Getting down to business

Use all the research and data you may already have to hand – residents’ surveys, staff, business and partner views as a starting point. People will already be telling you stories about your council – what are they saying? How much do you need to change that story?

Several of the councils in the case studies featured in this toolkit carried out focus group work or carried out wider engagement work with residents to test perceptions of the council, its story and its ambitions. You can find further advice on how to effectively engage and consult with residents in both our understanding the views of residents and New Conversations toolkits.

Workshops are a good format to use when developing your narrative – they give people the chance to have their say in an informal setting. You may need to run several (but mix people up so you avoid member only or manager only workshops) to get all the right people involved, but if you use the same template and discussion points you should end up with roughly the same outcomes. It’s sometimes useful to have some external help with this – North Warwickshire and Oxfordshire both benefitted from this approach – an outside view to challenge and reflect back can often sharpen the focus of what you’re trying to achieve.

Make sure you have time to take people through the background and context (so people don’t get side-tracked into place branding or logo discussions) and use some examples, like the case studies in this toolkit, to give people a clear idea about what they need to focus on. Then you can work with participants on understanding where you are now, where you want to get to and how you’ll get there.

By the end of the sessions you should have some key words, phrases and stories that will make up your corporate narrative.

Encourage participants to work in small groups on questions and make time to listen to people’s stories about why they’ve answered a question in a way – it’s these stories that will flavour your final narrative and make it unique.

You’ll need to keep testing your developing narrative to ensure it’s the story of your organisation and no-one else’s. Many councils can tell a story of regeneration, communities looking after each other and speaking up for residents – but what makes your council different and special when it does this?

Questions you could ask and issues you could explore may include:

  • What’s the purpose of your council…what’s it in business to do?
  • How do you describe the council to people outside it? What words do you use?
  • What would you recommend about the council as a place to work? What might put you off recommending it?
  • What’s special about your council? What inspires you about it?
  • What annoys or irritates you about the council?
  • What words, symbols and stories sum up the council for you?
  • What are the values and beliefs that guide the way the council does business?
  • Examples of the council living up to these values or failing to deliver on them.
  • How would you sum up the council’s vision for the future?
  • What do you want the council to have achieved in ten years' time? What do you think it would be like to work here then?
  • What words, stories or symbols would you like to be able to use to describe the council in ten years' time?

Once you’ve worked through questions like these you can begin to draft your story. Get your workshop participants to share their views on what words and phrases statements like these should include:

  • Xx council is……
  • We’re special because……
  • We need to change…
  • In ten years’ time…..