By their very nature local governments have a direct and immediate impact on the communities they serve. The way in which local government organisations innovate and change, impacts on local economic and community development. As the level of government mandated with the responsibility of ensuring basic local services local governments’ ability to reform and change is central to long term community success. Many local governments go well beyond the mandated requirements set out in legislation engaging their communities in a dialogue about the nature of community life, now, and into the future (see for example Leach et al. 1996). While research into workplace innovation and creativity suggests such strategies provide the promise of effective reform in the work environment (West and Farr 1990) there has been much less interest in how innovation in local government enhances local economic and community development.
Jones (1993, p. 1) argues that a local government’s main role is to help local communities to learn to make strategic choices by balancing the costs and benefits of efficiency, effectiveness, economic growth, quality of life, social justice, participation and legitimacy. In this paper we argue that such choices are considered more when a high level of innovation exists within local government. There is, however, little actual research on the nature of innovation in local government.
The research asked the question: what are the factors that contribute to an innovative culture in local government organisations? A culture which deals with uncertainty, brings new ideas to fruition, values and actively encourages creative thinking and learning, uses the developed wealth of employee experience and competence, and brings forth new and imaginative ways of working from across the organisation to eagerly embrace change. All of which contributes to local economic and community development. This paper outlines these factors and reports on how they were applied in the Richmond River Shire Council, New South Wales.
We outline the innovation processes adopted by the Richmond River Shire Council, an award winning rural local government employing innovative management and organisation practices over an extended period of time. The paper concludes with a discussion of the importance of innovation in local government and outlines strategies to assist rural local government organisations develop cultures of innovation.