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Jeremy Cooper

Q: How did you do it? A: EDGEWORK


“How did you do it?”

This was the question posed to me a few years ago by the Chief Executive of a large council.

“We have had several goes at sorting this problem, including with some of your competitors. How did you help us make so much progress?” he asked.

I am sorry to say that at the time, I wasn’t able to give a very clear answer.

Talking with my fellow IMPOWER Directors, we found that we had all been asked versions of the same thing. And accompanying this question were comments along the lines of “I wasn’t expecting to see and feel the impact this quickly”, “your team just seem to get it”, and “I can’t believe [finance and the service/the front line and management team/health and education partners] are both on board”.

In response, we embarked on a process of defining what we do and how it differentiates us. Through this process we have developed a clear view of why clients want to work with us, how we deliver impact, and what makes people want to join our company.

We call this EDGEWORK. EDGEWORK is our DNA. It is both our philosophy and our methodology. It is what we do every day that makes us different. It is:

  • A framework explaining how and why we see change in local public services differently
  • A set of techniques and tools, including a set of unique Inventive Methods
  • A language to express and describe this approach.

The framework for EDGEWORK is driven by a philosophical view of the future of the social contract between citizens and providers of public services.  A quick summary:

–        A dominant philosophy (characterised by managerialism, a bias towards managing acute, immediate and specific, performance management) has, generally successfully, driven change over the last 20 years

–        The world in which public services operate has transformed (changes in public trust and expectations have altered the licence to operate, while cultural and demographic changes interfacing with policy have resulted in a new set of ‘chronic’ conditions and challenges)

–        Narrow-framing public services problems is no longer enough; a new approach to reframing the problem space is needed (widening the lens, allowing for inclusive ambition, a discovery mindset and new control models)

–        This means fully appreciating:

  • The opportunities and challenges of the ‘public services’ ethos including social commitment and empathy that organisations are built around
  • The need to refocus on chronic and complex problems that are by definition distributed, non-linear and open-ended
  • That sustainable change requires co-produced solutions across boundaries where ‘command and control’ does not work

At IMPOWER, we believe that a new type of mindset and a new approach to external support are needed to deliver in this new world. We have purposely collected and curated skills and methods that enable us to work alongside public service leaders to deliver this kind of new approach. EDGEWORK draws from a number of ideas, including from the philosophy of extreme sports, where the sportsperson needs to demonstrate more than just technical skill in mastering the ‘edge’ in difficult situations where technical, physical and emotional challenges meet.

Every month, I share with our team some examples of the impact we have had on 1) individual people’s lives, 2) system change (including savings and improved outcomes) and 3) the sector overall. Seeing the fire in people’s eyes, I can honestly say that for our team, working on the boundaries between people, organisations and systems to help deliver change in local public service gives us an extreme sports buzz every day!


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