Using behavioural insights to manage demand for public services

This is about an award-winning project carried out by the Housing team at the London Borough of Ealing, supported by With The Grain (that’s me). We think we achieved a 70% reduction in the number of families being placed in temporary accommodation by the Council, and the main principles are now being scaled into the Council’s ‘business as usual’ approach. We think it has the potential to save millions and improve the wellbeing of hundreds of families. So, if you’re working out how to do Demand Management in practice, or wondering how to make the most of behavioural insights in local public services, you need to read this.

The approach we took was co-designed. Council staff were involved in developing ideas, drafting scripts and specifying content. Get in touch if you want to know more about how we did it.

Helping people take control

We did this by helping families who are likely to become homeless (typically due to eviction or a breakdown of an existing household), to take control of their situation: to look for a new home for themselves if they are able to, rather than being funnelled into Bed & Breakfast (B&B) and Temporary Accommodation (TA) to wait for the Council to find them a home. This matters, because the reality of living in TA and B&B is not good for families’ wellbeing. It is also expensive to provide at a time of unprecedented cuts in local government budgets.

Our approach

Our ‘Reframing First Contact’ pilot consists of a conversation. We call it an advice session, with potential follow up phone calls and sometimes meetings.

We use a number of materials:

  • a script for officers to use
  • a leaflet shown by Customer Services Advisors to callers, to help residents frame the conversation. This helps identify people who are eligible for the pilot
  • a tablet computer with a front page of hyperlinks to the most useful sites/pages when searching for a home
  • an action plan for residents to take away.

I’ll explain the process, so you can see how the materials are used:

  • Resident arrives at Customer Services front door and is given a ticket for housing advice
  • When called, the housing Advisor makes eye contact and shows them the framing leaflet, to immediately establish whether they meet the criteria set out:
  • they say they risk becoming homeless
  • they have dependent children
  • they indicate that they do – or might – need to find a new home
  • If the Advisor judges (usually within a minute) that someone is eligible, the Advisor calls a pilot officer and asks them to help the residents as part of “our new service”
  • The officer collects the resident, and takes them to a room where they sit alongside the resident. When they can, they give the resident the best chair, to help them feel ‘in control’

advice session

Photo posed by officers

  • They then have a conversation based on the agreed script, with a tablet computer available – so they can search for homes and other information
  • We don’t collect any personal data, except contact information. We found collecting personal data tended to steer conversations away from residents’ capabilities, and also enforced an unequal power balance between the expert/gatekeeper officer and inexpert resident.

Behavioural Effects we used

Throughout, our intention has always been to present it as normal for people to look for their own home – one that they can afford – and then to make doing so as easy as we can. To achieve this, we used around twenty identifiable heuristics, including the ones listed below. We also stopped the inadvertent use of effects that were having an adverse impact on behaviour.

  • People are primed to frame the conversation. The What Do You Want To Do? framing leaflet tests that the resident is comfortable saying they are someone who needs to find a home, as distinct from being given one. (The business as usual – BAU – approach is to assume that someone wants to be a ‘homeless applicant’ – and therefore a customer.)

Framing leaflet

  • Scarcity effect – when the Customer Services Advisor calls the pilot officer, she says: “I know the new service is really busy, but it would be great if you could squeeze in Mr A right now”.
  • Talking about looking for a home, we set the default as ‘looking for yourself’
  • We increase salience by referring to a time-limit. “This is about finding the home where you’ll be tucking up the kids at the end of next month”
  • We have an emotional ‘reward’ in mind – settling down and being happy – and we talk about a ‘home’ (whereas the BAU approach is to refer to a ‘property’)
  • We make social proof available – to demonstrate that others like have done this and are happy
  • We reduce cognitive load – avoiding jargon and unnecessary concepts (of which there are many in the BAU approach)
  • We avoid endowment, like “duty” and “entitlement” (which anchor the conversation unhelpfully in the BAU approach)
  • We avoid scarcity effect when it’s unhelpful, like telling people how tough it is to get a council home. (In the BAU approach, this was seen as “managing people’s expectations”; however, Prospect Theory predicts that this encourages risk-taking behaviour).
  • We have a commitment device – an Action Plan – so that residents can note the websites, agents, etc they will contact

Action Plan

  • We increase the salience of, and of plans and information by asking people to write them down themselves
  • We help people visualise their plans – asking them to explain where and when they are going to search – so they’re more likely to do them
  • Reciprocation – “when you find somewhere, we will be able to help you with the deposit”

What did we find out?

We think the approach we took, and the way it worked, showed three main things:

  1. Co-production works for behavioural techniques. Drawing from a wide range of behavioural effects, council officers worked alongside a behavioural practitioner to create a new approach. It’s their project.
  2. Using behavioural insights, we can increase demand for an ‘upstream’ service that supports independence and self-sufficiency, and so reduce demand ‘downstream’ for services that are expensive to provide, may not improve wellbeing and may increase dependency.
  3. Local services can use behavioural insights at an operational level. It doesn’t depend on developing or changing local policy. This work has been commissioned and sponsored by a Director and service heads.

What was the impact?

We didn’t have enough control over the front door of Customer Services to set up a randomised control trial. However, we think the two main measures we do have are pretty conclusive:

  • First, a qualitative measure at the end of the advice session, asking the resident if they plan to look for a home themselves (and whether they will look further afield if they cannot find somewhere local they can afford). Over a four month period from November 2014 to February 2015, the vast majority of residents who took part agreed to look for a home themselves (31 out of 34), including 21 who explicitly agreed to look for somewhere they could afford even if it wasn’t in the area they were living.
  • Second, a hard Demand Management measure. Officers checked whether residents who take part in the advice session went on to become a ‘homeless applicant’ by cross-checking with application records. Just 2 of the 34 became homeless applicants, far fewer than would normally be the case.

How does this compare with Business As Usual? During the same period as the pilot, Ealing Council accepted 234 other families as homeless . These families did not benefit from the behavioural pilot service. This table compares the outcomes.

November 2014 to February 2014 Behavioural Pilot Normal (BAU) method
Number of approaches about potential homelessness 34 1127
Number of homeless applications taken and accepted (leading to B&B/TA) 2 234
Acceptances as %age of approaches 6%* 21%

*NB small base

These results suggest that our behavioural approach has the potential to reduce demand – in the form of provision of B&B & TA to families designated as homeless – by up to 70%.

Why this matters

When families are helped to find their own homes, in areas of their choice, that they can afford, they are able to settle down and begin to re-establish the family life that households in B&B/TA often find difficult to sustain. For more on the impact on families of homelessness and living in B&B and Temporary Accommodation, see Shelter and this report on the impact of temporary accommodation on health.

There is another driver of course. Like most of my work, this is about Demand Management. The London Borough of Ealing has faced severe cuts of £96m over a four-year period. However, demand for homelessness services is rising – due to a vanishingly small supply of social housing, and rising evictions in the private rented sector. So reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation is vital to reducing the cost of this multi-million pound service.

Our behavioural pilot points to significant savings, more practical to measure than an increase in wellbeing. Accommodating a family of 1 adult and 3 children in London for a year typically costs the Council between £18,000 and £27,000 plus officer time. So the potential saving to the Council, if it is able to assist at least 100 families to find their own homes, is £1,800,000. No wonder the Council is working out how to scale up the approach.

Award-winning

We’re proud that our project won the Grand Prix at the inaugural Nudge Awards, ahead of projects from the world of advertising and finance. My thanks to everyone at Ealing who played such a big part, and to Professor Richard Thaler for choosing a local government project as the Grand Prix winner. Those of us who work in and with #localgov know that it’s rarely seen as glamorous, but it makes a positive difference to the lives of millions. And, right now, we need to ramp up the use of behavioural analysis and insights to deal with the reality of major budget cuts.

This is What We’re Like: how the most counter-intuitive thing you’ll hear all week will help you manage demand

(Originally published by the i-Network following my talk at their recent Shaping Demand conference)

You know how you sometimes lie awake at night planning to do something the next day – and then fail to do it? Well, you’re not the only one. We all do it.

Me, too. I’ll resolve not to have butter on my toast in the morning. Or walk to work. Or decide that, tomorrow night, I’ll wind down for sleep by doing the cryptic crossword instead of flicking through TV channels, because I know that screen time before bed makes sleep harder. And what’s more, I really, really, really mean it. Every time. But I almost never follow through on these decisions. Why not? It’s not because I change my mind and decide that I was wrong.

Here’s the counter-intuitive thing. The reason we don’t follow through on these good intentions of ours is that one of the main ways we understand human nature is wrong.

We’ve all grown up with a clear sense of self, believing that we’re in control of our actions. We take account of facts and opinions, make up our mind, then enact the decision we’ve made. And because I think I’m in control, I think everyone else is, too. So, when I want to influence someone’s behaviour, my instinct is to persuade them. If they’re doing something different, I assume that they’re doing it for a reason. So I try to change their mind.

Though we grow up with this understanding, there is a mountain of evidence that this isn’t what we humans are really like. Our evolution to be arguably* the most successful species on the planet has many quirks we’re beginning to understand better, but which are not yet in the mainstream and which overwhelmingly haven’t been reflected in how we have designed public services and shaped localities.

So what are we really like? Well, we have loads of mental shortcuts. Why? Because it gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage to leave much of their brain’s cognitive capacity available to spot and instantly deal with predators. This is why you find it harder to apply your willpower if you’re already doing an ‘effortful’ mental task. It’s also why you’re really good at pattern recognition; your ancestors who realised that the leaves rustling nearby might be due to a predator were the ones who got to influence the human gene pool by running for cover and living long enough to pass on their genes.

Life expectancy has typically been under 20-30 years for most of human existence, so it’s no surprise that we also have mental shortcuts that help us grab the resources that will help us through the night, or the winter, and hold on to what we’ve got.

We also have plenty of short-cuts that help us be social, since human co-operation has also give us a real advantage. These biases have a much bigger influence on us all than we’d like to admit; in short, no-one likes to be the odd one out.

As I said a few times in my session at iNetwork’s recent Shaping Demand conference: this is what we’re like. And I think these insights are really helpful in taking new approaches to managing demand.

Freed from believing that people always have a reason for their actions, we can try to systematically examine what people do that creates demand for public services, and understand how it happens (not why).Freed from the need to change people’s minds when we want to influence their behaviour, we can concentrate instead on making self-sufficient behaviours easier and seem more normal.

And we can make this evidence-based understanding of human nature accessible, in order to involve staff, citizens and others in co-producing new designs and approaches.

The question for each of us is: how are we going to make sure this happens, rather than going the same way as my late-night commitment to walk to work tomorrow?

[*ants might beg to differ]

Audio: Can Public Policy Cope with Behavioural Sciences?

I recorded the talk I gave at the Political Innovation event at the end of September. But the sound quality isn’t great, so I didn’t do anything with it. Then, a couple of days ago, I listened to this newly-remastered recording of Joy Division playing ULU in 1980 and decided that, if I can enjoy JD through a bit of muffle, then why not make my talk available?

Here it is on Soundcloud. A bit of an experiment. Let me know if you think this works. There is a Soundcloud app for smartphones, so you can listen on the move if that’s your thing – or you can download it to your iPod.

I’m hoping this will appeal to anyone who is interested in both public services/policy and also behavioural insights. The final few minutes consists of me being pretty optimistic: I reckon that making the use of insights from behavioural sciences mainstream – and being open about it – can help create better designed services, a more effective relationship between citizen and state, and also, in the longer-term, a more mindful society.

Being Clear About Green Deal’s Risks

Let’s be honest, it’s not often I am impressed by Ministers on carbon. So praise where it is due for Greg Barker’s speech on Green Deal to Ecobuild a couple of days ago.

Speech by Greg Barker at the Ecobuild Conference – Department of Energy and Climate Change.

His summary (below) is interesting, particularly the second and third bullets:

Today, I wanted to draw out three key points to unpack that simple description of the Green Deal:

  • Firstly, this is a brand new way of approaching energy efficiency.  Not a continuation of CERT, CESP, not a son of this or daughter of that;
  • Secondly, it will create a brand new market and opportunities for industry.  A market for the aspirational, not just for the worthy or energy sensible;
  • Thirdly, don’t underestimate the power of communities in their many shapes and forms.  These will be key to  delivering this agenda

Along with many others, I’m often heard emphasising that ‘doing the right thing’ on carbon and sustainability needs to be seen as aspirational, not hair-shirted or twee. Unfortunately, many ‘green’ messages do come across as the latter. So it’s good to recognise this.

My present concerns about Green Deal, though, relate to whether we will be able to deliver on – and build on – an aspirational approach.

Green Deal will fail if, in the first instance, not enough households take up the offer. This is recognised by all as a real risk, but little work has been done on how to manage this risk.

A second risk of failure is if Green Deal in practice does not build local skills and economies. This risk needs to be understood and addressed by local government; the centre will not take the lead. So when I hear tales of local authorities taking the lead in bringing together local consortia, with clarity about building local skills and using local SMEs to deliver, I’m pleased. But I don’t hear these stories often enough.

A third risk is beginning to be recognised by some in local government. This is the very real fear the the actuals savings on householders will not be realised as they ‘take comfort’. As it stands, there is no real incentive for private sector installers to tackle the behaviour change issue head on. My concern here is that it is now quite late in the day for local authorities to be solving this. And yet we’ve known since Kirklees first carried out mass retrofitting that half of the potential (carbon and financial) savings can be lost to people taking advantage of living in more energy efficient, less draughty homes by ‘walking around in t-shirts’.

The fourth risk I would identify is less recognised even by sustainability professionals and climate officers. This is the risk that we do not take the opportunity of engaging with people on energy use – with a clear carbon imperative – to also find ways of encouraging behaviour change in relation to our consumption-based carbon footprint. In reality, household emissions are a small proportion of our total footprint. This could be a great opportunity to help people take responsibility for their wider footprint. I suspect that few authorities are on the case with this, but I’d love to hear from any that are.

Can’t argue with conclusions of @greenallianceUK @mrskumquatkid report on #localgov & climate change

I recommend this report as an overview of the current state of play in local government on climate change strategy and action. Download it for free from the site linked below. It doesn’t make for happy reading, suggesting a retrenchment overall, with few authorities seeing the arguable additional ‘localist’ freedoms as an opportunity to move action on carbon and climate up the agenda.

I like that Green Alliance (author Faye Scott is @mrskumquatkid on Twitter) seed the report with reminders that local action needs to be about building resilience and making the transition to a low carbon economy and society. Sounds like one of my blogs. But I’d like to see more recognition from them that this will require a major focus on lifestyles and (in carbon terms) acting on consumption emissions. Local government is free to ignore these, and nearly all authorities do; the report contains just two explicit references to local authority interest in the consumption perspective.

So, on the gloomy side: there is a downward trend, and many authorities aren’t hitting the low bar that has been set. On the plus side, the green shoots of local interest in consumption metrics. I hope Green Alliance and others will encourage these.

Amplify’d from www.green-alliance.org.uk

Is localism delivering for climate change? Emerging responses from local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and neighbourhood plans

This report explores the impacts of the coalition’s localism agenda on climate change action. It asks:

– Are local authorities continuing to work on climate change?
– How is action being encouraged?
– What potential do local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), local nature partnerships (LNPs) and neighbourhood plans have to strengthen local action on climate change?

Based on extensive interviews and two surveys, the report finds a three-way split between local authorities. A third are maintaining their action on climate change, a third are narrowing their work and a third are opting out of action altogether. Overall, the results suggest that climate change work has narrowed, is very weak or absent in 65 per cent of local authorities.

The full report can be downloaded above, or read the executive summary 

Read more at www.green-alliance.org.uk

Behavioural effects can be used by #localgov. About time too.

This is the full (unedited) version of the article Municipal Journal published last week. I think it’s clearer than the shortened version. It tries to explain in 1,400 words the principles we’re using to apply behaviour change techniques, and gives one example of this in practice.

I know it uses some technical (behavioural) terms, but I honestly think understanding of these will become mainstream, so we may need to get used to them!

Amplify’d from web.mac.com

ripple effect

Working with the grain

Friday, 14 October 2011

Warren Hatter and Kieran Stigant on how West Sussex County Council is learning to work ‘with the grain’ of human nature.

For the past year or so, policy makers and academics have found it hard to steer clear of the topic of behaviour change. Cue conference speeches, broadsheet articles and the important debate taking place on the role of the state (most recently highlighted by the House of Lords Science & Technology Sub-Committee report on behaviour change). This discussion needs to happen in the public domain, as it affects citizens’ expectations of government, but it does not need to get in the way of using behavioural insights. So we have decided to sidestep most of the debate and get on with developing the practice. Our rationale is simple: human behaviour is strongly influenced by context all the time, so we should be looking to influence that context to encourage the type of behaviours that improve wellbeing and reduce costs. Though a simple principle to work with, we acknowledge that it goes against the grain of 200 years of post-Enlightenment thinking. Mainstream economists and policy-makers have tended, until now, to assume that people behave rationally, but the evidence from a wide range of disciplines – not least behavioural and evolutionary psychology – now is clear that human behaviour is subjective (though often predictably so), context-dependent and intensely social.

Equally, reservations are sometimes expressed that local or central government using insights from behavioural sciences to shape communications or services is somehow sinister. We disagree; we think that local government’s responsibility is to get the best outcomes as effectively and efficiently as possible. HMRC increased tax revenues last year by changing the wording of letters sent to citizens in a way that employed behavioural insights (telling people, for example, the high percentage in their area who pay their taxes on time); we have yet to see any serious argument that this is underhand behaviour inappropriate for government. Likewise in local government: if we can reduce the number of unnecessary school admissions appeals by wording the communication with parents more effectively, then we should do so.

What has inspired us is less the theory and the policy debate, more the practical examples. In the past few years, there has been an explosion in the amount of evidence we can draw on. We have seen practical interventions using behavioural psychology and behavioural economics, carried out by organisations in all sectors, sometimes with academic engagement, and analytical approaches (the highest profile public sector example being the MINDSPACE report) that help us understand the range of behavioural effects that can be employed. We decided to draw on this evidence to see what opportunities it provides.

Having explained the imperative behind our work, we want to share the three principles that have inspired our approach. It is driven by three insights we gained from our research and initial work: the first, key, one is that we can improve outcomes and efficiency with low- and no- cost interventions. There are numerous case studies where this has been shown, for example well-evidenced examples of a smiley face helping to ‘lock in’ appropriate behaviour such as low energy usage or safe driving. This can be hard for people to accept, as we have rarely questioned narratives that assume we behave rationally.

The second principle is that Councils can do this. It’s not the exclusive domain of university academics and high-priced consultants and – to most – it’s not just interesting, it’s useful, too.

The third is that need greatly exceeds demand. In our view, just about every service has aspects that could benefit from using behavioural insights, but very few are actively ‘in the market’. Managers are not in the habit of using behavioural insights to generate ideas on how their approach could be configured differently, or communications reframed. We have started to change this.

And we also recognise the starting point that WSCC is like almost all other authorities. We have no staff with ‘behaviour change’ in their job description or job title, and hardly any staff who would describe ‘behaviour change’ as part of their role. And yet in many areas, West Sussex, like other Councils, is ‘doing’ behaviour change by encouraging residents in, for example, pro-environmental behaviours.

Our focus now is on using behavioural insights wherever human behaviour is a factor in our work. So, for WSCC, this is about building capacity; growing the amount of expertise in the authority on using behavioural insights.

The With The Grain Tool

The way we are building capacity is project by project using our new West Sussex With The Grain tool. To create WSWTG, we worked with experts in the two professions who make most use of behavioural insights to affect behaviour: designers and communications professionals, as well as getting input from academic experts and practitioners in local government.

WSWTG gives officers (and staff from partner organisations) access to:

•a way of pinning down the behavioural changes we are looking to encourage

•a presentation and poster explaining a wide range of behavioural effects, using the most memorable (as opposed to the most worthy) examples; and

•a method for systematically exploring the full range of behavioural effects to generate ideas from which the team can identify those worth pursuing

We have identified four clusters of behavioural effects that we introduce to officers. These are:

•approval effects, which make the ‘right’ choice (that is, the behaviour we are looking to encourage) seem normal;

•ease effects, which make it easy/ier to make the ‘right’ choice;

•reward effects, which increase the perception of reward for the ‘right’ choice; and

•obligation effects, which help people feel a sense of obligation to make the ‘right’ choice

So, for example, when we looked for ways to encourage all staff to clear their desks at the end of the day, promoting flexible working and enabling the authority to save money by reducing the desk:staff ratio, the following ideas were generated:

•Status quo bias (one of our ‘ease effects’) tells us that new behaviours are maintained when they fit into existing routines, so we are considering including a ‘clear your desk’ prompt or verification to be included in the logging out process at the end of the day. This could be like checking the box to confirm you understand the terms & conditions before you are able to make some purchases, such as train tickets.

•A range of ‘reward effects’ can be employed. Rather then communicating the benefits to the organisation (the likely default option), internal communications can focus on the ‘payoff’ for individuals, particularly in light of temporal discounting, which makes us favour immediate gains: in this case, being able to get up in the morning and decide where to work.

•‘Approval effects’ are very relevant, in particular social norms (none of us wants to be the ‘odd one out’) and authority effect (chief officers and senior managers will need to lead by example).

•Commitment and consistency may be the key ‘obligation effect’; we all want to behave consistently with a commitment we have made publicly. In this instance, asking teams to sign a declaration recognising the benefits of flexible working – not least the end of ‘presenteeism’ – and also the commitment involved (to clear one’s desk) may be a way of driving ‘bottom up’ change.

This is a very brief example of how behavioural insight can be useful, drawn from a current project. Our experience so far is that using the WSWTG enables staff to generate a better understanding of the behaviours which are a factor in their service and generate many more, better ideas than would have been the case without considering behavioural insights in a systematic way.

Having innovative ideas is not enough, of course; success will depend on being able to test and implement the best ones. We will be open about what we learn in West Sussex from now on, not least because there is a good chance that innovations driven by behavioural insights that work here will work elsewhere.

The debate will continue; in the meantime, local authorities have the chance to use behavioural insights to shape future services.

Warren Hatter is a Local Improvement Advisor working with WSCC on behaviour change. Kieran Stigant is Chief Executive of WSCC.

Read more at web.mac.com

My take on what #localgov must do now: create conditions 4 #sustainability #innovation

This is my analysis from last week’s Local Government Chronicle. What’s it about? Here’s a clue: though I learned many years ago that sub-editors never accept the author’s suggestion for a title, I still try – and for this one my attempt was “It’s The Local Economy, Stupid”.

The challenge councils are working on now, dealing with funding cuts, are minor compared to the challenges our places face as a result of systemic global problems. This is why people like Neil McInroy focus on the concept of local ‘resilience’.

I accept that there aren’t yet many local politicians looking to reshape their local economies to meet these fundamental challenges. So the argument needs to be won.

You can help by asking your local leader, “What will the local economy be like if the financial markets meltdown after a default by, say, Greek and Portugal? And wouldn’t it be good to start right now to shape it so that it can deal with shocks like that?”

Amplify’d from www.lgcplus.com

Creating a sustainable future at the grass roots

22 September 2011 | By Warren Hatter

All local economies are facing instability in three systems on which we depend: in the financial markets, in energy supply and prices, and in ecosystem services. And we can already see local problems caused by instability in these systems: just look at the boarded windows on a typical high street, rapidly rising domestic energy prices, or the way that more homes are becoming uninsurable due to flood risk.

Worse, whatever the causes of the recent riots in urban England, they are a sure sign that there are many who feel detached from their local economy. Worse still, all these systems are now subject to major shocks, whether this is financial meltdown from a European country defaulting on its loans, massive jumps in food prices or cuts in oil supply.

There are concrete ways of getting to the understanding that your locality is vulnerable. Maybe through ecological footprinting of the area and starting to understand ‘one planet’ principles (like Sutton LBC); through commissioning a consumption-based carbon footprint, revealing that the true scale of the carbon challenge is more than twice what NI186 has had us believe (like West Sussex CC); or through a networked approach to place planning (like CLES’s work on local resilience).

When leaders realise that their local economy is not fit for purpose, what do we do? First, recognise where we need to go. We often hear leaders talking about the opportunities of a ‘low carbon economy’, but there is much more to this concept than benefitting from ‘green growth’ by providing goods and services related to energy provision and efficiency. The local economy that evolves will need to be:

resilient to shocks linked to food supply

resilient on energy

using much lower-carbon supply chains for everything

able to maintain its natural and social capital

If we don’t choose to be laissez faire, what can local government do to create the conditions for this new, sustainable economy to thrive?

Recognise that place is important

The “little platoons” approach to localism and big society will not suffice here. I believe that there is a vital role for leadership of place (place shaping, place stewardship, call it what you will) that is often absent from Big Society narratives and which is best carried out by a strategic body with a mandate: the local authority. As NLGN has suggested, some places are better equipped than others for the ‘Big Society’, so some intervention is needed. But this has to be about supporting communities, not top-down approaches which stifle innovation.

Grow our economic capacity

Relatively few economists work for local government; still fewer who are engaged with the ‘new economics’ and want to develop policies that let diverse, local enterprise flourish and resource loops become closed. In the future, for example, how can we encourage funding through a new local lending infrastructure? There is a range of models being used and proposed by the likes of NESTA.

Evolve our approaches to local leadership

More than ever, local authority leadership has to allow others in the community the space to lead. To do this, we need to excel at recognising civic entrepreneurship, and nurturing it. And enable the networks that are most likely to bring innovations to scale, so that every place might benefit from innovation elsewhere.

A sophisticated approach to behaviour change

More resilient, successful places can only be created with significant lifestyle changes, but we know that, in recent years, attempts to persuade people towards lower-impact lifestyles have had limited success; increasingly, we are learning to make sustainable living aspirational and in tune with people’s values.

Different metrics

We will have to measure our wealth in a much more rounded way than GDP and GVA do at present. One benefit of new ways of understanding success is that it will make sense for local assets to be used to their full potential.

Whatever we call it, the signs are that the new economy, the Civic Economy, the Big Society, is emerging, with massive energy, with diverse leadership and funding mechanisms and with a strong sense of place. Though these disrupt business as usual, they point to a high-wellbeing, resilient future with high social capital; this is unequivocally an opportunity agenda.

If we can work our way through the challenges, we will find that the local initiatives like these become mainstream. Delivering them is not our job in local government; creating the fertile ground for them to grow and thrive, is.

Warren Hatter is a local improvement advisor specialising in climate change, behaviour change and local leadership

Two recent reports make it clear there are already plenty of initiatives to inspire and councils are involved in many of them. Among the many initiatives highlighted in NESTA’s Compendium for the Civic Economy and NLGN’s Realising Community Wealth are:

  • Fintry community energy partnership, producing profits from sustainable energy for a whole community
  • Nottingham University Hospitals’ sustainable food procurement, promoting local entrepreneurs and growers while improving value for the NHS
  • Sutton Bookshare, a virtual library where members lend books to each other
  • Time Banks network in Islington, enabling people to share skills
  • Southwark Circle, a co-designed membership scheme for older residents
  • Surrey Museums’ provision by volunteers