This guest blog is from Charlotte Pace, an Associate at the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR).
Whole systems for whole people – what Plymouth did and what the North East learnt
There are no magic tricks, it is one slow struggle
- a REAL example
- with REAL people
- in a REAL place
- with REAL commissioners!
- a Community Asset Based Approaches event led by Public Health England NE and
- a ‘Commissioners Roundtable’ meeting in Newcastle on the 14th March 2018
- the ‘Plymouth sofa’!
- one-to-one meetings
- focus groups
- open space
So, what happened next?
Six commissioners, 29 services using appreciative inquiry methods and a period of intellectual playfulness around ideas based on the theory ‘anyone can have an idea’!
It took time - meeting every Friday for a year and a facilitated programme of system leadership work….
In all of this the key approaches that stand out (and what helped the most) were:
- the benefit/risk approaches to sharing, put into place between organisations
- the focus that shifted to people not the system
- the understanding that it was about culture not structures
Gary and John talked about:
HONESTY SHARED LEARNING DOING THE RIGHT THING
Plymouth thought about not just what to do next (e.g. creating a more supportive and enabling environment where organisations can share what they are bidding for) but what to stop doing as well (e.g. competitive tendering) and they agreed (through the process) that all types of measurement should be for learning and improvement.
We learnt that it takes ‘no one thing’, it’s mainly about trust and that takes time to cement.
- Spend time together in teams, across teams, in multiple teams
- Understand that the voluntary sector doesn’t all ‘live on the same street’
- Take time to reflect – there will be some unthinkable conversations ‘we can’t procure our way out of it’
- Make it a cross political party process
- Recognise that this is as big a challenge for the VCSE as it is for the system
- That a failed bid can be a catalyst for change to happen anyway
- Mind your language
- Avoid war words – using terms like front line services or services under siege, we aren’t in a battle!
Plymouth know how has been helped along massively by their appetite to learn and develop. Through this openness there have been some enlightening moments; the answers to reducing costs are in the community and our relationships are our biggest asset and that the very biggest risk is in not changing (“it’s unthinkable”).
Gary and John urged us to learn from their experience and what it takes by borrowing their values, collective bravery, instilling ‘follow’-ship as well as leadership, by creating a permissive environment (do it anyway) and learning, learning, learning – at every level and above all; inviting people to be different.
What next for the North East?
- learn about emerging knowledge and practice from elsewhere (locally and nationally)
- reflect on their own experiences and draw on insights from others to identify opportunities to change their own practice;
- be ‘collectively brave’ with peers in developing, testing and sharing new approaches.
- A North East Development Workshop will take place on 7th September 2018. The event will target commissioners, funders and providers from across the region working in different areas and will showcase examples of positive collaborative working to change practice and explore what participants may require by way of support to establish learning communities. Thematic workshops will take place at the event which may lead to thematic Learning Communities of Practice being established i.e. ‘Multiple & Complex Needs’ ‘Health & Wellbeing’ etc.
- Toby is also supporting Building Health Partnership (BHP) North East Programme ‘test site’ development as a follow up to the BHP Commissioners Roundtable aimed at health and social care commissioners in March aimed at supporting a more enabling commissioning environment for co-production, asset based approaches and social prescribing.
- We have also agreed that Toby will present to the North East Funders Network Symposium in September with a view to further engagement of funders in this way of working.