We have recently been awarded a contract as part of a consortium to work alongside Birmingham City Council’s newly formed Improvement Team to help them in establishing the four key work-streams they will be working on over the next four years. As we have talked about in the past we believe that openness and transparency are integral values to Impact Hub Birmingham and as such we wanted to talk through what this contract means for us, the city council and the citizens of the city we love.

We want to encourage a broader culture of transparency across the city and the council leader John Clancy shares this ambition. There has been a history of poor contracts being signed by the city council previously and criticisms of these deals featured with the now infamous Kerslake review. We often found ourselves frustrated at the difficulty of finding out information or knowing why certain things were happening. We believe that one of the ways to prevent shady deals from happening and for people feeling like there is a closed network of businesses benefitting from the council budget is to talk openly about our contract in an attempt to set a new expectation from others who receive significant contracts from the council to do the same. We also want to use this as an opportunity to invite questions, support and much needed critique to make the work the best it can possibly be.

The Kerslake review specifically mentioned some issues the council had around HR, performance and lack of a culture of change. In response to this the leadership team of the council have initiated the Improvement Hub. This hub will focus on four key areas which have been spoken about before by council Chief Executive, Mark Rogers, before in his own blog and will be:

1 – Change Academy

2 – Innovation Lab

3 – Ideas Forum

4 – Improvement Team

We were asked by Mark and his team to be involved to help support the largely new team in their start up phase to help with design, strategy, modelling behaviours and building the culture and movement for the Improvement Hub. Over an initial intense nine month period, our team of six people (plus occasional freelance support) will work alongside the City Council’s Improvement Hub team to design, share advice, share guidance and share our experience gathered from working on a number of strategic design, engagement and movement building projects. Our work will aim to gather a systemic understanding of the issues present in the council and will help to create the cultures, values and the expectations that a Future Council will need to flourish through an open making process. We also believe deeply that this is not only a change process for the council, but one that should be hosted at a city level.

You might be interested in who from the team is working on this particular contract / project, check out their biographies on our team page including ways to get in touch with them: Indy Johar | Andy Reeve | Immy Kaur | Daniel Blyden | Louise Byng | Amy Martin

The total value of this contract is £150,000 over the 9 month period, with ourselves receiving £77,000 as one part of a consortium, which includes public service innovation experts and others, who will receive the remaining £73,000. The funding for this work is drawn from a ring fenced budget set aside to specifically help the council achieve the recommendations set out by the Kerslake review.

On initial reading, £150,000 sounds like a lot of money, and some people might raise their eyebrows at this. We believe that relational data is much more useful that just numbers. Once you know that our share, £77,000 is used to fund the physical expenses, purchases and other costs involved in exploring new ideas over a 9 month period, as well as a team of six – none earning more than the Living Wage – working on the project, and all along ensuring that it adds value to our community interest company to ensure we can continue to offer a vibrant space for people to work from at an affordable rate, host a growing community and events, it feels to us like the council is getting incredible value for money. We are not charging an excessive day rate, or even one that would be advised to our us by business development experts.

You might be wondering why we are doing this then, if the numbers only stack up to make sure we don’t lose money doing this work. Well, we believe this offers the city council value for money not just on a pure hourly basis, but on the basis that we love this city. This is the city we call home. The city in which we are raising our children. The city we want to help thrive, and to help our friends, relatives and fellow citizens thrive with it. We are fully investing into the project from way more than a financial standpoint, which means we will go above and beyond to help this Improvement Team be a success.

We aren’t arrogant enough to believe we have all the answers to the council’s ills and never professed to have a simple, perfect model which can be easily implemented. Because of this, we are able to be more flexible, more dynamic and more willing to bring in new viewpoints, new ideas and broader public involvement to help inform the process. This engagement isn’t an add on, it’s something that is baked into the core of our processes.

This has already started. During the initial Improvement Hub Team building event in early December we held an open dinner for anyone who wanted to attend to come and ask questions, share their experiences and perspectives, and get involved with the project. Over the next six months there be further opportunities to be involved to help inform this strategy and we would encourage you to engage with thoughts, ideas and provocations. It will never be perfect, especially not in a city this size, but we are committed to ensuring citizens aren’t an after thought. We will continue to challenge and ask the difficult questions throughout this work to ensure that everything in our control will happen as openly and transparently as we can possibly make it.

The way the Council works is changing. This project won’t fix all the problems highlighted by the Kerslake review, but it will help to start setting new expectations for open exploration, open making and working things out in public rather than leaving citizen involvement for late stage statutory consultation. But deep culture change will take time, and needs support as it will involve taking a few risks and it will in no doubt involve a few failures along the way. Therefore it’s important for us as a city to see this as a collective journey; to actively engage with passion, but always tempered with empathy and a sense of love. What we have learnt so far is that there is a huge amount of energy within Birmingham City Council and a huge desire to do things differently and do them better. We all need to grow the conditions so that the City Council can truly be a reflection of our incredible city; the city we all love.

We hope to be openly blogging and sharing what’s happening throughout this process, and will also be hosting an Open Project Night conversation around this work in February. Are you interested in knowing more, getting involved, and/or challenging us? Drop us an e-mail at birmingham@impacthub.net and we will be sure to forward you the details of the open event as soon as they are up.

We would also love for you to let us know:
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E-mail to birmingham@impacthub.net or tweet us at @ImpactHubBrum


Reportage illustrations by Katie Tomlinson.
Photography by Thom Bartley.