Discussion paper

Executive summary

This report by Marrickville Council and the Centre for Local Government, University of Technology Sydney contributes to understanding of the role of creativity as a prerequisite to innovation in local government, particularly during a time of change and reform to the local government sector.

The study demonstrates that a local council can fruitfully draw on a key characteristic of the community in which it is located and thereby supplement its approach to working in and for that community. In the case of Marrickville Council and the Marrickville Creativity Project, it represented an opportunity to more explicitly add creativity to council functioning so as to better serve a community that is well recognised for its creative industries and cultures.

It also documents an approach that could be drawn upon by other local governments wishing to operate in a more creative and innovative way.

The report discusses relevant literature and contextualises the project within current thinking on creativity in communities, organisations and the public sector. Details of the Marrickville Creativity Project are presented along with project outcomes and learnings and suggestions for future work.

In conceptualising this project, Marrickville Council was cognisant that it had entered into a period of significant change within the New South Wales (NSW) local government sector and within the broader local government industry. The Marrickville Creativity Project provided the organisation with an opportunity to explore new ways of working with creativity, innovation and collaboration to assist it through a period of change that was undefined and emerging.

A series of creativity workshops conducted with managers – organised as Creativity Labs – provided participants with a range of tools and ways of thinking that have fostered workplace creativity and influenced organisational culture. In the period since these workshops were held, the organisation successfully embedded aspects of creativity into its organisational culture, strategic planning and day-to-day working operations.

Providing the Council’s leadership with an opportunity to explore multiple aspects of creativity (individual, team, leadership, organisational and community) was found to have contributed to cultural shifts within the organisation: shifts in cultural norms, such as a greater tolerance for mistakes, risk and uncertainty, support for change, and collaboration with diverse and effective teams, have been identified by participants. The Council’s organisational commitment to creativity continues with the Marrickville Creativity Group that meets monthly and regularly gains attendance of 15 to 20 staff from all Council departments, including executive team members, managers, coordinators and officers.

There is some evidence that the Creativity Labs also produced innovations benefiting the community, such as the Connecting Marrickville Program. This program is aimed at establishing a new collaborative working process that draws on diverse team membership, with openness to new ways of trialling and delivering outcomes. It is a process that is informed by a deeper knowledge of community and place, and has had a particular impact on infrastructure work. The Council has also identified other opportunities to further embed creativity in the organisation.

The outcomes of the Marrickville Creativity Project have a number of potential implications for the local government sector:

  • Councils can improve their performance through incorporating creativity into the culture and operations of their organisation for the benefit of their communities.
  • Creativity can assist individuals, teams and organisations to develop innovative, appropriate and effective solutions, in recognition of broader changes impacting the sector and the need to develop organisational capacity to meet these challenges.
  • The management of organisational culture to facilitate creativity can contribute to innovation and change processes. This project provides a synthesis of key literature that can serve as a resource and inspiration for other local governments wishing to explore the links between creativity, innovation and improved local governance.
  • Creativity can be incorporated as a specific area of staff learning and development, for example through the development of Creativity Labs as a program and toolkit.
  • Consideration of time, and how it can be managed to accommodate creativity processes individually, within teams and within the organisation as a whole, requires further investigation. In addition to time, other barriers to participation of managers in creativity-enhancing initiatives include prior understanding of the subject and attitudes toward the subject. These barriers need to be better understood and addressed.
  • At a broader level, this project suggests that there is value in all local governments drawing on distinctive characteristics of their local communities and adapting their programs and ways of working while being informed and guided by those community strengths.
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