I work In Rochdale, Greater Manchester as part of a team of people working together across public services. We work in the neighbourhoods with the highest level of demand for crisis services. One of the problems with being busy—and there are huge demands on our services—is that there is not enough time to reflect. That’s why it is so useful to take a break to think about doing things differently.
Frustrations for practitioners and volunteers in the system
It’s not easy working in partnership; bringing services together. But there are theories and models to help us do that which advocate looking beyond the traditional approach to problem solving of we have a problem: we must find a solution and train our staff to we have a problem: we must look at the whole system, causes, unintended consequences of decisions and the effect of change on different groups to see the problem effectively and…. Ooh, let’s train our staff.
The systems thinking version is slightly different with an emphasis on behaviour change rather than service delivery, but the effect can be the same. The underlying message to the workforce—within this I include volunteers and active citizens—is: you’re not good enough – you must do something more!
There’s an emphasis on capturing impact; telling the story, along with the inevitable case study to back it up. These things are important, of course, but so often I’ve looked at what was intended to be an inspiring story of system change and seen what is really a devastating tale of repeated failure and ignorance of real need until it was ‘almost’ too late. Again, there is an underlying message to our workforce there. Be a hero. Go the extra mile. Rescue people. Impact capture is important. But as well as the use of impact evidence to maintain the status quo and keep things going, we need to look beyond that. What does that impact evidence tell us about how our contracts and service agreements need to change? How can we systematise this change so it becomes normal and not yet another innovation or pilot?
Giving things a go
In the report, Paul Donaghy makes the important point that leadership skills must focus on outcomes rather than activity. Perhaps, for a way of trying this we could look just a little further in the report for Dafydd Rhys’ refreshing reminder that we should learn from post-colonial cooperative models – making ‘behaving cooperatively’ as important a measure of change as achieving x number of whatsits. Right, well let’s give that a go then!
So we’re trying, in Rochdale, to pay attention at a strategic level, at the evidence of change happening as well as the percentage and number of interventions we provide. In the birthplace of co-operation, we should understand what this means, of course. But in reality, there’s a confidence and a little bit of rule-breaking needed to truly behave co-operatively. So that’s what our workforce need to know about: they need to feel that they are trusted to behave co-operatively. Vicky Duckworth and Rob Smith make the point, later in the report, that we should nurture cross-disciplinary working. This is as much about creating the conditions whereby people can get on with and learn to trust each other through shared working as it is about sharing workforce development opportunities.
Getting out more
I think it’s important that we take every opportunity to remind ourselves of these truths so eloquently shared by the think piece authors in the report. I’m often heard, at work, jovially telling people that they need to ‘get out more’. It’s so easy to make decisions in silos, allocate resource, commission, set and monitor targets based on data or statutory duty alone.
And yet a world of reality check already exists. But it’s ‘out there’…. Dragana Ramsden reminds us of this in the report, in her provocation about power sharing and giving up our specialisms.
In Rochdale, we’ve recently started working on a transformation programme, looking at how our customer service and call centre works. We’ve seen all of the thinking – the normal ‘staff training’ response, the systems ‘change-behaviour-through-training-and-support’ response and we’ve also seen this wonderful ‘human’ response which has come from our call centre team along with a group of citizens.
Their solution is this: bring people together, encourage and recognise cooperative behaviour and give them what they need to do what they know they can. Within this they see themselves as both educator and learner; as navigator, generalist, connector and importantly, attention payer. We’ve used the report to help us work out where to start.
I can’t wait to see where it takes us next!
HELEN CHICOT is Place Integration Lead, working in Rochdale Borough Council’s neighbourhood teams. She works with a small multi-agency team in small neighbourhoods to develop and test ways of working that reduce vulnerability and crisis. A passionate advocate of the benefits of education, Helen considers access to learning to be a right.
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