Moving from enforcing to helping
A local government council in England decided that they wanted to review the way that they tackled community problems like noise, anti-social behaviour, dog fouling, neighbour disputes and rubbish in gardens. These services are always backed by legislation that defines the limits of what is acceptable, and this drives behaviour and the subsequent rules.
Due to past experience, the Director had a clear understanding that Service Design was the methodology that he wanted to use, and the staff were placed in a new integrated Hub together with the Police.
The approach that was taken, follows the classic Service Design approach that shares its principles with Design Thinking. In effect, the project was to go through three main stages:
The Community Safety project team was set up, and the role of the consultant was to develop the Service Design principles with the team, and give the team the right tools when they needed them. The team then undertook the approach, developed the prototype, and designed the implementation.
These are a few examples of what we found in the first two weeks:
After 4 weeks of investigating, this is what we learned about the service we all had been working in:
The team now had hard evidence that how their current procedures worked did not produce a very effective or an efficient service. By this point the team were very enthusiastic to make changes – but were unsure exactly what to do.
The Work – Community Safety
To understand the process that the council staff take is not straightforward, because there is no typical problem. Imagine a community – anything that annoys anyone in that community is dealt with by this group. They called themselves Community Safety. But it is how the problem is viewed and resolved that is the key to a better service.
Example - A problem with Rubbish
This is a story of two people John and Sandra, who both have domestic rubbish accumulating in the garden.
John, has accumulated an amount of rubbish on his front garden. And this is the workflow:
Looking at John’s situation; he has recently split from his wife, and has let things in his life get out of hand. He has been away visiting relatives for a week, and just got back to work. When he got the letter from the officer, he recognised that he needed to tidy the garden up and did that.
Comparing John with Sandra
Sandra has accumulated an amount of rubbish on her front garden. And this is her workflow:
Looking at Sandra's situation. Sandra, has an uncle, who was released from prison, stay at her house for several weeks. The uncle sometimes invites strange guests into Sandra’s house. One of Sandra’s children is out of control, and she often screams at the child. Sandra is very unhappy, feels alone and unsupported.
Sandra often just cannot cope with the normal things in life that need to be done – it has all got too much. She does what she can to reduce any problems. To cope she tries to live with someone but she has lived with other men in the last three years, and they have sometimes abused her. Because of the extra people in the house, there is more rubbish than fits in the standard waste bin that Sandra has been given.
Every time Sandra gets a letter from the council it’s a new problem for her, to add to the already long list. How is she meant to get rid of the rubbish? She does not have a car. So to reduce her daily worry she simply throws all council letters, unopened, in the bin. When she got a letter from the council about her rubbish, she threw it in the bin.
The current council approach is to treat every case of rubbish in a garden in the same standard way. But we are discovering that different people have got very different needs.
The Prototype and the New Approach
The team spent several weeks learning, taking the next cases that came into the council at random, and tried to perform them in a better way. And for each case, they compared both approaches by measuring what happened, and estimating what would have happened in the old way of working.
These are team insights that were then taken forward to design the new approach:
The team analysed the root causes of the issues they dealt with, and they were: low level anxiety, depression, childhood issues, personality issues, and chaotic lifestyles due to lifestyle and family difficulties.
The main activity that was used to help people, was – listen and to give advice.
The team did not use a process anymore, they used a framework to help them understand what to do in different situations. This framework developed from experience in the trial and systems thinking principles.
Taking the new approach with Sandra - what the officer would do now:
No recording on the council IT system was required, except for several sentences. Only one visit was needed by the officers and one by others to collect the rubbish.
The outcome was achieved with a significant reduction is actual work for the council. And a far better outcome for Sandra.
Comparing the Two Approaches
It is difficult to list down the differences between the two approaches, because even in this apparent simple situation, the circumstances are complex. But the description of the old and new approach highlights the difference in outcome for Sandra. Many of the demands coming in were more involved and complex than this one.
An real example of Complexity - Tracey
Another case that the team came across was Tracey - A 22 year old woman complains of anti-social behaviour. The causes of her issues were to do with;
She had contacted the council a total of 30 times over the past two years.
Outcome – after three visits, her anxiety had reduced, we helped her gain her confidence. She did not need any more support, and she had started to look for work. She has no recorded calls to the council since then.
The outcome was achieved with a reduction by around 30% in actual work for the council. And a far better outcome for Tracey. She just needed someone to answer her questions, and begin to give her confidence in herself.
If you are interested in the detail of Tracey and our work with her listen below, (8 min audio)
The Outcome of the Trial
The results recorded from the cases taken in the trial, using the new way of working are:
Adult Social Care, Mental Health and the Police located some of their staff in the new Hub - to take advantage of the integrated way of working. Inappropriate referrals reduced significantly because staff were able to communicate directly with each other face to face, before simply throwing the problem into a 'referral'.
Team and Management Approach
The team discovered a radically new way of working. In the old way, they all followed a common process. But in the new way, each officer had to understand and decide for themselves what course of action to take. At the start of the process this was very difficult for staff to comprehend, especially for the managers. I had to help them learn new techniques, and they had to gain confidence in their approach and risk. But, for each officer, there came a moment when they suddenly 'got it.'
We created a decision-making framework that helped the officers to structure how to make decisions.
Each person became part of a self-managing team to some extent.
Managers The managers had to experiment with new approaches that encouraged team learning. They also had to develop new ways of managing and keeping control using empowered and delegated decision-making. This was a challenge, as the old ways were disbanded. I helped managers to learn how to evaluate cases and officers performance. The manager had to relinquish their old methods of control. Often the managers would go out with newer officers, to observe and learn how officers worked with the framework.
A weekly session was created where everyone would give an overview of their work, learning was shared, and issues were aired.
The behaviour and culture of everyone in the department changed.
from We enforce to We help
Next is a video of an account of the project from a team member, 8 min
End of article
Below is a description of the approach that was used to undertake this transformation. The methodologies includes Design Thinking and Systems Thinking, incorporated into Service Design.
The Service Design Methodology
The approach that this piece of work took combined Design Thinking principles with Service Design and System Thinking, with a sprinkling of Lean. Each 'thinking' is woven into the overall method, so that in one morning, the conversations will always start with what matters to the end user, incorporate an end to end perspective, and talk about the real barriers int he organisation. We challenged everything.
The Service - Service design focuses on applying design thinking principles to a service, by embracing the needs of the 'customer.' In a local government service, the application of this approach is not quite the same as in a private organisation. The reason is in asking the question what os the service delivery? It has to be the actions of the officers to help someone to fix a problem. Therefore the innovative approach is applied to the whole service delivery approach. That has to include every element that is directly part of the delivery; rules and procedures, staff roles, measures, empowerment, and managers role. That may be why this case study may appear to be different to others.
The Plan was agreed with the client - but they had no experience of this type of approach, so I had to demonstrate that a fixed project management approach would be ineffective - the plan had to be part of Understand. But what might be interesting to the reader is that this is really about Transformative change. In this type of change, which is a complex wicked problem; part of the discovery is to find out where we were going to go. I say we, because this involved transforming peoples thinking as well as the service.
The team - Transforming thinking is something that happens when people decide to explore and accept other fundamental possibilities. So, the team that went through this had to be officers from the organisation, plus managers. They had to undergo the journey, and the only way to do that was for them to actually do it themselves.
My role as the consultant was as a facilitator, and as a coach. I would give them the right tools at the right time, and they would develop the outcomes. So, no nice clean diagrams from me, they were all generated by the team.
The managers - two of the managers were involved for about 1-2 days a week. They had to start by being part of the team, and they had to learn. Slowly over time they started to learn new ways of interacting with the team and allowing officers to come up with the solutions. The manager had to learn how to work with an empowered and self managing team. Whats the role of the manager when the team are self managing?
So, the first thing we did was to listen to demands:
From a design thinking and service design perspective starting with the outside-in - customer perspective is fundamental. I would like to detail the approach here for this type of service. Which is perhaps different to many of those others encounter. I understand several levels of 'depth'
1. The immediate user experience
2. The user feeling when interacting.
3. Understanding the customer, their immediate expectations and solutions.
4. Understanding the main problems the 'customer' is facing in achieving what thew came to me for.
5. All of the above, but extended to their current lives - plus the barriers they face, and what they would like me to help them with.
The video above of Tracey will demonstrate this depth.
Each level will produce a different action and outcome. In this work it is important to realise that I operate at level 5. So, the initial demand is often not the problem - it is other things that the council officer can help them with that surround the persons life.
The example of Tracey in the text above is a good example of this, where the team had to help her with her decision-making, maturity, and anxiety. That has nothing to do with the service that the council traditionally provide!
Understand the end to end work flow
We then started to map the flows of the forms that came in to the office. I showed the team how to do this, and they decided how they were going to complete the task. I facilitated and helped them to create flows that were readable.
Value - and waste reduction
We then looked at the flows and decided which of the activities were value and which were not. We did this because we wanted to focus on Value activities when we began the prototyping.
Using Lean techniques, what the team found was that only 10% of activities were creating value! And this was the beginning of the realisation that there was much to improve.
Performance - impact on the public Somehow the team had to understand how well they were doing as a service, and the only way is to measure the success from the customers perspective. We found this very difficult, as the demands were not transactional. In the end we measured how many people called again, and we also went and spoke to people to ask them if their issues had been resolved.
prototype & trial
The team members were split up into pairs. Their purpose was to learn new approaches and they achieved this by taking demands and try and do them in a new way. They were given a set of principles to follow.
The sequence of what they did is described in the article above. What they learned was discussed at the end of each day all together, and recorded on a large matrix on the wall. We used a combination of systems thinking in overall approach so we effectively started the prototype from a blank piece of paper.
After working this way with a few demands, the team's view of what they had to do was radically changing. They realised that by
Actively listening,- they would get very different information from people they were there to help and from other staff, we found out what really mattered to people. Understand.
Focus on value - we could cut out huge amounts of overlap with other departments. And we only recorded what we needed to record on IT. Lean techniques.
Outcomes - we did what people asked us to do, if it was reasonable. Previously they had done what the council had told them to do as a standard procedure. Customer centric.
Solutions - We searched for solutions that we would not normally be involved with, like give advice on how to deal with low level anxiety. Value.
Helped them - if we saw that we were going to push their level of need higher, we would use another approach. So, we would reduce the amount of fines we gave out if we thought that the person had a good reason to do what they were doing, and if they had no money.
We worked together on how to implement this with their colleagues. The decision-making framework was then used by the manager to help coach individual officers to build up their competence and expertise.
The manager and the staff created a weekly meeting, where officers would each talk about the work they had been doing, and monition issues that they had. The team would learn from this feedback and also help each other share ideas and problem solving.
This session also allowed the manager to get a good understanding of what the officers were doing and the challenges they face.
The implementation plan and method was mostly developed by the original team members. They knew their colleagues well, and knew what they went through to develop this approach. The primary technique of developing others followed the approach of going out with an original team member. So the sequence was:
1. Background information about what we learned in the prototype and trial (1/2 day)
2. Going out with an experienced team member (mentor) for the day.
3. Structured reflection on the day before.
4. The newer officer tries out the approach whilst together with the mentor.
5. The cycle continues until the new officer is confident and competent.
I left at this point and they and the managers implemented the approach across the whole department.