Building sustainability within an organisation

South Staffordshire Council works to build sustainability within the organisation and embed a continuous improvement culture focused on efficiency savings and innovative design solutions.

Design in the public sector

In the summer of 2016, South Staffordshire Council took part in the Design in the Public Sector Programme, delivered by Design Council in partnership with the Local Government Association. The Council wanted to examine how it could embed a continuous improvement culture, focused on efficiency savings and design innovative solutions to service challenges.

The Challenge

South Staffordshire Council joined the LGA Programme in the summer of 2016 with the challenge of building sustainability and embedding a continuous development improvement culture focused on efficiency savings and innovative design solutions for the Council. Newly responsible for business change for the Council, the Business Improvement Team (BIT) wanted to explore how best to achieve this and win the ‘hearts and minds’ of staff and successfully implement the council’s Efficiency & Income (E&I) plan to meet the funding gap of £2.2m by 2020 and support the organisation’s ambition to become self-sufficient.

The team welcomed the opportunity to join the Design in the Public Sector Programme to help focus on how they can build sustainability and develop an improvement culture and this Programme offered them the space to formulate plans/thinking to test out with other colleagues on the Programme

Engagement and action

In the early days of the Design in the Public Sector Programme we were introduced to the approach and principles of design, we had lots of ideas and thoughts and enjoyed getting to know each other better and understanding the principles of innovative design in the public sector.

Jas Bhogal, customer services and strategy manager.

The team could see the benefit of working visually and collaboratively, and set off to understand the current barriers faced by staff back at the Council and were enthused to do this in a different way.

The approach taken was to video interview a cross section of staff across the council on the current perception of the council’s Efficiency & Income plan. They would then develop a short video of their responses to help develop next steps and share key findings with members and senior management. This was a new approach as traditionally the council would have resorted to a survey, but the video dialogues helped the team capture the personality of staff and were also fun to produce.

The feedback was analysed and used to help shape the approach to how best to help support staff in the delivery of the council’s E&I plan and what the team needed to focus on in the coming months.

The BIT interviewed more than 30 people across the organisation and made a short video clip of the responses and key points of discussion. The team was surprised at the response and engagement which was surprisingly very positive, having since used the video to help shape its thinking and recently used it in a member engagement session on the progress of the E&I plan.

Other feedback was centered on the lack of commercialisation skills within the council and the space needed to develop new ways of working and innovative ideas. Communication was also a problem, as staff felt they did not fully understand the progress being made thus far and how they could get involved.

Jas Bhogal explained how the Programme helped to solve the issue:

Design Council’s Logic model was also good to help frame the challenge and help split the project out into manageable tasks with key deliverables. This in particular challenged our original approach and really got us to think about the outcomes we wanted to achieve and the problem we were trying to solve.


The project so far has delivered tangible outcomes and more importantly helped the team to approach problem-solving and project management in a different way. The BIT has made great progress on its Efficiency and Income plan, by December 2016 having a combined income and efficiency projected total of 69% (equating to £1,502,635) against a target of £2.2 million, compared to 33% (equating to £725,891) in April 2016.

These results have been achieved by:

  • Development of ‘roadshows’ where the deputy CEO and the lead Director on Income in particular took the lead to provide updates to staff and give them an opportunity to feedback and get involved.
  • Focused approach in getting everyone involved in understanding the E&I base tracker and income/efficiency projection methodology.
  • Recruitment of two Change Agents across the council to help support service teams to develop robust efficiency plans to drive down costs and work smarter. This resulted in the recruitment of a third Change Agent by December 2016, which has supported the release of more than £90,000 efficiency savings to date across the organisation.
  • Regular communication on progress against the plan on the council’s intranet. A new infographic style of reporting has been created which summarises performance to date and is circulated each month, along with case studies on both Income and Efficiency delivery.
  • Recruitment of a Marketing and Communications Manager and a Marketing and Performance Analyst to help the Council develop its income ambitions further and support service teams in marketing services to generate income.
  • Closer alignment of the Programme with the Council’s regeneration team which has seen the development of the new role of Business Engagement Officer, which will help develop ties with the business community further and maximise income generation opportunities.
  • Introduction of a Marketing/Income group which comprises a cross-section of staff across the organisation to develop a coordinated approach to marketing for the council.
  • Focused success on the council’s efficiency plan which has seen all services undertake an efficiency review

Jas Bhogal explained the impact the Design in the Public Sector Programme has had:

In summary, the Programme proved to be a fun and interactive series of events, which certainly challenged thinking and introduced the team to new innovative design approaches and tools that has given us confidence to develop the work of the Business Improvement Team and take staff on the journey with us. Towards the end of the Programme we had to commit to what we were going to do in the next 40 days which certainly focused our minds in delivery, and ensured that what we had learned translated into practical project delivery.

The Business Improvement Team has now been in operation for more than a year and has started to make a real difference to the council in supporting its efforts to become financially self-sufficient by March 2020.  


Jas Bhogal
Customer services and strategy manager
South Staffordshire Council
Tel: 01902 696526