Management during a City Expo and an innovative journey – Example from Helsingborg Sweden

How do you manage during a 35 day long city fair which is the result of a 3 year long innovation journey? And what skills do you need to have in order to manage this?

From May 30 till July 3 there sure was a buzz in the city of Helsingborg, Sweden. During these 35 days Helsingborg City invited inhabitants, employees, and visitors to explore H22 City Expo. The overall theme for H22 was innovation for a smarter and more sustainable city. Within the theme, there was something for all ages and tastes – housing and design, national and international conferences, food and culture, entertainment, and family activities.

The H in H22 stands for Helsingborg and 22 alludes to the year 2022 when the city fair H22 City Expo was held. H22 is also a nod to the previous fairs H55 and H99, even though those fairs were much more limited in focus and in length.

The city’s work with H22 consisted of two parts:

  1. A city-wide investment in innovation. It is about the journey itself towards a smarter and more sustainable city.
  2. H22 City Expo – A stop where light was spread on everything that has been achieved until 2022.

During the past years, employees in the city of Helsingborg have had the opportunity to explore and apply for funding to test new ideas and innovations. The public library of Helsingborg has for example been working with co-creating together with citizens to find out the needs and ideas in a new (and rebuilt) library in 2026 https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/initiative/development-and-rebuilding-of-the-city-library/. Also the library has a project collaborating with the University of Lund, on “The sustainable/resilient workplace” https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/initiative/sustainable-workplace-a-collaboration-and-research-project/. Digidel 2.0, exploring how to develop the digital competence center of the library is another example of the work https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/initiative/digidel-2-0/.

The results of the innovation work so far was presented during various talks and presentations under the 35 days. This meant that at the same time as keeping business running as usual, the library staff also were involved in many different activities. At the same time employees could work as volunteers during the H22. Of course this affected both the employeeship as well as leadership and management skills. All managers of the city of Helsingborg has during the last three years gone through a management skill program called “Samspel Helsingborg” (= interplay/interaction Helsingborg). This program has given us the skills needed in moving from New Public Management into a Trust Based Management model and has been key to the success of the innovative movement.

The guiding principles in Trust Based Management is according to The Swedish Delegation of Trust:

  • Trust – and have positive expectations
  • Focus on the Citizen – their experience and knowledge, understand what is needed
  • Comprehensive/holistic view – everyone take responsibility for the whole
  • Space for action – delegate powers and mandates, welcome co-decisions
  • Support – closely as part of the core business (rather than central)
  • Knowledge – reward continuous learning
  • Openness – share information, welcome dissent and respect criticism

My reflections on some management skills that were of importance before, during and after this period of innovation and City Expo is:

  • Involvement in strategy and business plan – involve all staff in the strategical planning as well as the operational planning of the library business. Make real use of all the knowledge within the organization and ensure that everyone knows where we are heading. Follow up together with the staff, so that everyone see how the work proceeds.
  • A culture of participation – ensure to build a culture where both staff and users gets involved and participate in the development work.
  • Trust – really manage by trust and let go of control. Let the employees use their skills and solve different situations using their full potential and experience. Keep the written routines and rules to an absolute minimum as it is impossible to foresee what will happen and there is a risk that every situation makes you write a new routine instead of focusing on doing the job and solving the situation.
  • Brave – be brave and have the courage to let go of things. Delegate a lot and let others solve the issues in their way, using their skills and expertise. Be sure to enjoy when things turn up in another way than you expected.
  • Make mistakes and learn from them – ensure a culture where it’s really ok to make mistakes. A culture where you don’t try to avoid making mistakes or try to find who did the mistake and blame them. Instead celebrate the mistake and learn from it. Most important as a manager here is to really walk the talk and do the same thing as you say.
  • Communicative skills – keep the communication open and transparent in all directions so that everyone knows where to find the information needed and communicate when things needs to be acted on. Listen (don’t just hear) what people are communicating and act. Also use communication as a learning tool so that every day gives a learning experience.
  • Together – we do this together. This is really of utmost importance as no one can have all the skills, expertise, know the solutions and work on complex issues alone. No one has the answer by themselves. Especially the manager does not know everything in the complex world we are living in. Those working close to the library users usually are the ones with the best solution and they need to get the mandate and tools to act. Other businesses and organizations have skills within their areas. Find those, collaborate and network and make them flourish. We need to do it together.

For us at Helsingborg Library it was also important to use the City Expo so that everyone within the staff could get the opportunity to learn new things from everything going on during the expo. We therefor said that all staff could use up til 8 hours each, to take part and participate in different events to improve their skills and to get inspired by what others do. Often you can get new ideas for your library business by talking and listening to other kinds of services and see how they meet different challenges. We used this as a learning opportunity. And importantly, we did not ask for details on what the staff did, we trusted that they used this time to learn for their and the libraries future.

Further information on the H22 City Expo is available at: www.h22cityexpo.se

Information on different innovations we have worked on in the city can be found at: https://innovation.helsingborg.se/en/

The H22 City Expo program content was arranged by administrations, companies, and H22 Partners – that is, companies, academia, and organizations that have chosen to become partners with the City of Helsingborg and H22.

Catharina Isberg, Library Director, Helsingborg Sweden

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