The first solution focused local authority: Significant improvements to council services as a result

In 2009 Reading Borough Council began a new project to use the solution focused approach within one of their directorates; what was called ‘Solutions 4 Reading’. It became such a success that they expanded the approach across the whole council. The programme applied the pragmatic and positive Solutions Focus approach to coaching and change to council teams and individuals and now Reading Borough Council are putting in an application for best council in the UK in the local authority awards.

Paul Jackson and Janine Waldman are the directors of The Solutions Focus, which is a solution focused consultancy firm and they were employed to develop and implement this project. The project was far-reaching and ambitious considering they wanted to implement it across the whole council with limited resources. They couldn’t train everyone in SF skills and techniques so instead trained SF champions who would embed the practice in their areas to achieve coverage.

Before they started the work they asked some questions to that they knew what they were aiming for:

  • What will you be saying as the project ends and what difference will you be noticing?
  • What are the key measures? What will have changed/improved?
  • What makes us say that these are the ‘right’ measures – what benefits will follow from these figures/stories changing?
  • What stories do we want to be hearing as the project progresses?

Knowing what you want to achieve is an important part of making a project successful and such questions allowed them to see what the council wanted to see from the work. The stories of success were shared in a celebration day where people would bring the stories of using SF and the impact it had on their work. There were stories from IT managers who used SF to design and implement a new IT system, finance directors who used SF to discover and communicate ways of delivering services with a decreasing budget, and trainers who used SF to change their training which improved the quality of the training and the participants’ ability to recall what they had learnt. The tools and techniques have spread throughout the council with reports of many successes.

The chief executive states that the council has gone from performing just above the national average to being one of the top performers. He said he will be putting in an application for the council of the year award as a result. You can see a video of the chief executive talking about the implementation of SF across the council here.

This is an important project for solution focused politics, the idea and not this blog, because it shows that its use in governmental services can be improved by the use of the simple tools, techniques and principles of SF. Rather than a method or a theory, SF is an approach which is why it can be implemented in almost any field and it is pleasing to see positive results following the implementation of the approach across the council.

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