LGA Conference 2012 – learning or listening, peer to peer coaching the key

My first LGA conference was great and I will be back next year. I learnt a lot, I made some great contacts who I will follow up with and political friendships which no doubt will last as long as we all remain in office.

I leave Birmingham with some fresh ideas and approaches, some existing thoughts better developed and some dots joined up in my head. But 2 thoughts dominate for me and they are essentially about how we operate and whether we are making best use of our human resources.

What sticks out first is the difference between constructive dialogue and just being talked at. When people share experiences, work through problems with peers and colleagues from a practical perspective you get better learning which means something and a deeper understanding of problems and solutions in the context they come from.

Unfortunately many of the sessions I attended were old skool set pieces with ‘expert’ speakers making presentations or giving speeches to an audience, followed by short time for Q&A (which invariably never get answered) It struck me as strange that with so much experience in one place, there were not more opportunities to sit down and discuss some of the challenges that we are practically dealing with – to share learning and experiences honestly and openly?

Secondly we have not bridged the Councillor / Officer divide but there are bright spots. LGA peer reviews are done by joint officer and Councillor teams, but also ensures it happens in the host authority. Many Councils are piloting joint problem solving approaches, or changing structures to bring Councillors and officers together but it’s a little hit and miss and people I spoke to acknowledged that where these did happen, good working relationships were generally already in place.

When the @lgchallenge finalists were asked to outline the content of their 1st briefing to the leader when they become Chief Executive, not one of them mentioned manifesto’s, political priorities or values. In an era of austerity, political choices are absolutely key. I didn’t get the sense talking to officers or other Councillors that we are making sure officers understand that they work in a political organisation and equally whether Councillors understand how their own organisation works to get better outcomes for their residents.

In saying all that I feel that the sector is in a healthy place, with bright young things and wise heads, innovation as well as ambition to face the most challenging circumstances ever. Sharing across the sector better in a meaningful way so necessary culture change is realised and contextual is vital going forward with innovation happening in so many places and at a pace that has been set so crushingly fast.

I’m interested by anyone who is doing anything new or old that brings together officers, partners and Councillors (maybe even residents!!!!) in a meaningful way, so please pass on anything you know or want to shout about.