The Beacon Scheme and the Role of Central Government Departments

The Beacon Scheme and the Role of
Central Government Departments
community, opportunity, prosperity
The Beacon Scheme and the Role of
Central Government Departments

                                            Lyndsay Rashman and Zoe Radnor
                            Institute of Governance and Public Management,
                                                     Warwick Business School

                                                            January 2008
                 Department for Communities and Local Government: London
This report has been produced by Warwick Business School under/as part of a contract
placed by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Any views expressed
in it are not necessarily those of the Department.

Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
Telephone: 020 7944 4400

© University of Warwick, 2008

Copyright in the typographical arrangement rests with the Crown.

This publication, excluding logos, may be reproduced free of charge in any format or
medium for research, private study or for internal circulation within an organisation. This is
subject to it being reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading context. The material
must be acknowledged as University of Warwick copyright and the title of the publication

Any other use of the contents of this publication would require a copyright licence. Please
apply for a Click-Use Licence for core material at
pLogin.asp, or by writing to the Office of Public Sector Information, Information Policy
Team, St Clements House, 2-16 Colegate, Norwich, NR3 1BQ. Fax: 01603 723000 or email:

If you require this publication in an alternative format please

Communities and Local Government Publications
PO Box 236
West Yorkshire
LS23 7NB
Tel: 08701 226 236
Fax: 08701 226 237
Textphone: 08701 207 405
or online via the Communities and Local Government website:

January 2008

Product Code: 07LGSR04909
Contents | 1


Chapter 1
Background to the Beacon Scheme and research                                 2
    1.1 Research objectives                                                  2
    1.2 Research design and methods                                          3

Chapter 2
Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government
departments                                                                 5
     2.1 Perceptions of key features of the Beacon Scheme                   5
     2.2 Ministerial involvement                                            6
     2.3 Theme selection process                                            7
     2.4 Beacon award winners’ involvement in other activities              8
     2.5 Relationship between the department and local authorities          9
     2.6 Involvement in stages of award process                            10

Chapter 3
Transfer of learning                                                       13
     3.1 Through the Beacon Scheme                                         13
     3.2 Sharing good practice from Beacons in the department              14
     3.3 Beacons, departmental improvement and capacity building           16

Chapter 4
Impact of the Beacons Systems within the department                        17
    4.1 Impact on policy                                                   17
    4.2 Implications                                                       17
    4.3 Suggested improvements to the Beacon Scheme                        18
    4.4 Co-ordination of the Beacon Scheme within the departments          19

Chapter 5
Conclusions and Implications                                               20
    5.1 Improvement of practice                                            21
    5.2 Learning and policy development                                    22

Appendix 1: Interview schedule                                             23
    Introduction                                                           23
    Section A: Background and Departments role in Beacons                  24
    Section B: Contact and involvement with Beacon award winners           25
    Section C: Transfer of learning through the Beacon Scheme              26
    Section D: Beacons and Policy Context                                  27
2 | Chapter 1 Background to the Beacon Scheme and research

                               Chapter 1
                               Background to the Beacon
                               Scheme and research
                               The Beacon Scheme, first outlined in the 1998 White Paper ‘Modern Local
                               Government: In Touch with the People’ is one of the longest-standing policy
                               elements within the Government’s drive for improvement within local
                               government. It is intended to raise standards and contribute to capacity-
                               building in local government by, firstly, identifying and rewarding innovation
                               and excellence in local authority services and partnerships, and secondly,
                               by providing opportunities for learning in and between local authorities.

                               The Department for Communities and Local Government (formerly Office of
                               the Deputy Prime Minister) and the Improvement and Development Agency
                               (IDeA) have jointly commissioned Warwick Business School to undertake a
                               three year evaluation of the Beacon Scheme. The aims of the research are to
                               evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the Scheme for local authorities and
                               whether the Scheme has an impact on the quality of those public services for
                               which local government is responsible. The programme of research has
                               included both qualitative and quantitative primary data collection, including
                               three national surveys, as well as case studies of selected Beacon and
                               non-Beacon authorities. The research on the role of central government
                               departments, which is the focus of this report, is an important element of
                               the evaluation because it sought the perceptions of representatives of central
                               government departments about their and the departments’ engagement
                               with the Scheme.

                               1.1 Research objectives
                               The overall aim of this paper is to provide an understanding of the range of
                               activities, relationships and contributions made by, and to, central
                               government departments regarding local authority innovation and
                               improvement through the Beacon Scheme. In detail, the objectives were:

                                 ฀ To understand the level of engagement of central government
                                   departments in the Beacon Scheme. The level of engagement was defined
                                   in terms of:
                                   – Support for, and development of, Beacon Scheme themes.
                                   – Contact with, and level of working with, local authority winners of the
                                      Beacon award.
                                   – Policy learning and policy transfer between central government and
                                      local government in both directions, through the Beacon Scheme.
Chapter 1 Background to the Beacon Scheme and research | 3

 ฀ To identify examples of good practice which central departments have
   developed that illustrate how the practices, learning, improvements and
   innovations of Beacons could feed into the policy and practices of central
 ฀ To explore the implications for policy and practice.

1.2 Research design and methods
The central government departments were divided into three types:

 ฀ ‘Service’ departments, e.g. Communities and Local Government,
   Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department for
   Education and Skills (DfES);
 ฀ ‘Corporate’ departments, e.g. Treasury and Cabinet;
 ฀ Internationally oriented departments e.g. Foreign and Commonwealth
   Office (FCO).

This research focused on the first group only because the Beacon Scheme
has largely focused on ‘service-based’ themes. We focused on core
departments not next step agencies, and the focus was on central not on
regional government offices.

The research team conducted summary analysis of the themes over the 7
previous rounds of the Beacon Scheme and identified the theme sponsors in
terms of departments. In addition, advice was sought from external
commentators to select those departments which reflect a range of levels of
engagement and use of the Beacon Scheme. A systematic sample of
departments was developed and 13 interviews were conducted in total
through a combination of face-to-face and telephone interviews with
personnel across the six departments identified (see table 1 below). All
interviews followed a semi-structured interview schedule with questions
geared to the aims of this particular research (see appendix 1). Interviewees
were typically Theme Leads who were nominated to have a formal role in
recent rounds of the Beacon Scheme (Rounds 5, 6 or 7) but a small number
had been involved in earlier rounds or were just becoming engaged and
intended to play a role in future rounds.
4 | Chapter 1 Background to the Beacon Scheme and research

                                 Table 1: Overview of Departments and Interviews
                                 Department                                     Number of interviews
                                 Department for Transport (DfT)                 2
                                 Department for Culture, Media and Sport        2
                                 Department for Education and Skills (DfES)     2
                                 Department of Health (DH)                      3
                                 Department for Environment, Food and Rural     2
                                 Affairs (DEFRA)
                                 Department for Communities and Local           2

                               The team’s findings, as reported below, are organised according to the three
                               areas investigated within the interviews: the links and role of the Beacon
                               Scheme with central government departments; transfer of learning through
                               the Beacon Scheme (both with, and supported by, central government
                               departments); and the impact of the Beacon Scheme within central
                               government departments including policy.
Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments | 5

Chapter 2
Links and role of the Beacon
Scheme in central government
2.1 Perceptions of key features of the Beacon Scheme
Respondents identified three key aspects to the Scheme: identification and
sharing of good practice; identification, implementation and sharing of
innovation; and an opportunity to support policy development.

  “I think it is a combination of good practice, policy implementation.
  Certainly as far as facilitating and promoting best practice is concerned, to
  me that is the central feature of the Beacon Scheme. But also I think post
  award, there’s definitely an opportunity for Beacons to support policy

Departmental responses varied between slight scepticism and outright
enthusiasm for the value of the Scheme as both an award and a learning
mechanism and for the quality of local authority practice that it highlights.
One interviewee suggested that Beacons celebrate good practice but may
represent those authorities that are good at self-promotion.

  “I’m sure that there are lots of others out there doing equally good work
  and are not celebrated quite so much.”

  “It was instrumental in informing our thinking and developing policy
  about local government. It’s also crucial for learning and development for
  the Beacons themselves and for us.”

Theme leads in general expressed a strong commitment and they perceived
potential mutual benefits (i.e. for both central and local government) of
learning from the Scheme: “It’s a more active, living, organic way of doing a
case study – an opportunity to work alongside, get clarity about what local
authorities are doing. See if we could learn anything ourselves.”

In addition, some interviewees perceived the learning from the Scheme to be
of benefit to the Beacons themselves.

Many respondents identified the importance of interpreting policy and
creating improvement at local level and stated that they felt “surprised and
pleased” at both the standard and number of applications to the Beacon
6 | Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments

                                theme. Many reported that local authorities had developed and
                                implemented “innovative ideas that told a great story of local authority
                                engagement (with policy).”

                                One department highlighted the importance of the Scheme for positively
                                encouraging improvement in services through peer support.

                                    “In the past we focused resources on authorities that were struggling in
                                    order to raise standards. What Beacons does is look at this from the other
                                    angle and show authorities that are performing really well and raises their
                                    profile... We’d like to encourage those not performing well to attend
                                    Beacon events.”

                                There was a mix of views about the extent to which the Scheme had
                                changed, which in part depended upon the length and recency of contact
                                that individuals had had with the Scheme. Some respondents suggested a
                                growing importance of local authorities as delivery agents of central
                                government policies in specific policy areas signalled by, for example, a
                                White Paper and ministerial changes. The longevity of the Beacon Scheme
                                was seen as a good thing. The Scheme was seen to be more cross cutting
                                now, with some themes involving two or more departments, which was also
                                seen as a good development. Some perceived a shift of emphasis from
                                excellence to innovation, which was considered to be an important aspect
                                of improving public service practice.

                                One interviewee suggested there was a degree of scepticism about the
                                Scheme in their department and that the Scheme offered only one of a
                                number of means to judge performance. In another department one of the
                                few interviewees who had followed the Scheme from its first years described
                                perceptions of the changes to the Scheme from starting “with a flourish” to
                                having “flopped” a few years later but that the Scheme had recently been
                                “revamped”. A few interviewees did not perceive a change. Those with limited
                                contact in only one round were unable to express a view about changes.

                                Most interviewees reported that prior to their role as theme lead they had had a
                                quite general understanding and limited contact with Beacons. Once involved,
                                they had contact in a specialised theme only, which suggests that for the
                                majority of central government officers, the Scheme is not that well known.

                                2.2 Ministerial involvement
                                Ministerial involvement appeared to be good in some departments with a few
                                examples of Ministers attending Learning Exchanges and mentioning Beacons
                                in their speeches but the pattern varied considerably across and even within
                                departments. Respondents identified various means by which they kept
                                ministers involved including provision of co-ordination, publications and
                                briefings: in some cases contact appeared to be relatively formal and examples
                                given were of contact in writing. Some interviewees were uncertain about
                                how, when and the extent to which ministers became involved.
Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments | 7

  “I’m not sure how involved ministers get until they see the submissions
  from the policy section. They get involved as and when the policy section
  involves them. They are generally interested in the Beacon Scheme.”

  “The minister is involved when the new Beacons are being announced
  through a press release or launch event... but I don’t think the ministers
  have the Beacon Scheme in the front of their mind when they are
  thinking about departmental policies.”

Seniority and continuity of respondents may be amongst important factors
which influence ministerial involvement. Some interviewees appeared to be
on first name terms with ministers and indicated that they were quite relaxed
about approaching ministers directly. For example, one respondent
suggested direct influence by encouraging one minister to approach

  “The lead minister here is not [name of first minister]. It is [second
  minister] so the submission will go to him. But we want [first minister] to
  have a word with him. We want to make sure that of the nine possible
  themes, ours is one of them.”

2.3 Theme selection process
In some departments respondents reported that they had successfully
proposed themes clearly linked to that department’s strategic priorities,
whereas in other departments respondents were not aware of the process of
identifying themes and had not been involved. Internal departmental
divisions meant that individual officers may not have been aware of Beacon
themes that relate to other areas of work within the same department.

  “I suggested themes. I wanted to keep themes as narrow as possible for
  consistency in assessment and a more manageable process, but a broader
  theme was supported… very closely connected with one of the strategic

  “If someone in [another part of department] proposes a theme, I might
  not know.”

  “I don’t recall having any involvement in the selection process. The first I
  heard was when I was told that this theme would be taken forward and it
  kind of fell into my area of work.”

One respondent suggested that there would be value in departments
collaborating to choose themes which would have a wider benefit by
encouraging ‘joined up’ government. Several respondents appeared unclear
or unaware of aspects of the process of, for example, theme selection,
ministerial approval, and panel membership and they suggested that these
issues could be improved by provision of better internal publicity within their
department of the benefits of the Scheme and increased notice and
8 | Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments

                                transparency (from Communities and Local Government) to allow greater
                                opportunity for consultation. Lack of continuity and departmental co-
                                ordination and changes of the theme lead tended to exacerbate such
                                problems. Overall, this was an area where interviewees suggested that
                                increased and timely information was needed.

                                Several departments reported that they had a co-ordinator who generated
                                and managed ideas as potential future Beacon themes, often together with
                                policy lead officers. Once the theme had been agreed by Communities and
                                Local Government and IDeA, the co-ordinator handed the responsibility over
                                to a theme lead. However a respondent from one department suggested
                                that even though there was strong commitment to the Beacon Scheme,
                                there can be lack of continuity where different themes are handled by
                                different parts of the department. This can be compounded by strict work
                                allocation which limits others’ involvement: “I am committed, wanted to
                                have influence and happy to do so – but no-one wants to do the work.
                                Once you’ve got the theme lead, it goes along tram lines.”

                                2.4 Beacon award winners’ involvement in other activities
                                Most of the departments appeared to have extended the involvement of
                                Beacons into a wider range of policy-related activities. There was
                                considerable variation not only between departments but within
                                departments, which included: incorporating materials from and about
                                Beacons on the departmental website; involving Beacons in stakeholder
                                groups; presentation at major events that involved ministers. Beacon award
                                winners were perceived to have credibility with local government colleagues.

                                A range of factors appeared to influence the extent to which Beacon award
                                winners were encouraged to participate and influence policy initiatives.
                                These factors included: the timing of a Beacon theme to coincide with an
                                emergent policy priority; the usefulness of a Beacon to progress a policy
                                initiative or centrally determined target; seniority and / or influence of an
                                individual officer; and individual commitment.

                                    “We choose when we want to be involved because of policy issues.
                                    It seemed the right time for [theme] to improve these links with local
                                    authorities and to fit in with our 2010 targets.”

                                One interviewee expressed regret at missed opportunities in their
                                department to build on the Beacon good practice.

                                    “After the awards, my relationship with the Beacon councils was a bit hit
                                    and miss initially. We were naïve in [department] because we didn’t jump
                                    on that wagon straight away. It was only when I flagged it up that the
                                    department realised we should be using them more with all stakeholders
                                    and disseminating this good practice”.
Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments | 9

Some theme leads from early rounds reported that they have no current
contact, whereas previously they experienced considerable engagement. For
example: “At the time I knew a lot and had a high level of contact… but
nothing now. It was a task and was completed… I was involved afterwards
with dissemination and kept in contact with the winners.”

Where successful relationships had been established and the potential of
Beacon winners’ knowledge perceived and exploited, there were examples
of considerable further activities relating to policy and practice development
in a specific theme (see vignette below: Healthy Communities).

  Vignette: Healthy Communities
  One interviewee described the Health and Equalities PSA targets as a
  major challenge “considered one of the hardest government targets to
  achieve”. The department initiated a programme for action three years
  ago which defined a potential role for local government, built around
  the shared priority for healthy communities and reducing health
  inequalities. “Our work with Beacon councils emanates from this.”
  A Shared Priority Pathfinder Programme was established working with
  the Local Government Association (LGA) and included a small number
  of local authorities which became Beacons, thus creating engagement
  between Beacon councils and the government department. “We were
  looking at other ways of engaging local government beyond this small
  programme and then ODPM very kindly agreed for us to have a healthy
  communities Beacon programme, which for us was perfect timing and
  gave us a very real opportunity for getting a health profile before local
  authorities”. The criteria for Beacon selection evolved from the
  programme of action and the revised design of Comprehensive
  Performance Assessment (CPA), which incorporated a healthy
  communities domain. Some of the award winners came from the
  pathfinder but others were a surprise. The department was able to
  develop a larger base of local authorities that modelled and was able to
  share excellent practice. “We decided through the Choosing Health
  White Paper, to say some very key messages about the co-delivery role
  for local government. This was really built upon the confidence we got
  through the shared priorities programme and through the Beacon
  Scheme.” This White Paper was the first time that a document described
  the crucial delivery role for local authorities.

2.5 Relationship between the department and local
Government departments reported that they often do not have much access
to detailed information about local government context and performance
(e.g. about best practice, poorest performing authorities, local needs) so they
welcomed and appreciated the benefits of identified models of ‘best’
practice from Beacons they can draw on. Beacons provide a ready resource
10 | Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments

                                and a trusted source that help to widen central government departments’
                                knowledge and understanding of a variety of practices and their success
                                factors. Beacon councils were perceived as an ‘expert panel’ for specific
                                policy areas and the Beacon selection and dissemination process provides an
                                opportunity to work closely with and understand local authorities better.
                                Interviewees reported that strengthening links, gaining new contacts and
                                new information about local authority activities through the Scheme helped
                                to build relationships:

                                    “[The Scheme] is a good way of having a special relationship with certain
                                    authorities, in a policy area.”

                                    “The Scheme does strengthen links…it’s an important learning process for
                                    us. It’s an opportunity for local authorities to inform central government
                                    about their ideas and practice.”

                                Respondents were keen to sustain such relationships and some have created
                                specific service or theme based networks, which include high CPA scorers
                                and Beacon award winners in related themes. One department described
                                two purposes of an ‘excellence’ network, illustrative of mutual benefits:

                                    “We will talk to local authorities and take soundings of proposals and we
                                    will get ideas about what should happen next.”

                                A number of respondents suggested that they would find it difficult to
                                formalise the relationship with Beacons. Some said they would welcome
                                support from Communities and Local Government and IDeA to strengthen
                                and maintain relationships. Suggestions included increased lead-in time,
                                sharper theme descriptions at the beginning of the process and support for
                                increased involvement in dissemination and later stages of the Beacon year.

                                    “I think that a more formal process in terms of formalising the vertical
                                    relationship between the department and the Beacons would be difficult.
                                    It is up to each department to decide how best to engage with Beacons.
                                    If we had a bit more encouragement from IDeA, we could be more

                                2.6 Involvement in stages of award process
                                Theme leads reported that they were extensively engaged at all stages of
                                Beacon selection and some played a critical role in setting the criteria for
                                selection and making selection decisions. There was considerable variation
                                between departments. Interviewees explained that selection decisions may
                                involve a huge amount of work, in particular where there are a large number
                                of applications. Theme leads reported taking this role very seriously, so there
                                is a need for those new to the role to be fully aware of the potential time
                                and resource implications. “A huge job...had to read very closely to be
                                consistent.” Clear and challenging criteria made selection easier and a
                                rewarding experience for selectors. A number of interviewees commented
Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments | 11

positively on the role of the Beacon Independent Advisory Panel (and in
particular the Chair of the IAP) which was perceived to be constructively
challenging and rigorous. “Gave us a grilling, very good, made sure we had
a firm basis for decision-making.” One interviewee perceived the selection
process as a valuable learning experience:

  “I found the whole process extremely useful in terms of my own
  professional development and also in terms of obtaining a better
  understanding of the policy we are responsible for and what it means for
  the councils. The whole application and assessment process, from the
  government’s theme lead point of view, was an excellent experience.”

However, it was suggested by a couple of other interviewees that the
Independent Advisory Panel (IAP) should make clear in advance any specific
issues that need to be taken into consideration, so that theme leads could be
adequately prepared. Interviewees agreed that it was useful to have a
common format for criteria but this needs to be flexible and appropriate to a
specific theme. Some reported having concerns about aspects of assessment
such as clarity of selection criteria at a sufficiently early stage and rigour of
the assessment process.

  “I did the initial sift – 24 box files. It was supposed to be based on factors
  such as Best Value scores, CPA scores, ideas on dissemination and public
  satisfaction, MORI data. Almost all of that didn’t manifest itself in our
  case and the contribution it was supposed to make didn’t happen.”

Another concern voiced by several interviewees was that local authorities
that were known from experience to be very good in a given theme had
either submitted a relatively poor application or had not applied to the
Scheme. Respondents were also keen to achieve a good geographical spread
of Beacons across the regions.

A few theme leads had attended the award presentation and had found this
to be valuable for supporting and promoting the theme, as well as the

  “We were there. It felt important to celebrate alongside Beacon councils.
  It was a very happy process – I felt I played a part.”

There were mixed views about the support theme leads received from both
Communities and Local Government, and particularly the IDeA. Some felt
that the support was good and informative. A number of respondents
reported their commitment to the Beacon dissemination and learning
processes, in which they had felt encouraged by the IDeA: “We were invited
at every stage [by IDeA] and were told we’d get out of it as much as we put
in.” They had engaged in providing ideas, support and contribution to
dissemination events, helped to prepare open days, made key note
presentations, quality assured ‘legacy documents’ – particularly in recent
rounds. One interviewee said the IDeA link person had suggested speakers
and provided advice and encouragement to involve the relevant Minister in
12 | Chapter 2 Links and role of the Beacon Scheme in central government departments

                                the launch event. Motivation for participation in dissemination included
                                ensuring linkages with relevant policy initiatives.

                                However, others felt that the IDeA could be more involved in support to the
                                theme development stage, selection, and the dissemination stages (to help
                                build better relationships between the local authority and the department).
                                Continuity of lead officer from the IDeA has been a problem for some and
                                timescales (insufficient notice) for aspects of the selection, award and
                                dissemination processes were recurrent issues. One interviewee expressed
                                concern that publicity for the learning exchange was belated and that the
                                local authorities took the lead on publicity, rather than the IDeA. Other areas
                                which theme leads suggested could be improved included better linkage
                                between themes.

                                    “There’s not been very much joining up between the themes. One of the
                                    other round 7 themes is delivering through partnership... and there could
                                    have been potential for joining up with this Beacon theme but it didn’t
                                    really happen.”
Chapter 3 Transfer of learning | 13

Chapter 3
Transfer of learning
3.1 Through the Beacon Scheme
Interviewees identified a wide range of methods for the transfer of learning
in public services, which included: networks and support mechanisms led by
local authorities, Government Offices in the Regions, cross-organisation
service specific networks (for example Childrens’ Services); local and national
events; websites aimed at sharing good practice; and advisory groups. Most
said that they encouraged use of the Beacon Scheme for this purpose.

Central government officers perceived visits to Beacon authorities to be an
important source of learning for themselves about local authority activities,
as well as for informing other councils about best practice.

  “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. You can’t beat a visit for finding
  out what’s going on and making contacts.”

A visit provided the opportunity to meet people, to explore their concerns,
and help to identify aspects of government policy that require better
explanation, interpretation or policy development. The views of central
government interviewees were consistent with other research into the
Beacon Scheme that face to face interaction was most beneficial for
learning. Several interviewees attended Beacon events such as learning
exchanges, open days and other types of event hosted by the Beacon
authority. They perceived learning exchanges as an opportunity for central
government to engage with local government but this depends to an extent
on individual theme leads and the extent to which they wish to engage.
Many, but not all, theme leads, members of their policy team and even
Ministers went to the Learning Exchanges but only some attended the
open days.

Learning from events could be two-way. A number of interviewees
participated in planning and delivering dissemination events, which
appeared to strengthen relationships, inform internal departmental
programmes and create ideas for further learning activities:

  “We’ve also been to the planning meetings to try and help inform these.
  We’ve very much used the Beacons to help inform our programmes here.
  In terms of trying to roll out the Communities for Health Programme,
  we are planning to do this on a Beacons peer support type model.”
14 | Chapter 3 Transfer of learning

                                  One interviewee suggested that they might put findings from Beacons to
                                  ministers as a way to raise issues and another arranged a meeting with the

                                      “I arranged for the four Beacons to meet with our minister as part of their
                                      dissemination activities.”

                                  Other interviewees made a point of targeting specific Beacon events at
                                  colleagues and officers who worked in the same policy area:

                                      “People went to events if it was in their subject area. If I found something
                                      interesting to different people, I bombarded them with information.”

                                  There were widely varying accounts about the extent to which individuals
                                  and their departments were engaged in the learning process. Whereas some
                                  interviewees collaborated in the design and delivery of learning as well as
                                  attending a range of events, a small number of interviewees perceived
                                  learning transfer to be the province of IDeA or of inter-authority networks
                                  but not their department, except perhaps in an ad hoc fashion. Interviewees
                                  from some departments did not intend to participate in learning events.

                                      “No I haven’t. I think some people from the themes attended but it’s a
                                      job to get the minister to go. But I don’t really see it as something I need
                                      to do.”

                                  3.2 Sharing good practice from Beacons in the
                                  The majority of departments expressed a strong enthusiasm to build learning
                                  networks but acknowledged that government departments needed to be
                                  more proactive and set up more formal mechanisms. Individual departmental
                                  officers demonstrated a range of awareness and understanding of local
                                  authorities – some of which was extensive. One department suggested that
                                  the Beacon Scheme could help to develop relationships with specific local
                                  authorities, based on the perception that good relationships exist already.
                                  However, another department felt that ultimately the capacity building role
                                  and networking should be the responsibility of the regional offices.

                                  Respondents described a variety of methods for disseminating learning but
                                  many departments’ access to the knowledge and expertise was more
                                  informal than ‘formal’: for example gaining views and comments and
                                  invitations onto panels when relevant.

                                      “Beacons are promoted ‘within’, when appropriate, rather than brought

                                  ‘Efficiency News’, distributed within one Division of Communities and Local
                                  Government has profiled Beacon winners as case studies. Within other
                                  departments, criticism was raised about the level of engagement with the
Chapter 3 Transfer of learning | 15

Scheme. It was mentioned that there was a need for better cross-
departmental working, in particular with cross-cutting themes. Too often,
individual government departments were stated as being quite segmented
and consequently one part may not be aware of what was happening in
another part of the same department.

Interviewees provided examples from Beacons where learning had been
applied back within the department. Beacon councils had provided evidence
and case studies that encouraged a change in consumer behaviour that was
“already happening at community level, bearing fruit… and provides a
template of ideas that could work.” DEFRA reported that the department
had set up three projects funded through Beacon Peer Support Fund: local
influence on national policy development; production of toolkits for local
authorities; affordable housing and energy efficiency.

The Beacon Scheme had assisted in the development of a customised
national scheme for green accreditation (DCMS). “One of the Beacon
Councils had a Green Accreditation structure they imported from Scotland
and customised. We have gradually moved towards accrediting a national
Green Accreditation for Tourism.”

Communities and Local Government had developed a Partnership Toolkit
concerned with procurement and efficiency (Gershon) and intended to help
local authorities to develop service delivery partnerships and manage them
effectively. One interviewee suggested that Communities and Local
Government would promote the toolkit through Regional Centres of
Excellence to local authorities on a regional basis. The regional approach to
dissemination reflected a growing interest in ‘place’ and a focus on “what
works locally”, as part of a wider plan to share good practice.

  “When we get hold of these best practice examples, we have guidance
  on dissemination and information on our website. We also have the
  regional centres of excellence. They have a very large role to play in
  spreading best practice examples in councils and producing case studies.”

Within the Health Equities policy group (DH), the policy lead and team
worked closely with the Beacon winners to involve them in further
dissemination and learning activity focused on supporting ‘weaker’ local

Some interviewees were more sceptical about the wider role of
disseminating learning from Beacons or suggested that they were at early
stages and would need to find ways to develop this further.

  “Only really via me being the policy lead in this area.”

  “Hasn’t yet but we’ve got to find a way. The [theme specific] Network has
  potential but would need to connect better with the department – would
  have to be proactive and engage others”
16 | Chapter 3 Transfer of learning

                                  3.3 Beacons, departmental improvement and capacity
                                  Interviewees appeared to have different perceptions of the extent to which
                                  the Beacon Scheme complements their department’s improvement agenda.
                                  Views ranged from fitting very well to not at all in two departments. The
                                  two examples below illustrate the range of responses.

                                      “Fits in very well. We’re constantly trying to improve performance at local
                                      level. We are especially subject to other departments, which organise the
                                      performance framework and determine priorities. Beacon can help get
                                      into the detail.”

                                      “The Beacon Scheme would just be regarded as one very small potential
                                      means of helping implement good practice and policies together with lots
                                      of other ways and means.”

                                  There was much greater uncertainty about the relationship between Beacons
                                  and capacity building. For some departments this appeared to be due to the
                                  relatively limited role of local authorities, compared with other institutions,
                                  for service delivery.

                                      “There is not really any formal capacity building. There is much more
                                      ad-hoc work that goes on, more than formal planning. We’ve promoted
                                      the Beacons with the Government offices, who’ve got the main role for
                                      capacity building so it’s up to them whether they use the Beacon(s) in
                                      their region.”

                                      “We work with delivery partners. Not a lot of direct funding to local
                                      authorities – we work in a roundabout way.”

                                  A few interviewees highlighted the importance of Beacons for creating
                                  innovation but overall, innovation was perceived to be a ‘bonus’ rather than
                                  a main feature of the Scheme

                                      “Local authorities are seen as improvement delivery tools. The Beacon
                                      Scheme provided evidence, case studies, contacts that we didn’t have
Chapter 4 Impact of the Beacons Systems within the department | 17

Chapter 4
Impact of the Beacons Systems
within the department
4.1 Impact on policy
Interviewees’ views were mixed about the extent to which Beacons had
created an impact on policy. Some suggested that the good practice
exemplars had had an impact on policy implementation.

  “There are very important areas where a range of councils have
  demonstrated good practice. All the Beacons showed very robust
  monitoring mechanisms and very new ways and approaches to embed
  and assist [theme] in government decision making.”

Others expressed a degree of cynicism about the extent to which individuals
from other central departments than their own were willing or able to
engage with the Scheme. In one department the respondent perceived the
potential for impact on policy but this appeared to be at very early stages of
development. Interviewees from some departments were interested in the
potential of the Scheme to help to develop local and regional approaches for
transforming services. One interviewee identified the importance of
reference groups that had included Beacon award winners for consultation
on policy formation. Others expressed doubt whether the Beacons had had
any influence within their department, which illustrated some of the
difficulties of knowledge transfer in large, complex departments.

  “I don’t think people in the policy areas are aware of the Beacon Scheme
  unless they have actually been involved in it and that’s usually by a theme
  coming up.”

4.2 Implications
The main opportunities from the Scheme included: the promotion of
examples of good practice, which illustrated how to tackle problems as well
as innovative work; sharing of this expert knowledge with other local
authorities and with central government departments; and potential to
influence policy development. For example, one department identified an
innovative example of policy in action from a Beacon: an ‘integrated
management approach’ in which one manager controlled a service delivered
through what previously had been two separate organisations and different
18 | Chapter 4 Impact of the Beacons Systems within the department

                                    “It was very exciting to go the Beacon councils and see how they were
                                    tackling problems that we thought were insurmountable.”

                                The evidence base from Beacons is useful for government departments. It
                                can provide supportive evidence when arguing to convince colleagues of
                                different service delivery approaches and that local authorities can be
                                effective delivery mechanisms for central government policy priorities.
                                Beacon councils in one theme were perceived to both inform and support
                                policy development, leading to local authorities being involved in helping to
                                meet Public Service Agreements (PSA) targets. Beacons in a second theme
                                had shown robust monitoring mechanisms that helped central government
                                to understand “how things work at the coal face.”

                                On balance many more constraints were cited than opportunities. One of
                                the main constraints was the availability of dedicated time in a specific role.
                                Respondents suggested that if activity related to Beacons was not required
                                as part of a work task, there was limited scope for central government
                                officers to undertake it but it was also argued that personal commitment
                                and perception of potential benefits were important influences. Some policy
                                leads commented that if the potential level of commitment was realised
                                within their department then there may be opportunity to have more time
                                ‘formally’ dedicated to Beacons. This would allow more formal support of
                                the Scheme and its winners, both in dissemination of the practice and
                                influence of policy.

                                    “It’s not seen as a big policy priority. The investment I put in is paying
                                    dividends now – some colleagues have not been as able or willing.”

                                Some departments considered coincidence of timing of a Beacon theme
                                with a policy priority to be more luck than judgement but the associated
                                risks meant that departments could be ill-prepared. Interviewees identified
                                that it was important to identify a departmental priority sufficiently early,
                                involve policy officers who were able to perceive the potential benefits of
                                engagement and at a sufficiently senior level to be able to have an influence.
                                Theme leads need to be able to involve ministers at an early stage and
                                engage colleagues. “Beacon coordinators within departments have to sell
                                the Scheme to policy builders to get them interested and to see its potential.
                                This is not always easy to do.”

                                Another concern centred on the limited involvement of those authorities
                                that did not apply to the Scheme but were seen or known to demonstrate
                                good practice within a particular service or policy area.

                                4.3 Suggested improvements to the Beacon Scheme
                                An area cited by most as in need of improvement was the support for the
                                selection process from the IDeA and Communities and Local Government
                                and co-ordination in general. Suggestions included: increased engagement
                                with departments in selecting themes with a long-term strategic value;
Chapter 4 Impact of the Beacons Systems within the department | 19

better preparation for the assessment process; and reduction in subjectivity
in assessment. Increased consistency of consultants and a greater sense of
working in partnership were amongst suggestions to improve working
relationships. Better communication and co-ordination between the
sponsoring department, Communities and Local Government (in its Beacons
policy role), IDeA and even the local authorities could allow a “smarter”,
more structured approach, to policy development. Departments were keen
to extend their relationship with Beacons. Some were able to develop policy
networks but others perceived a conflict of roles between the sponsoring
department and the IDeA. This suggests that the IDeA may need to offer
increased support to those departments, or divisions of departments, which
have less experience of developing policy networks and reference groups.

  “It has made me think that we need to start thinking how we use this
  current group of Beacons a bit more. I do feel that the IDeA are keeping
  us at arm’s length. This makes it feel likes it’s an ‘us and them’ kind of

4.4 Co-ordination of the Beacon Scheme within the
Some departments had a central co-ordinator, whereas other departments
had a more fragmented approach without a central contact. One respondent
suggested that their department’s Beacon Policy team could help to promote
understanding of Beacons more widely and had the potential to make better
use of Beacons internally.

There were some broad distinctions between departments. Interviewees in
four of the departments reported that there had been continued
involvement with the Scheme for a number of years but in two departments
there appeared to be less involvement than in previous years or less
knowledge about past involvement. Those departments with a central
Beacon contact appeared to express the clearest views and were able to
describe the most extensive impact of the Scheme both on internal
colleagues and on policy development. In addition, in those departments
with consistency in their engagement, there was a more developed
understanding of the processes associated with the selection and
dissemination elements of the Scheme and an appreciation of the linkages
with their improvement agenda.

The departments without a central contact appeared more fragmented in
their internal communications and reported less knowledge transfer and
internal learning through the Scheme. There were some internal differences
between respondents within a single department, suggesting that the
specific policy context, relative policy priority, policy team and level of
seniority of a policy officer may influence engagement in a specific Beacon
theme in a specific year.
20 | Chapter 5 Conclusions and Implications

                                Chapter 5
                                Conclusions and Implications
                                This short report provides some insights into inter-organisational knowledge
                                sharing and policy development between central and local government
                                through the Beacon Scheme. The ‘theme leads’ who were the respondents
                                in this research had a specific role in supporting this policy initiative, which is
                                intended to create service improvement through shared learning.

                                Respondents perceived the Beacon Scheme to serve a number of policy related
                                purposes. They described the Scheme as a virtuous circle, in which firstly policy
                                priorities are identified to inform theme selection, secondly, policy knowledge
                                as well as best practice is shared and thirdly, further policy development
                                opportunities may emerge or may be directed (See Figure 1 below).

                                     Figure 1: Beacon Scheme and Policy Development

                                                                      Selection of Beacon
                                                                      themes for award
                                                                      and knowledge

                                                                      POLICY OBJECTIVES

                                          Identification by central                           Sharing of thematic
                                          government                                          service, corporate and
                                          departments of                                      policy knowledge

                                          POLICY PRIORITIES                                   POLICY LEARNING

                                                                      Development of policy
                                                                      by Beacons and
                                                                      central government

                                                                      POLICY OUTCOMES

                                Importantly, respondents identified the Scheme as a practical opportunity for
                                reciprocal vertical learning between central and local government.
                                Knowledge sharing took place across traditional organisational and
                                professional boundaries between civil servants and local government officers
                                in a diverse range of service themes. Often relationships were formed face to
                                face through learning events, which signals the importance of sharing tacit
                                knowledge and the creation of informal networks (Tacit knowledge is
                                difficult to articulate and is rooted in action and experience). Central
                                government officers explained that they learned a great deal about the role
                                of local government and their good practice.
Chapter 5 Conclusions and Implications | 21

Central government theme leads varied in their ability to influence but some
reported that they had helped ministers to select policy priorities. In this way
they played a major role in identifying the subject matter for policy learning.
Some respondents reported that they encouraged ministerial participation in
learning events with the Beacon authorities, helping to bring together the
different interests represented in knowledge sharing and production about
an emergent policy priority.

Many of the theme leads played an active role in sharing learning, working
alongside Beacon authorities at events and encouraging knowledge sharing
with their own departmental colleagues. They were able to describe
examples of policy networks that had been established as a result of their
engagement with a specific Beacon theme and examples of the continued
role of award winners in policy debate and formation.

Amongst the barriers to policy transfer, respondents cited discontinuity and
the limitations of a relatively short-life role as a theme lead. Inconsistency of
approach and lack of co-ordination within a single department were
amongst barriers to building on the experience of previous Beacon years.
The Scheme provides opportunities for greater inter-departmental

In those departments with a central contact and continuity between Beacon
years, our research suggests mutual benefits from central-local government
collaboration, and an understanding of the processes and relationships of
learning as a catalyst for both service improvement and policy development.

Taking into account the analysis presented above, a number of implications
for practice, learning and policy development could be considered which are
outlined below:

5.1 Improvement of practice
 ฀ Initiate engagement with departments at the earliest stage possible about
   policy priorities. Ideally linkage should be at the most senior level.
 ฀ Request the nomination of (more than one) policy leads and a central
   contact within each sponsoring department per theme. Suggest that
   policy leads from different sections within a single department create
   internal linkages, between Beacon years as well as themes.
 ฀ Suggest that policy leads retain an ongoing role to promote Beacons
   within their department and to support and link with policy leads in
   subsequent years.
 ฀ Clarify through a variety of media the requirements and processes for
   theme leads of each stage of Beacon theme selection, award selection
   process and dissemination process.
 ฀ Encourage greater cross-departmental identification of and selection of
22 | Chapter 5 Conclusions and Implications

                                 5.2 Learning and policy development
                                  ฀ Encourage early thinking about possible role for Beacons in policy
                                    development and as a network or reference group beyond the Beacon
                                  ฀ Increase the face to face contacts between IDeA consultants and theme
                                    leads and be prepared to provide additional support to theme leads in
                                    ‘new’ divisions.
                                  ฀ Encourage policy leads to disseminate learning from Beacons and about
                                    emergent policy related networks widely within their own team, division
                                    and across the department.
Appendix 1: Interview schedule | 23

Appendix 1: Interview
                Long-term evaluation of the Beacon Scheme

     The role of central government departments in the Beacon Scheme

                         Interviews (June/ July 2006)




Organisation phone number:

Interviewee name:

Interviewee phone number:


Thank you for agreeing to take part in this research conducted by the Local
Government Centre on behalf of the ODPM and the IDeA. I will ask you
about your views on the Beacon Scheme - and the ways in which central
government departments can contribute to local authority improvement and
innovation through the Beacon Scheme.

There are four broad areas that I’d like to discuss with you – the departments
role with Beacons, contact with the award winners, learning and Beacons
and the relationship of Beacons with policy.

The information collected will be treated in confidence. Your comments will
be put together with others to gain an understanding of how central
government can and might use the Beacon Scheme both in terms of policy
and practice. Our research will provide general feedback to the ODPM and
IDeA but will not comment on individuals. I will be making notes as we go
through. Your name and role will not be identified in the report to assure
confidentiality. The discussion should take about 20 – 30 minutes.
24 | Appendix 1: Interview schedule

                                 Section A: Background and Department’s role in Beacons
                                 1)   Please would you briefly outline your role and any ways in which you are
                                      involved with the Beacon Scheme?

                                 2)   What do you know about the Beacon Scheme and how much contact
                                      do you currently have with the Scheme. Has your role changed over the
                                      last 2 years in relation to the Beacon Scheme?

                                 3)   How would you define the key features of the Beacon Scheme (e.g.
                                      policy implementation, improving local government etc..?)

                                 4)   Has the role of the Scheme changed, from your Departments

                                 5)   Could you please outline the annual themes which your department has
                                      been involved with?

                                 6)   Has your department’s approach to proposals to Minister for selection of
                                      Beacon themes changed?

                                      –   process of selection of theme

                                      –   type of theme proposed and selected

                                 7)   In what ways could the process of selection of Beacon themes be
Appendix 1: Interview schedule | 25

Section B: Contact and involvement with Beacon award
8)    Does your dept have any mechanisms for involvement with Beacon
      award winners in your department? What are these? How are you

9)    Thinking about each of the main stages of the award, could you tell me
      briefly about how the department is involved with Beacon award
      winners during the Beacon year?
      I’ll got through each of the stages with you - they are:

     – selection;

     – award presentation;

     – planning dissemination;

     – dissemination activity/delivery (attend/contribute);

     – sharing learning from dissemination.

10) How could the relationship between central government department
    and local authorities be strengthened and improved through the Beacon
26 | Appendix 1: Interview schedule

                                 Section C: Transfer of learning through the Beacon
                                 We are interested in how learning is transferred from Beacons to central
                                 government departments and from central government departments to

                                 11) Does your department have any mechanisms for supporting this transfer
                                     of learning both in terms of learning from others and disseminating
                                     learning to others (e.g. encouraging ‘weaker’ authorities to attend
                                     Beacon events)?

                                 12) Has anyone from your Department attended any Beacons event? If so,
                                     how is learning from Beacons brought back into your department?

                                 13) Can you describe an example of good practice in learning from a
                                     Beacon…and has it had an impact on policy or practice?

                                 14) Who do you think benefits most in your department from learning from
                                     Beacons? What potential benefits could there be that are not currently
                                     in place?

                                 15) How could learning from Beacons feed more effectively into policy and
                                     practice of central government?
Appendix 1: Interview schedule | 27

Section D: Beacons and Policy Context
(This section considers the role of the Beacons Scheme in relation to a
Department’s policy process, the degree to which Beacons is integrated and
influences policy development (or seen as an add-on). Also to determine
how the Beacons Scheme is viewed as a policy in itself)

16) In terms of the public service policy context of your Department, would
    you say that changes in policy have made the Beacon Scheme more or
    less relevant?

17) To what extent does the Beacon Scheme fit with your department’s
    improvement agenda? How does it fit in? In what ways does it not
    fit in?

18) To what extent does the Beacon Scheme contribute to Innovation within
    your Department? (Ask for definition of ‘Innovation’)

19) What links, if any, are there between Beacons and the formal planning
    of improvement and capacity building?

20) What do you see as the main opportunities and constraints of the
    Scheme for your Department especially in relation to policy
You can also read