Reframing Risk: How to adopt new mindsets around risk that enable innovation

Reframing Risk: How to adopt new mindsets around risk that enable innovation

The idea of risk avoidance and aversion has become a dominant and crucial feature in the way public services are designed, managed and reviewed.

Public servants are often tasked with managing the possibility of something bad happening, and services are designed to respond to and mitigate against these negative risks.

The problem is that too often, negative or ‘downside’ risks (children being abused in foster care, for example) are managed in ways that limit the opportunities for positive outcomes or ‘upside risks’ (children helping to co-design the type of care they receive), obstructing collective problem solving, mutual accountability, the ability of frontline staff to respond to the root causes of people’s needs and the sharing of power with citizens.

This approach to understanding and managing risk in public services limits opportunities for innovation for two key reasons: it focuses on managing downside risks rather than enabling upside possibilities, and on organisational rather than societal risks – the risk of fraud, or abuse or neglect of vulnerable individuals, for example – rather than looking at the wider conditions that create disadvantage.

This paper, based on the insight and practical experiences of members of Nesta’s Upstream Collaborative, explores how local authorities can reframe risk to enable innovation by widening the lens and expanding the space for downside and upside possibilities. This active learning network supported local government innovators to share, accelerate and assess new operating models that work upstream of social problems to help create the conditions that enable citizens’ needs to be met in empowering and inclusive ways.

These local authorities represent some of the bright spots of public service activity, demonstrating more human and collaborative ways of addressing complex challenges. During the programme participants formed workgroups, collaborating around a challenge or opportunity relevant to their work and sharing perspectives and stories to amplify and improve practice.

This paper is written by Collaborate on behalf of the six local authorities and their partners who participated in the Risk and Innovation Workgroup:

Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, ClwydAlyn Housing Association, Denbighshire County Council, Derbyshire County Council, London Borough of Newham, Staffordshire County Council, Surrey County Council.

About Nesta
Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society. Nesta is based in the UK and supported by a financial endowment. We work with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good.

About Collaborate
Collaborate CIC is a social consultancy that helps public services collaborate to tackle social challenges. We are values-led, not for profit and driven by a belief in the power of collaborative services, organisations and systems as a force for social and economic progress. We create partnerships that get beyond traditional silos to deliver credible change on the ground, working with partners and places across the UK. Our clients and partners span local government, the NHS, civil society and the private sector. Get in touch if we can help you.