Local Government

Shire Hall Cambridge

Shire Hall Cambridge

What are the next generation
of models to transform organisations,
and how could they benefit
Cambridgeshire County Council?

Introduction to the Study

This briefing introduces the work on New Models for Transformation carried out by Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange (CUSPE) for Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) between October 2016 and October 2017. Feedback from the community is welcome. Please email rod.rivers@ntlworld.com.

From CCC’s point of view, there are several factors that are driving change and the need to transform the organisation, including:

  • Reduced funding: The need to find savings in public finances
  • Growing populations: Rising demands for services
  • Devolution: Localisation of leadership and governance
  • Digital technology: Increasing digital literacy/capability

Also, the public seeks more local control and greater accountability from government and business (e.g. as reflected by Brexit).

The project brief refers to the current organisational structure and culture as a reason for transformation:

‘The need for transformation: Cambridgeshire County Council has operated a departmental based approach to business planning and budget setting processes for many years. This engendered a culture and a set of behaviours that resulted in a very insular and defensive style of working. As a consequence there were very few cross-organisational, let alone cross-sector, solutions developed to address the financial challenges faced by the Council.’

It also refers to possible models for transformation at the level of project methodology:

‘The models and methodologies behind this transformation are still to be determined – and the Council is interested to know what the vanguard models and methodologies are that we should be looking towards.’


It was apparent from the outset that the scale of the issues (budget cuts, devolution etc.) were such that a piecemeal or contained approach would have little impact. The CUSPE team (Simon Davies, Rod Rivers, and Nidhi Chaudhary) carried out a literature search and interviews involving 20 or more councilors, council staff, Local Government Association (LGA) staff, academics and policy makers and identified emerging themes, issues and trends. These were then classified into six areas – organisation, methodology, technology, culture, leadership and governance) and ideas developed about the types of transformation that might coherently address these themes and issues at a high level.

It is possible to identify numerous models that apply to each of these areas. For example there are many different models of organizational structure – some descriptive and some prescriptive. Similarly there are many models of leadership, for driving cultural change, for governance and so on. We were influenced in the choice of models by the (often implicit) models that interviewees appeared to be using, explicit models that were brought to our attention and the models we found in the literature, in particular models proposed by the Local Government Association and models that other local authorities appeared to be using with some success. We were also influenced by a desire to combine the models in such a way that if applied together they would provide an overall coherent and aligned set of recommendations.

Rather than present the models themselves at this stage, we thought the most productive way forward would be to look at the recommendations in the six areas that were implied by the models. The reaction to the recommendations would then reflect the acceptability of the models from the many perspectives of councillors, council staff, and the public. Following feedback, including limited informal public consultation, we plan to write up the project into a longer report.

The Recommendations

Organisation: create cross cutting services, established competence-based staff pools, follow LGA guidelines, move away from fixed organizational structures towards project based working, define roles in terms of outcomes rather than activities, reflect changes in staff contracts, increase staff mobility and communication within councils and across the combined authority, move towards ‘place-based’ organization and budget holding, create flatter structures and more distributed leadership, re-thing staff motivations and incentives, change recruitment practices, and encourage spin-outs.

Methodology: use whole systems user-centred approaches, use AGILE and iterative development for new projects, consider LEAN for well established services, use models for assessing social costs and benefits when evaluation project proposals, develop statistical models for attributing the causes of outcomes, follow LGA guidelines on digital transformation, encourage and develop open data practices.

Technology: draft a technology roadmap for the combined authority, implement technology to manage staff pools and project-based working, draft and communicate an architecture for open data and secure/controlled access by different user groups (staff, citizens, developers); track cloud computing, internet of things, blockchain, machine learning, big data, artificial intelligence, high value manufacturing, 3D printing and digital democracy; develop notification and reporting technologies.

Culture: Focus on outcomes as opposed to process; loosen up to enable flexibility, mobility and responsiveness; open up to enable data sharing, closer collaboration, greater transparency and accountability; engage more with citizens, other organizations and other internal departments; devolve, decentralize and empower; think more systemically and strategically; set up a guiding coalition to lead cultural change and encourage innovation.

Leadership: give leaders the ownership of outcomes rather than ownership of staff; develop models of place-based leadership; give leaders autonomy to achieve outcomes but monitor performance; define processes for local place-based leaders to emerge; promote ‘authentic’ and ‘distributed’ leadership, follow LGA Guidelines for developing digital leadership skills.

Governance: Adopt and communicate a policy of focusing on outcomes in terms of citizen wellbeing; measure outcomes rather than process; devolve decision making and budgets to the lowest level (subsidiarity), involve citizens more in priority setting; promote openness, open data and information sharing; track developments in open government and digital democracy and how it might be implemented within the combined authority; set up working groups to explore where the combined authority can lead to greater quality of service and efficiencies; promote a policy of greater citizen participation in all aspects of the councils operations of developments (analysis, co-design, co-development, evaluation); promote policies of ‘loosening up’ council procedures and organizational structures; use technology to open up decision making processes; follow LGA guidelines on coordinating with national programmes.


How do the above recommendations help the council provide better outcomes for less cost, while meeting growing demand and addressing changes in public attitudes?

Many of the recommendations are designed to involve and empower citizens in council activities so hopefully address issues with respect to public attitudes directly. Also many can be seen to impact on quality of service delivery, making it more personalized and more focused on outcomes for communities and individuals. Addressing growing demand and cost saving are to some extent achieved through economies of scale, brought about by the combined authority. However, the main mechanisms where cost savings are anticipated, are through tightening the loop between decision making and outcome and the application of technology, so that the whole process is made more flexible, responsive, relevant and efficient.

Meeting statutory obligations for a growing need, with significantly reduced budgets, and an increasingly vigilant population with higher expectations, will require a broad set of changes that will impact the organisation, it’s culture and governance, it’s leadership style, and its use of methods and technology. Making outcomes a central driver of council activity requires a different mind-set from setting up services that are aligned with the legislative framework. Instead of addressing one piece of legislation at a time, it requires considering communities and individuals holistically with each having its unique set of needs. This demands the joined up integration of services around outcomes that are measured, not in terms of the council’s performance indicators (KPIs) or the legislative framework, but in the terms of the communities and users that the council is servicing.

The summary report, including recommendations, can be found on the Cambridge County Council’s Cambridgeshire Insights website at:

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About This Blog

This series of blog postings takes a multi-disciplinary approach to social policy, bringing together ideas from psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy and related subjects to inform policy makers and other professionals about how we might think in new ways about the individual and society . There are some easy ways to read it:

• Very Easy – Just read the blog titles: Most blog title are propositions that the blog content attempts to justify. Just reading the names of the blogs in order from first to last will provide an overview of the approach.

• Quite Easy - Just read the text in bold. This brings out the main points in each posting.

• Easy - Just watch the videos. This is easy but can take a while. The running time of each video can be seen in the caption above it. Hover over the video to see the controls – play and pause, large screen, and navigate around.

• Harder – Read the whole blog. Useful if you are really interested, want to learn, or want to comment, disagree with the content, have another angle or whatever. The blog is not being publicised yet but please feel free to comment and I will try to respond if and when I can.

The blog attempts not to be a set of platitudes about what you should do to be happy. In fact, I would like to distance myself from the ‘wellbeing marketplace’ and all those websites/blogs that try and either sell you something or proffer advice. This is something quite different. It takes as its premise that there is a relationship between wellbeing, needs and control in both the individual and society. If needs are not being met and you have no control to alter the situation, then wellbeing will suffer.

While this may seem obvious, there is something to be gained by understanding the implications of this simple idea. We are quite used to thinking about wellbeing in terms of specifics like money, health, relationships, work and so on, but less familiar with dealing with the more generic and abstract concepts of need and control.

Taking a more abstract approach helps filter out much of the distraction and noise of our usual perceptions. It focuses on the central issues and their applicability across many specifics that affect how we think and feel.

The blog often questions our current models of the way we think about the human condition and society. It looks at the things we all know and talk about – decisions and choices, relationships and loss, jobs and taxes, wealth and health but in a way in which they are not usually described. It tries to develop a new account, that draws on a broadly based understanding of what we now know from science, culture and common sense.

If you are looking for simple answers you will not find them here. This is not because the answers are complex. It is because the answers are not necessarily what you expect.

If you are looking to explore in some depth the nature of wellbeing and how it is influenced by what you can control, and what others can control that may affect you, then read on. Playing through some of these ideas into the specifics of policy, at the level of society and the individual, will take time but I hope you will see the virtue of working from first principles.

When walking through any landscape different people will see different things. A geologist might see an ice-age come and go, forming undulations in its wake. A politician might see territorial boundaries. Somebody else may see a hill they have to climb together with the weight of their back-pack.

Taking a perspective of wellbeing and control is different from how we normally look at the world. It's a deeper look at why and how things happen as they do and the consequences on wellbeing. It questions the relationship between intention and outcome.

We normally see and act through the well-worn habits of our thoughts and behaviours as they have evolved to deal with things as they are now. We mainly chose the easy options that require the least resource. As a survival strategy this generally works well, but it also entrenches patterns of thought, behaviour and emotion that sometimes, for the benefit of our wellbeing, need to be changed. When considering change, people often say ‘well, I wouldn’t start from here’. And that’s the position I take. I am not starting from the ways things are or have evolved, but from the place they might have been had we known what we know now and had designed them.

The blogs argue that, in an era of specialisation, we have forgotten the big picture – we act specifically and locally within the silos of our specialised education and experience. We check process rather than outcomes. We often fail to integrate our knowledge and apply it to the design of our social and work systems (as well as our own thoughts and behaviours).

To understand society we first need to understand the individual and to this end, a psychological account of how we feel, think and behave based on notions of wellbeing and control is proposed. And not in an abstract airy-fairy kind of way, but as a more or less precise theory that forms the basis of a predictive and testable computational model. The theory is essentially about how, both as individuals and society we manage multiple (and often conflicting) intentions in real time within limited resources. I call this model 'the human operating system'. This is like a computer operating system except that it is motivated by emotions, modulated by reason and is expressed in the language of mind and its qualities of agency and intentionality.

Just as in the mathematics of fractal geometry, complex structures can emerge from simple rules. The explanation given of the interplay between emotions, physical bodily states, thoughts and behaviours shows how much of the complexity in the individual can be accounted for by a set of relatively simple rules. This can be modelled using a system of symbolic representation and manipulation involving intentions and priorities operating in a complicated and changing environment.

The language and models that we use to understand the individual can also be applied to organisations and other structures in society. Through an understanding of what makes for wellbeing in the individual we can also understand what makes for better wellbeing in society generally. The focus, therefore, is on understanding the individual and then using that understanding to inform how we might think about other structures in society and how all these structures relate to each other from the point of view of wellbeing, shifting patterns of control and the implications for social policy.