I was reading an article writen by John Bird, he of the Big Issue. In it he talked about the benefits system, the TV programme Benefits Street, and the ability to 'benefit' people. He has hit on a point that has been demonstrated in the last few years, by a few people.
In Stoke on Trent, they have experimented with trying a different way to deal with people who are struggling with something in their lives. This struggle is affecting them in ways like an inability to pay rent, running out of money, needing to get on the waiting list, etc.
What the team did was to take some people in need, and ask them what problems did they have that they needed help with? And whatever they said, the team would go about helping the person to fix that problem. It was that easy.
Chief executives from a range of public sector partners has agreed that the team has the ability to pull on any service they needed to to get the competence to fix the problem. In addition, the action they took and money they needed to put towards helping that person, was available to be spent.
The team took cases, and the first step was to understand the problems the person was facing, and the nature of their problems in the context of their lives. The next step was to then do only what is necessary to help the person resolve their problems.
What was found, was that the people they took, had a range of interdependent problems, that often took time to properly understand. Often, people were wary of this approach from an organsiation they did not trust.
Then, the team found that the problems that were presented with, were not usually solved by taking the standard approach that that service would normally take. For instance, if someone wanted to move, the first thing to do is to understand the reason for the move. It was discivered that most people who wanted to move, actually had problems that could be resolved, that meant that they then did not need to move.
The outcome is that the people with needs to be resolved, actually had their problems fixed, or had ways that they could continue to resolve the issues on their own. The majority of people that went through this system accepted the help, and the outcomes were positive in every situation.
It is difficult, in a short time to view actual financial benefits. However, the team calculated that for seven cases, the difference in the cost of the work done was £104,000 less in the new way. Even understanding that this figure is an estimate, the amount is staggering.
Another outcome, and one that is just as important, is the impact it had on the people. The intervention on each person was aimed at re-balancing them so that they could then continue to live their lives to develop into becoming independent of the welfare system.
The reason I wrote this example now is that John Birds article said that the benefits system should 'benefit' people. Benefit people in need, to help them to fix problems and improve their lives. The work that has been trialled, using a systems thinking approach, shows that this is not only possible, but that it actually reduces the cost to the whole system. The cost further reduces over time, as people are less dependent and more in control of their lives.
This says it all...
The problem with consultants...
Depicting management consultants as a major factor in changing the public sector is suspect. Their major preoccupation is with making specific technologies work, but not in transforming public sector institutions.
Research from Lapsey, Brown and Jackson
I have seen this too many times...
Have a systems thinking view of the service and how to change it, and avoid functionalising the problem. This will avoid improving one area, at the expense of the other.
The consultant must work in partnership with the leaders, developing the plan forward, and engaging with managers to design the change. Then the consultant must help YOU to do the change, engaging with your employees to develop them so the outcome is something that lasts when the consultant leaves; to provide sustainability.
We probably have to thank Margaret Thatcher for creating the space in the public sector to embrace outsourcing and commissioning. The idea was to inject private sector thinking in to a local authority. A very good idea... Local authorities are in sore need of being able to manage and view their organsiations differently, especially when there is no real impetus for change.
Did it work? Was it the right thing to do? Well, introducing elements of the private sector is fine as long as they are the right elements, but what have we been left with? Competition! Thats the method that is used in commissioning and outsourcing to drive down costs and improve service. Thats all very well if we can draw parallels between the private sector customer connsumer ethos. But a council does not providing a consumer service, they do something very different.
So the impact of outsourcing and commissioning in a local authority has been to reduce costs for those services from an accounting perspective. However, the impact of outsourcing in reality is being locked to a fixed agreement: unable to change, being charged for additional work, unwillingness to work across other services, and potentially costs not being reduced in the long term. The woes of a service that has been outsourced are legendary.
Commissioning and outsourcing can work if you can get agreement based around a common systemic purpose. And the agreement is based on true cost (open book). If not, then you get the problems with commissioning that is destroying the NHS.
Fareham council is redesigning its services using a systems thinking approach. Their managers have alreasy redesigned their own services, and are continuing to refine their effectiveness. Its only by transformation that any organisation can achieve effective reduction in cost. They have also outsourced where appropriate, but in the main, they have decided to get the right sort of management of their services and deal with most things in-house.
Councils now recognise that local government are facing tough challenges, tougher than they have had to deal with before. What can you do when year on year service improvements are needed, as well as having to remain financially sustainable?
Is this what you thought you would be doing when you first joined local government?
It’s time the public sector got its mojo back, there are clear alternatives to salami slicing
There are a myriad of change initiatives out there; shared services, troubled families, outsourcing, commissioning, demand channeling, lean, etc. Each method has its’ champions ready to convince anyone whose listening that this is the best thing to do.
What are we going to do about it?
Well, we know that doing the same as before is not enough. Salami slicing, improving processes, and outsourcing have been tried and only achieve limited improvements. You can't simply keep doing that.
The only alternative that is fit for the future is to transform your service. By transforming, you create a new approach within your organisation, and with your community. A system is created that has less cost, and its service is delivered in a different way to before. The only way to do that is to redesign your service again - use systems thinking.
When you transform, you don't start from where you are now, to redesign from a new set of principles, using a blank sheet. Its liberates ideas to create approaches that could not have been considered before.
'If your'e in a car, and you want to fly, its no good trying to redesign bits of the car to become an airplane. Its better to start afresh and redesign an airplane from the ground up'
Helping others to do better things