sites such as Facebook and My Space share the same connective and collaborative spirit, but do not provide the trusted and private environment demanded by public sector professionals.

The creation and implementation of CoPs began in September 2006 when a pilot site was released. The pilot site had a limited number of pilot communities that were used to test the demand for the site and to ascertain what skills, interventions and techniques were needed to ensure that individual communities were vibrant, active and created value for members and the organisations they belonged to. The pilot site provided the evidence and learning that was needed to officially launch the current Communities of Practice site and ensure that it was a success. Building on the success and failures of the pilot the current CoP platform was launched in December to anyone across local government wanting either to join or create their own community, and as momentum has grown has also been opened to others across central government and the wider public sector.

In addition to the creation of the actual web-platform, implementation involved significant focus on upskilling and training of people to use CoPs. The idea recognised that often government IT projects had the potential to fail not because of the technology involved but because the people expected to use and gain value from the technology were not comfortable with or properly able to use the technology. As a consequence CoP training was made available on one level for all who wanted to create and manage a community (facilitators) and on another level for ordinary members or those wanting to know more about CoPs and how to use the site.

Outcomes and Benefits

CoPs has been making a difference to individuals using the site, local councils and local government and public sector more widely. In a recent evaluation exercise designed to understand how users had benefited from CoPs, a number of the site’s members were interviewed about their experiences. The research confirmed 8 major benefits being obtained which all increase government efficiency and lead to cost savings:

1. Saving time

“Using the website saves time. It’s possible to post something and get responses back from other members over a couple of weeks. Previously, you would talk to a few confidantes, then share things at conferences and it might be six months before you have the same level of strength in terms of that idea”

James Winterbottom, Performance Improvement Officer, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council

2. Keeping up to date with the most current thinking

It’s just extremely useful to keep up to date, for example on current thinking and direction with regards to equality and cohesion policy. The policy changes a lot, there are different emphasis, directions and initiatives all the time.”

Ruth Hyde, Chief Executive, Broxtowe Borough Council

3. Progressing innovations

“Many of the online groups that we set up on the site either reflected new projects or were new groups working on a new priority that wasn’t covered under the business unit structure. It was a place for new projects and innovations to grow”

Noel Hatch, Projects and Research Lead, Innovation Unit, Kent County Council.

4. Sharing good practice and avoiding duplication of work

“It has been very useful in seeing the broad questions out there and to see how people are tackling big issues, Quite often we’re all doing the same bit of work, so it’s valuable to have a place where you can come together to discuss it.”

Stewart Martin, Community Leadership Policy Officer, Hertfordshire County Council

5. Connecting local and central government

“It’s useful as my main interface is central government so it’s a good forum to hear from local practitioners. It’s a good way of getting a feel for what the issues are for local authorities in relation to sustainability.”

Denny Gray, Policy Analyst, Sustainable Development Commission

6. Reducing carbon footprint

“It cuts down on meetings and travel, so in an age when local government is all about value for money, efficiency and sustainability, it fits well.”

Kanza Ahmed, National Management Trainee, Warrington Borough Council

7. Rapid induction to new roles and staff development

“It’s a fabulous resource for people in my position who move around placements. You get thrown into the deep end and are expected to swim, so it’s the first point of contact if you start a new project.”

Helen Burkhalter, Policy Officer, Denbighshire County Council

8. Building relationships and transcending organisational boundaries

“As a chief executive I tend to think of it (Communities of Practice) as a way of expanding my organisation, because now I can ask somebody a question about leadership and development in the region and they can go off and talk to other people on the Communities of Practice and come back with an answer. So we are expanding our own organisation’s boundaries to actually help each other across the region“.

Andrea Hill, Chief Executive, Suffolk County Council

What other organisations from public and private sectors have been involved?

The Scottish Improvement Service has entered into a major financial partnership with the IDeA to bring CoPs to Scotland, and financial arrangements have been made with other public sector organisations such as SOCITM and the NHS. Of the 650 individual communities, the IDeA itself only manages about 150, with various councils managing 275, the Scottish Improvement Service 50, NHS 100, and the remaining 75 are run by government organisations including: COI, BERR, NAO, Cabinet Office, OGC, Association of Chief Police Officers, Office for National Statistics, CLG, DfID and several more.

CoPs has membership from every single council in Wales, Scotland and England, and an estimated 7,000 further members from central government and other public sector bodies

So, a great example of how technology, process and people (and especially people!) can combine to bring about new and more effective ways of working, with real benefits to individuals through being able to find and connect with peers and experts, and more opportunities for adding value to public sector services.


  1. Matthew said:

    Well done, Steve 🙂 I often use your work in local government as an example of what can be done to build real communities that are really useful in apparently uncollaborative organizations.

    May 21, 2009
  2. Steve Dale said:

    Thanks Matthew, and appreciate your support. I think we all need belief, resilience and tenacity to make these things work. Most people ‘get it’. One day the managers will as well!

    May 21, 2009
  3. Carmen said:

    Steve, is the platform application open source?

    June 10, 2009
  4. Steve Dale said:

    Carmen – some of the functions and facilities use Open Source solutions. Platform is not currently open though (being considered for next stage development). A licensed (white label) version of the platform is available for 5K sterling plus any redesign or redevelopment costs.

    June 10, 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.