I have been working with a council who, like all of the public sector in the UK, needs to reduce costs - and maintain or improve service. Luckily they did not want to go down the route of simply reducing activities, the director was aware of other approaches. Two years prior, he had already re-organised his Anti Social Behaviour (ASB) officers into a Community Protection group. And they had direct access to working with other council services, social care and mental health through the MASH. Some of these services had been formed in to an integrated Hub.
So, with a Hub what was more of there to achieve, it looked like it was all working well? The director still thought there were improvements to be made. And he was right. I took a small team of front line staff through two steps;
Phase 1 - get knowledge
We looked at the current system, and these are some of the highlights of what we found for ASB;
43% demands actually go unresolved, especially those sent to the MASH.
25% were repeat demands
80% people they dealt with related to the council social housing tenants
The officers were only able to actually add value in 33% of cases.
The front-line team and the managers were shocked! They were already formed into a Hub, so they thought they were working in an good integrated way. This information was unknown to the managers as no-one in the current system was paying attention to this. From the data above, there are opportunities for efficiency gains and better service possibilities here.
The difference with Phase 1 is that the team were looking at the current service from a different perspective to what they had before.
Phase 2 - trial a new design
So, the same team were tasked with coming up with a better way of working. And they started by taking the next random demand in the Hub, and then understanding more about the person who was complaining.
The first demand we took in the new way
The demand from Tracy was help, there is anti-social behaviour around me.
It took two visits to find out:
So, we had given Tracy advice on how to move elsewhere, and given her anxiety coping advice. told us that she had been having great difficulties getting repairs done with the housing provider.
On the next visit she welcomed us with an open attitude of trust. We helped her to deal with the communication problems with her housing provider. She told us that we had given her confidence and that she had been for an interview for work. She had talked to her father and she had more control over that relationship. She came to the council to see about a house-swap.
After a few weeks, Tracy did not want to move anymore. She stopped calling us, and was looking forward to being a mother again. She was thinking of starting an education course. She gave us a 10 out of 10 for our support, which she said that it was our support that was what helped her get her confidence back.
The case study may not seem much, it was a small change in method for the wardens. The different is in the attitude and how the decision-making occurred.
Learning from the Case Studies
To sit together is not enough - its not enough to simply create an integrated Hub, or rely on a MASH team. These are important structural changes, but on their own do not integrated workflow, or develop a new way of working.
We cannot afford it - Many managers reading this probably thinks that this is far too expensive an approach to be realistic - to treat all demands differently. And maybe concerned that our wardens should not become 'social workers'. What actually happened is that our officers already knew how to navigate the public sector network of advice, and we did two important things:
Despite the change in working, the wardens skill set remained relatively unchanged.
We took a total of 13 demands in the first part of the trial, and we followed a similar pattern. Each case was different, but the same officers dealt with each one. When they needed support, or expertise they did not have, they would come back to the office and the new way of working enables this to be available to them.
We recognised, in some of the 13, that this approach is a type of early intervention, contributing to the prevention of complex troubled families.
Outcome - reduction in resources and improved service
What about the outcomes? Well, lets look at the actual figures;
33 - 42% actual less time spent dealing with the demands,
0% repeat demands after six weeks of recording,
Feedback out of 10;
10 - five
9 - two
8 - one
How do you think the manager took this? Well, they still cannot believe it, as it goes against what they thought - that if you deal with a demand in a unique way, that it will cost more.
The manager also thought their staff were already working in this 'listening' way. And due to the enforcement actions of Housing who were trying to cut their own department costs, they learned that this was causing lots of increased work onto the Community protection team.
The service is now in the process of rolling in all their staff to work in the new way. It does not take long, four days for each front line staff, and then everyone will be trained up in the new system. By taking in demands that are mainly low to medium complex, it also slots neatly into two complex family initiatives that is being used in the county.
One of the key changes that has occurred is in culture and management style.
Culture change - the culture has changed to one where officers learn from each other all the time - continuous improvement is now part of how they all work. Each case is written up in a visible matrix, which is visible to all.
Manage the work - the manager brings together teams of officers to review what are on their matrices, and ensure they are getting support when it is needed. the manager remains connected to the real work, rather than sitting glued to a screen looking at prioritised lists.
The public - the demands now are resolved in a very different way. The service user is directly participating in the resolution and takes responsibility get the issues resolved. The officer supports that process.
The next steps
The whole review took four months to conclude, and they have:
Managers in local authorities have been inundated with so called best practice initiatives over the past decade. Maybe, finally, we are being allowed to implement an approach that actually follows the complexity and variability of how individuals and families actually behave. It tackles the real causes... This approach evolves the organisation to a more enlightened way of working.
And its cheaper to do it this way!
The techniques the team used in Phase 1 & 2 were actually straightforward, when they learned the new techniques. They had to:
What was difficult for managers was recognising that staff were not actually doing all these things managers thought they were doing!
The council used a participative approach where the consultant was used, not to do the review, but to lead a team of staff through the transformation methodology. This is ensuring true learning and sustained knowledge is retained in the organisation. It also minimises the cost of using the consultant.
Maybe this approach may slow down the review, it may not discover quite as much. But out of all that I have learned in almost two decades of change, the staff and managers in the organisation must do this for themselves for it to truly work.
The methodology applied here is systemic. The perspective used in this approach is and based on designing work around value and the complex needs of the individual. It is an example of a transformation rather than a change, transformation because it needs managers to change their current perspectives of council services, which then allows so many other aspects to change. The overall approach is through a systems thinking understanding of the work.
The team had to learn about certain key concepts;
It can be easily done by every public sector service, but it requires managers to honestly be open to learning about their service and their approach to management. It has many similarities with the Toyota System, and Demings teachings.
Helping others to do better things