Using behavioural science to improve outcomes

My slides from the presentation I gave at this week’s APSE annual conference on how Lambeth Council has been using  behavioural insights and randomised controlled trials to improve service outcomes… this instance focusing on increasing council tax payment.

APSE Annual Seminar 2015


Social Value Commissioning

Yesterday Collaborate and the Transition Institute published a new report, Social Value: a commissioning framework that I have written together with my Lambeth Council colleague Anna Randle.

report cover

The report is intended to add to the growing body of thought and interest in social value and help move things forward. In the report we suggest how we think social value can be implemented in a practical way by a public body, within the context of commissioning, spending cuts and rising demand on public services. It is based on our experience, research and aspirations at Lambeth to be a Cooperative Council.

Lots has been said about social value and what it is and there is a great deal of interest in it, particularly within the public sector and the not for profit sector. There is also a great deal of confusion. Many local authorities are grappling with the practicalities of actually taking account of social, environmental and economic value in commissioning and procurement decisions, as they are now required to do under the Public Service (Social Value) Act 2012.

At present too much of the debate about social value is focussed on procurement, social clauses in contracts and approaches that attach monetary value to everything. Social value is still seen by many as being an additional expense the public sector must absorb in taking account of environmental and social benefits and costs.

Whilst all these things may well be part of an effective strategy to reflect social value in investment decisions, they are by no means the whole picture. Anna and I argue that social value is far more than this narrow interpretation. For us social value is about:

  • Commissioning a broad range of outcomes
  • Recognising and responding to community assets and the needs and aspirations of local people
  • Fundamental transformation of how we work – whole system change
  • Acknowledging and understanding the connections and tensions between priorities
  • Becoming more sophisticated in how we measure the difference our investment decisions make

Fundamentally, social value is about securing maximum impact on local priorities from the use of public resources.

The implications of our interpretation of social value on how local authorities act is potentially profound. We go on to suggest a range of practical and conceptual steps that councils can adopt in order to realise this:

  • By framing social value in terms of the changes that the community and its elected representatives want to see.
  • By recognising community assets and the contribution local people can make to achieving the changes they value.
  • Developing a common outcomes framework which is applied consistently across the whole organisation.
  • Establishing an agreed sequence or priority order to corporate outcomes – acknowledging we can’t have everything we want all at once.
  • Using Theory of Change or logic models to set out the path by which we see change happening – from inputs to activities and outputs, through to outcomes and impact.
  • Using Social Value Procurement Frameworks, but only as a stepping stone towards more fundamental change.
  • Considering additionality and developing cost effective strategies to assess the degree to which demonstrable impact can be attributed directly to our own activity and investment decisions.
  • Being prepared to abandon redundant metrics that only help us measure outputs.
  • Considering the ways in which the council may need to change to support social value commissioning, recognising practice that is at odds with realis­ing local priorities and considering ways to redesign the system to be more supportive.

We are not suggesting that we yet have all the answers to realise our ambitions to deliver social value commissioning, or that it will be an easy path to achieving this. However we hope that with this report we can help expand the extent of people’s aspirations and expectation of what social value means. If we can do that, then there is a real prospect of public funds being used more efficiently to deliver outcomes that better reflect the aspiration and ambition of our communities.

If you’d like to discuss social value commissioning do get in touch

The Work Shop – from pop up council to coop council

Lambeth has set out its stall to become a cooperative council by 2014 and to transform the way it works in order to achieve this. One of the most important distinguishing features of this vision is to establish a fundamentally different relationship between citizens and the local authority – one based on collaboration, reciprocity and cooperation.


Changing things is tough, anyone working in large organisations or in the business of social change knows this all too well….of course it’s possible, but it can be a slog. One of things that helps creative thinking is to disrupt normal patterns of behaviour or thinking – causing us to question ‘normal’ ways of working and shakes us out of our pre-conceptions about business as usual.

We started to think about how we could begin to disrupt our normal approach to engaging residents in discussions, to develop a different, more ‘cooperative’, conversation.

The result is the Work Shop.


Lambeth Council has taken a short term let on a vacant shop on West Norwood High Street to set up the Work Shop. Over the next few weeks we will be trying to reach out to the people who live, work and visit the area and inviting them to join us for a cup of tea, a conversation and more as we explore the possibilities to work better together.

Three days a week – including some evenings and weekends, so as many people as possible are able to pop in – we will be running a programme of talks, hosted conversations and workshops on a wide range of topics. Some will be led by council officers, some by public sector partners and others by local voluntary and community groups. You can find out more about what’s going on here. But in addition to these more ‘formal’ elements, there will be plenty of more informal opportunities to engage.

We don’t expect everyone to want to come to a workshop, at least not at first….the Work Shop has installations of things going on in the area, inspirational examples of what can be achieved through collaboration, and space to capture people’s ideas of how things might be changed for the better. We’ll also be doing some asset mapping – gathering community perspectives on the services, buildings, people, talents, ambitions and passions that the local community has and values. This will be crucial in helping to inform what happens in the future and is part of a much wider shift in how Lambeth, as a Cooperative Council, views its citizens and communities.


A shop on the high street in one part of the borough for a few weeks is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a panacea for the myriad challenges we need to overcome in order to realise the vision of the Cooperative Council. Rather, it is an experiment in the art of the possible…an attempt to test out a new way of working with citizens, which we can learn from and apply to other parts of the organisation in the future.

We are not content to sit in the Town Hall and pump out laudable policy documents about how things will be different in the future. The Work Shop takes the conversation out into the community, changes the rules of engagement and, we hope, provides an opportunity for a more creative and meaningful conversation about what the Cooperative Council could be.

If you’re in the area, pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. If not, then we’ll be posting regular updates as we go along…and of course, we’d love to hear what you think!

You can find the Work Shop on twitter and flickr.