I am excited to see the Wandsworth Challenge finally launch a public face this week. I know that some might be sceptical, even cynical, about it; but I’m not one of them.

I’m excited in large part because it marks a new way of working for the council. Wandsworth has been remarkably successful at running a strongly managed council over the years, but as times – and people – change so must the council. They may be fads to some, but the latest thinking on things like nudge, the impact of our social network, or collective wisdom can only add to the strong foundation of effective management and financial control.

I’m also excited because there has been some interest expressed already. It may be that I’m more aware of it but I don’t recall any other time while I’ve been on the council that I’ve had such extensive conversations with people about how the council works.

And part of my excitement is because I believe in the Big Society. Let’s be clear, Wandsworth Challenge is not the Big Society, but there are considerable overlaps and you it’s possible to consider one a subset of the other (or as two parallel policies). That we have launched a Big Society fund adds to the potential for small projects to take off.

But if anything troubles me it is the what the public response will be. Will it consist mainly of accusatory suggestions (sack Town Hall fat cats?), or ideas that are entirely outside of our remit (bring back hanging, or at least hard labour), or will it be the worst of all: a deafening silence (because people are so used to the public sector doing everything, they do not see any value in contributing).

One of the key success criteria will be the amount of workable ideas that come from frontline staff and the public. I’ve spent time today hopefully encouraging one of the teams in my portfolio to throw themselves into the Challenge. And something I’ve given a lot of thought too (and had a lot of good advice from others, but still not fully reconciled) is how we make the process transparent; there can’t be anything worse than seeing your idea disappear into a black hole never to return.

But there must be hundreds, thousands of good ideas out there. Some may be radical, some might be simple. Some impossible to implement and some done in a day. But every single one of us has been in the situation of dealing with a public service and thinking “this would be so much better if only…”

So what are your experiences? Is there a small tweak or a radical overhaul would make your dealings with the council better?

One of the suggestions when I asked for ideas for the blog last week (and I’m still looking for ideas or suggestions, feel free to add a comment or email cllr@jamescousins.com) was a regular ‘report’.  Of course, reports can take many formats, but I thought I’d give it a go.

I’m going to trial this for a few weeks to see how it works.  I will state from the outset that I’m a little sceptical about the value and have some caveats.

The main reason I’m sceptical is because it just cannot be exhaustive.  Using the example of meetings, while I can list the meetings I’ve attending, some are confidential or will have confidential parts.  Indeed, even where those meetings aren’t explicitly confidential I feel that, unless they are public, it would benefit no-one if they felt anything they said would end up on a blog.

Moving on to work in the ward, again, the confidentiality issue rears its head.  Casework often involves highly personal matters that I simply cannot disclose.  Even when dealing with broader issues residents expect a degree of discretion because of concerns about relationships with neighbours, for example.  Earlier this year I privately started mapping my work in the ward but decided it was not suitable for publication because there were so many privacy issues involved.

More fundamentally, there’s the question of what merits inclusion.  To give an example I started the week spending a lot of time working on the launch of our Neighbourhood Watch strategy for next week.  I’ve also spent time trying to organise a meeting for residents of Eccles Road.  While the launch and meeting would probably be reported when they happen, is the preparation of one more worthy of inclusion than the other?  My instinct is to include Neighbourhood Watch because it affects the whole borough, but an Eccles Road resident might well think I’ve made the wrong call!

Above all, I wonder how useful it will be to a Shaftesbury or Wandsworth resident.  I already use the blog to mention particular meetings and events and where casework has wider implications or raised by a few people independently I tend to write something about it here like I recently did in dealing with foxes.  It might be the ‘report’ is little more than a summary of the past week on the blog, with details of a few meetings here and there.

But I am also a public servant and you could argue any report, however imperfect, has to be better than no report.  So on that basis I’m going to provide them for a few weeks to see how they develop, how well they are received and then assess whether or not they are worthwhile.