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Jon Ainger

The EDGEWORK Manifesto: How to deliver sustainable change in complex public services

The EDGEWORK Manifesto is available as a paperback or ebook

Almost 10 years ago, Martin Reeves (Chief Executive of Coventry City Council) bought a project from IMPOWER that we almost didn’t do. IMPOWER had been doing a lot of work on personalisation in adult social care and we thought to ourselves ‘what else could this apply to?’. We ran a workshop in Coventry with Martin’s wider leadership team which flagged two top challenges: teenage pregnancy and home-to-school transport for children with special needs.  We really wanted to do the project on teenage pregnancy but for various reasons we couldn’t make it work. So somewhat reluctantly we ended up looking at transport.

In the delivery of that project, something special happened: the Coventry team were motivated to try something innovative, we used an early version of our behavioural insight methods, local parents were desperate for a different conversation, we had a smart project team, and we were transforming a service which had not had much attention for many years. People who know us date our demand management journey as starting from that project, but actually the journey began much earlier.

IMPOWER was founded almost 20 years ago with a mission to bring the internet to public services. Things evolved from those early days, and after some pioneering work in demand management, next came behavioural science and then the development of EDGEWORK. EDGEWORK is IMPOWER’s unique way of helping clients deliver better outcomes, including starting with checking that they are properly defining the problem.

Public sector leaders deal in complexity every day; but the environment they work in constrains their room for manoeuvre. It forces them to narrow frame their problems; it forces the consultancies that help them to narrow frame their solutions. Whilst this can work in the short term, it does not deliver sustainable results in the long term. And that’s why we needed to codify and share what IMPOWER does differently.

We are grounded in what really matters in public services: improving performance at the front line; improving the lives of residents and service users; really understanding what happens when people try to help each other; respecting and working with the challenges that public sector leaders face every day; and building tools to help our clients to manage their organisations better and drive better results. It has also led us naturally to take on some of the more difficult and scary challenges facing our clients, from school transport to children’s social care, the interface between health and social care, and homelessness.

We are therefore delighted to have published The EDGEWORK Manifesto in which we set out how to deliver sustainable change in complex public services. We hope that it starts a conversation about why smart, dedicated and experienced public sector leaders find it difficult to make measurable and sustainable improvements in within their systems. The Manifesto makes the case for a new approach to leadership and to consultancy, exploring the difference between complicated and complex issues, and why our approach achieves better outcomes that cost less.

We call it EDGEWORK as the most important work is done at the edges – the boundaries between systems, the frontline interface with the public. We are also constantly pushing the limits – or edges – of our thinking. Please do read our book and let me know what you think!

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