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Maximising the ‘co’ in collaboration at Highways UK

Maximising the ‘co’ in collaboration at Highways UK

Why should we – what’s at stake?

For this week’s behind the scenes blog for the Local Authority Hub at Highways UK on 6-7 November 2019, I’m exploring this question with Ashley Prior FCIHT, Head of Highways Services at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.

Ashley reflects on his experience with the team at Proving Services, who run the Future Highways Research Group, at Cranfield University. Solihull Council is a member of the group, and have been using the tools that the team have developed to improve value for money in highways contracts.

Ashley begins: ‘In my previous experience, I had built trust and respect and maximised the input from the contractor and supply chain – seamlessly as one, using Early Contractor Involvement (ECI), which we had termed walk, talk and build.

So when I joined Solihull Council as Head of Highways, I was surprised to find issues between the client and the contractor, and the contract was not delivering to its full potential.

What did this look like?  Sniping, blame, over-promising, under delivery, incorrect treatments, no challenge, duplication – “we’d better do it as they won’t bother” – late bills, poor communication, invoices in dispute.

I naively thought I could correct this through the application of my previous experience in early engagement, walk, talk and build projects (where members of both team meet on site to plan to design and delivery of the project). My style was: “we’ll just talk to them and sort it out” ! Unfortunately this didn’t work. I thought to myself: “you’ve agreed on site, how can it go wrong”? “Aren’t you talking”?

It was clear that my instinctive approach to building trust was not working for all and that we were going to need some structure and some leadership bravery to try something new’.

Ashley explains that the book ‘Tribes’ by Seth Godin was invaluable in helping to understand the benefits of creating connections with those from inside and outside our own teams, and that this should be the primary aim of any organisation seeking to improve. He explains that it’s about making connections across networks and realising that these are fundamentally about people – trust, respect and communication.  Our effectiveness is borne of the links we create at all levels both within and beyond our own organisations.

Does this feel familiar?

I wonder how much of Ashley’s experience feels familiar to you? As a sector we are aware we could do much better at collaborative styles of working. Many attempts have been made, through various working groups, reports, guides, standards and policies to integrate these needs into practical on-the-ground approaches.

But many readily accept we haven’t achieved as much as we need to, deeply or quickly enough.

We are, after all, working to change decades of mindsets and mentalities, across many organisations, whilst delivering business as usual, and adjusting to shifting political and cultural priorities.

Here is a classic example: We (the client) have decided we need a large, all encompassing contract which takes 2 to 3 years to set up and cost millions of pounds to prepare. The contractors have vast resources which we make scant use of.

We no doubt think of contractors – ” the last lot weren’t much good – these are bound to be better”

But why should this be when we are all still the same, with our same attitudes and tendencies to keep things close to our chests!

How would you solve it?

Now, back to Ashley’s experience in Solihull. How did he solve it? Proving Services have created a series of tools that help the Future Highways Research Group members to improve aspects of contract performance around efficiency, effectiveness and aligning to strategic goals.

Ashley explains: ‘The elephant in the room was that each team did not appreciate the other’s worlds and their primary objectives. The mutuality approach developed by Proving Services built on their successful analysis of what makes a good contract, with all its associated inputs and outcomes. The same approach of identifying core factor sets had been applied to mutuality and this allowed both leadership teams to jointly review the current status of the contract.

The specific factor set for mutuality includes things like: communication, trust, joint messaging, mobilisation and decommissioning. Each factor is considered and scored in terms of level and confidence. The lower scores tend to jump out and provide a starting point.

We agreed the top themes which included roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, communication  ,behavioural competencies and trust indicators and then scheduled workshops to follow.

Meetings were hosted by a nominated impartial officer and included representatives at different levels from either side.

Over a number of sessions the relationship improved and the last one I attended was very positive and honest, with good feedback from both parties – few complaints, and good quaility work. Not perfect, but certainly improving.

We are working together over the coming years to improve the contract through the establishment of a Service Improvement Plan which has agreed objectives for each year of the contract; we also have an innovation forum and share apprentices through an agreed training programme.


Join Ashley Prior (Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council) and Andy Perrin (Proving Services) live at the Local Authorities Hub at Highways UK, on 6 November 2019, to learn more about the Ashley’s experience, Proving Services tools, and share your experiences of building more effective collaborative teams with your supply chains. 

Tickets are free, and attendance is accredited for CPD by CIHT. See what else is available for Local Authorities, and secure your place today.

[image credit: “Hyman Pyramid” by lamped is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ]

Busting congestion: delivering live road closure information to sat-nav devices at Highways UK

Busting congestion: delivering live road closure information to sat-nav devices at Highways UK

‘How many people believe our local authorities provide accurate data to the smartphones and satnavs that we use’?

This was the question asked as part of a collaborative research project unveiled this autumn that helps put power back into the hands of local authorities to control the accuracy of information on road closures under their jurisdiction.

The team discovered a big misconception — that many people believe their local authority would be in a position to be able to provide accurate, up-to-date information on road closures to our devices. In reality this is not the case.

Or it was, until now.  For the last 18 months, Elgin, Ringway, Ringway Jacobs, Hertfordshire County Council and Essex County Council have been developing a new tool collaboratively that enables on-site highways teams to communicate live with Sat Nav service providers and control when roads are open and closed in real time on journey planner and satnav maps.

Ringway and Ringway Jacobs provide highways term maintenance services to Hertfordshire and Essex Councils.  When they need to do works on the highways, they apply for a temporary road closure from the council. The road space is booked for a period of time to allow the works to take place, and this duration is published and accessible through Elgin’s one.network service. However, it is unusual for the road to actually be closed for the entire duration of the roadspace booking. For drivers, finding roadworks signs or closures set up without any evidence of works taking place can be the cause of immense frustration.

The team wanted to change that. So they’ve been exploring a means of notifying when the road is actually closed and then open again, and getting this information to people in real time.

To do this they have developed mobile app for optimal use on a tablet or smartphone that gives the on-site highways maintenance teams the ability to open and close the road live, at the touch of a button, and know this will be instantly updated on satnavs.

For the staff out on site, their use of the tool has reduced hassle and abuse from drivers. The app has helped tackle a recent increase in abuse towards roadworkers.

This type of solution may seem simple, but it is the result of an intense collaboration between key organisations. Without having the patience, trust and foresight to understand the bigger issues and learn about what’s possible and what’s needed for all involved, it would almost certainly not have delivered the success that it has.

This project is one of a number of initiatives to help reduce congestion on our roads by improving the availability of accurate information on closures and disruptions, as well as improving efficiency in systems and services. This paper from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in 2018 provides a useful overview of this landscape.

Learn more from the team behind this award-winning solution on the Local Authority Hub at Highways UK on 6 November 2019.  This session is the third of a three-part series beginning with an overview on StreetManager from DfT, and making the most of Permit Schemes from Jeff Elliott, West Sussex County Council.

Tickets are free, and attendance is accredited for CPD by CIHT. See what else is available for Local Authorities, and secure your place today.

[Image credit: Ringway / Ringway Jacobs slide deck presentation]

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