The interview technique was piloted with Manchester City Council which had the longest running strategy (launched in 1996). A different set of questions was asked of the lead officer, and of other participating council officers or organisations individuals. Following modification and clarification, the conveyancing works format was used with the other five authorities. The interviews were also tape recorded, where permitted, to ensure a comprehensive record of each interview.
The results were subsequently analysed to identify both benefits and pitfalls of this method of strategy development. Interviews were conducted with the lead officers and other workshop participants from Ashfield, Barking and Dagenham, Derbyshire Dales, Luton, Manchester and Wolverhampton. The term ‘authorities’ refers to the feedback from the local authority lead officer, and ‘participants’ refers to those workshop participants from other organisations who were interviewed. The most positive aspect of the strategy development process, from the viewpoint of lead officers. has been cooperation and greater awareness of affordable warmth, both from within the authority and from other organisations.
The strategies have united people and created a solid foundation on which to build. Most of the authority officers had some knowledge of the concept of Affordable Warmth but none had carried the subject forward as a strategy prior to NEA’s involvement. Those who were working in the area tended to concentrate on particular topics without exploring the whole spectrum of issues raised by Affordable Warmth. The strategy development process helped to bring together areas which were previously worked on in isolation, and to introduce a coordinated approach to the work.
The other main benefit was raising awareness of issues to consider within the strategy. The involvement of an external facilitator who approached the authorities to initiate and support the strategy. development clearly had a positive impact, and in most cases was seen as a catalyst for collaborative working which had not previously occurred. All six authorities were generally pleased with the involvement with NEA, as it gave respectability and credibility to their strategy. This external facilitation encouraged more people and organisations to become involved and provided a ‘neutral’ focus without any political involvement or preconceptions. The involvement of independent facilitators also created enthusiasm as they took the initiative and got people working together in the workshops. The following are some of the comments from lead officers who were asked about the benefits of strategy development.