Introducing the Open ExCHANGE Collective

This is a collaborative guest post co-ordinated by Clare Salmon – Change Manager at Cornwall Council.
Contributors include: Sara Cretney – Organisational Change Manager @ Devon County Council, Ben Rom – Organisational Change manager @ Cornwall Council, Anne Barnett – HR Performance Manager @ Devon County Council, Jason Williams – Customer Standards and Digital Mgr @Cornwall Council and Carl Haggerty – Digital Comms Mgr @ Devon County Council.

Open Exchange Collective (OEC)

The Open Exchange Collective is a group of like-minded individuals connected by a passion for collaboration across the public sector. It evolved from discussions about public sector collaboration, and the gap that exists in terms of reaching out beyond organisational boundaries. It is a practical response to a very real challenge facing many of us operating in and around public services, and the frustrations we often face on a day to day basis that prevent us from delivering services as effectively as we would like to. It has emerged, in part, from the efforts that are being made to move to a single digital interface for all public services, specifically discussions around the culture and skills that will be required for a truly joined-up public sector. Whilst the genesis of this collective is digital collaboration and digital is a key tool for achieving the sort of collaboration required, the OEC is broader than digital in scope.

What is the problem?

Currently public services are fragmented, and the old adage ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ does not always fell like it applies to the totality of those operating within or around this space. For many of us, this is a source of frustration. We recognise the need for a platform to foster the sort of culture required to make progress in this space, to equip us with the skills, support and contacts that will help us to make positive changes.

The public sector agenda is currently framed by a narrative of budget cuts, increasing service pressures and a seemingly never ending barrage of criticism. In amongst of all this are hundreds of hard working, committed and passionate individuals who want to make a difference but who often feel that they don’t have the support, the permission or the means to do so. We want to contribute to a new narrative, one that promotes bottom up change, distributed leadership and seizing the opportunities that emerge from these challenges through collaboration, sharing and empowering.

For public services in the South West, there are some particular challenges around our rural characteristics and being removed from the city agenda. Connectivity, particularly physical connectivity is often seen a blockage for those of us in more peripheral locations. However it is precisely because of this that we see connectivity, particularly virtual connectivity, as a key enabler. We can overcome this remoteness in physical terms by actively investing in our virtual connectivity and the relationships and culture that can turn the challenges into our greatest strength. It is simply about people working well together.

This is a movement that recognises the need for organisational boundaries and hierarchies, but promotes the value of thinking outside of these boundaries and stretching the remit of traditional roles. It is about looking at how we interact as a whole system, and asking ourselves ‘are we working together for the better of the service user?’

Sometime, if we are honest, we allow these structures and boundaries to limit us. Through the OEC we are promoting a culture that supports stepping outside of these limiting perspectives without losing focus on the job in hand. Constructive disruption is a tool for positive change, and we hope to provide the spaces where new questions can emerge, prompting new ideas and tangible change.

Many of us in the public sector are all too familiar with the narrative around the need for innovation and creativity in the public sector, but often we find that our ability to think creatively is inhibited by the prevailing culture. Through the OEC, we aim to nurture the sorts of behaviours and tools that enable us to challenge limiting perspectives so that we foster a culture of innovation and change.

What is the OEC?

It is an open group, membership is voluntary, and has been established to provide the following:

  • Sharing of knowledge, ideas, experiences and resources
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Connecting people and fostering collaborative working
  • Supporting innovation and creating the conditions required for changes

Membership is open to everyone who is either working in the public sector or connected to the public sector (users, providers of services, suppliers etc.) and is based upon a common understanding and the following principles:

  • Collaborative working
  • Open ideas
  • Peer support
  • Experiential learning – learn by doing
  • Whole systems approach to change
  • Co-creation
  • Removing the barriers to collaboration

The vision for the OEC is:

The OEC is a grass roots movement that has at its heart the desire to create the conditions for change in the public sector through proactive collaboration. To do this, we aim to create a networked entity that will support the growth and learning of those working in and aligned to the public sector in the South West through collaboration, sharing and constructive challenge.  It is a non-hierarchical group, everyone is welcome. It will grow and evolve according to membership, and will offer practical tools for collaboration and evolution, such as:

  • Mentoring
  • Skills framework
  • Leadership development
  • Facilitation
  • Time banking
  • Collaborative design
  • Case studies

All that we ask is that members are comfortable to make the following commitments to support the growth of themselves, the group and the wider public service landscape:

  • Share stories/experiences and learning; blog, talk, mentor, share successes but also failures
  • Ask for support & offer support (coaching/mentoring)
  • Take a whole systems approach to change, actively seek different perspectives
  • Challenge yourself and constructively challenge your peers
  • Seek opportunities to collaborate
  • Take a creative approach to problem solving
  • Reflective practise
  • Embrace opportunities to network

If you are interested, leave a comment


4 thoughts on “Introducing the Open ExCHANGE Collective

  1. Matt Louis


    Think we share many of the same challenges and opportunities here in Dorset so am happy to get involved!

    Look forward to hearing from you!


  2. Jo Pavitt

    Hi there! I’m Jo and I work for the Borough of Poole. For the last 2 years I’ve been promoting systems thinking throughout the Borough with a series of 1 day events on an Introduction to systems thinking, Mapping the Flow, Measuring Success and Facilitating Workshops which I facilitate with my colleague-in-change, Jon. Our training is based on the Vanguard method and we have had success in drumming up enthusiasm and appetite from staff who are, as you say, seeking permission to ‘do something different.’ We have been running Lunch & Learn sessions on a monthly basis where people share stories of their successes and failures, both staff from Poole and others from Dorset and local company Liverpool Victoria. I’ve also organised two ‘showcases’ in the Borough this year to promote the activity, reviews and learning that has taken place in the last couple of years which I can recommend as a great way of raising your profile. Coincidentally, I have just launched ‘The Knowledge Exchange’ in Poole – a similar idea to our Lunch & Learns but now events are open to anyone (not just systems thinkers) and may be on any subject. Like you, we’re looking to share learning on any subject and use and train our people more effectively. I would love to extend this network to the OEC and share more learning, knowledge & experiences with you. You’re also very welcome to join us for any of our Knowledge Exchanges or training if you are interested. I can email across information and dates on request. Looking forward to hearing more about other activity in the South. Merry Christmas!


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