It's been an intense 30 hours! Just back from Birmingham where a team of four of us went down to further develop our GeniUS York project and to share our experiences with the other 16 short listed councils on the NESTA Creative Councils project.

We got there at dinner time last night and met all the other council teams at the Fazeley creative business centre (a beautiful converted church in the heart of Birmingham) for some dinner and a catch up and to represent our project so far through a picture we had sent in advance. (The image we used is the collage on the photo section of the GeniUS York site.) We had some lovely responses from people after our 'picture pitch', which was really encouraging.

The evening opened with a talk by the NESTA Executive Director of Public Services Lab, Phillip Colligan, where he reflected on his experiences of the project so far, expressed his enthusiasm for what we had all achieved to date and encouraged us to keep going! He also reinforced his feelings on the importance of transformational changes like the ones we are developing to evolve the way councils operate and be ready for the future.

We reconnected with Monmouthshire council who are working on their 'Big Deal' project, working to develop an ‘intrapreneurship’ programme, to change the structure of the organisation to be more innovative and to build new frameworks and partnerships to encourage innovation. We have invited them to York to tell us all more about their project and to see how we can help each other through our experiences and learning. They are fantastic folk, really enthusiastic, passionate and great fun to be around!

Over dinner I was chatting to Paul from Brighton and Hove Council about their 'We Live Here' project, which uses social media technology to engage the community and connect them with public sector organisations. He is also working on another project developing an app to put in the new government cloud which will bring together shared access to client information for GPs, carers an other social support staff. Really interesting and useful stuff!

Day two kicked off with more information from Phillip about what we had to do to prepare in advance of the phase 2 selection process. We all listened attentively and heard that we need to send a proposal (in no pre-defined format, so film, images, all sorts could be used) which explains the project so far – what are the problems we are addressing, what is the solution we are proposing, how the two link up, how we will shape the solution and how we will shape and scale up the process as we carry on. As the selection panel has to go through 17 of the proposals, we are now thinking about how to make ours compelling and a bit different. So get your thinking caps on folks. All suggestions appreciated and the deadline for that is the last week in April. We may be presenting to the panel in may and we will all find out the final verdict by the end of May. Fingers crossed we get their continued resource and support! (Don't worry, GeniUSYork will carry on if we don't but with phase two funding and the national support NESTA can offer, we could really ramp up achieving and exceeding our ambitions.)

We then got into the nitty gritty of the day – led by Charlie Leadbeater, innovation wizard and great speaker and facilitator. We broke into groups and discussed some of the challenges we were collectively facing (all folded neatly inside golden envelopes) 'The Lucky Dip'. These included how to go from ideas to implementation, how to manage the relationships with all the people interested in or influencing the projects and how to embed an innovative culture.

We then split up and pitched our ideas to groups followed by a question and answer session where the group had a chance to discuss the project in more depth, positively challenge and suggest improvements and feedback to us what they thought of the ideas. A really good session which gave us some new stuff to think about, and made us appreciate more some good qualities the project has around the local community buzz and the desire the GeniUS York community has to make things better.

Cornwall's 'Big Design Challenge' has similarities to our project with more of a focus around visual mapping and co-design, but there may be real scope to work together in the future and pool our expertise and experiences. They are also developing a new site called 'Ideas are Beautiful'. I am looking forward to learning more from them.

After lunch we talked more about the possible issues we may face driving our projects forward and how we navigated through any problems so far. But it wasn't negative, we shared the positive stories too.

The final session was where Charlie had us drawing 'super innovation heroes' and 'anti innovation villains' to visualise and understand the characteristics of both – a bit of light relief for the last 10 minutes after we had spent some time reflecting on what we had learned during the day. There is always a 'surprise' during Charlie's sessions...I noticed the jolly roger flag still stuck to the top of the wall in the venue after the 'spaghetti challenge' exercise we did with him the last time we were there. He-he is that what they call 'disruptive innovation'?

We finished the day mentally saturated, exhausted but also invigorated and looking forward to getting stuck into the first of our workshops on Monday. We are now more convinced than ever that GeniUS York can make a real difference and can grow to greater and greater things with a bigger and bigger impact on the city, its people and its future! NESTA bring it on!

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