There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?”
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
One of the many challenges for the public sector is that it must start believing in people and communities again.
If you take the Social Housing sector as an example you’ll see it has spent a long time making life as easy as possible for people.
Free telephone calls , a 24 hours repairs service and if you’re on benefits you don’t even have to worry about the rent getting paid – we’ll sort it for you. Neighbour’s dog barking? Leave it with us.
I exaggerate of course – but only slightly. Huge parts of the public sector have designed services around what people can’t do for themselves rather than nurturing what they can.
Now we have to reverse it. Not because there’s a lack of money but because it fundamentally disempowers people. It was a lovely, thoughtful thing to do but it leaves people ill-equipped for life in the 21st Century.
And , worst of all, it massively under values the skills and passions that people have.
Last week I spent time with a great group of people from all sectors looking at adopting preventative approaches rather than being reactive. It’s an initiative of the Wales Audit Office and their partner organisations.
What most impressed me? Here were people actually making change happen , rather than just talking about it.
This is by no means easy. Radically changing your service usually means you’ll encounter disappointment and failure at some point. It’s easier to stick to what you know.
The Deal starts from the position of believing that people want to move forward in life. And Bromford have begun to reshape their entire service around that belief.
- Residents complete an online assessment where they get to talk about their skills and hopes for the future. Many have said that it’s the first time they have ever been asked about aspirations.
- Goals are being set around what they want to achieve , in their words. They are coached that they can do it , not expected to fail.
- And the Bromford service is being gradually reshaped as something that propels people forward and builds on what they can do. Rather than keeping them locked in a moment in time.
And it’s not easy. Changing a service that’s been delivered the same way for years is really hard work.
The top messages I wanted to impart were:
Think Big. Start Small. The reason most public sector innovation stalls is people spend so much time thinking , talking and writing reports it becomes too big and scary to tackle. Start doing small stuff as quickly as you can. At the early stages of the Deal we were only offering it to 15 or 20 people a week – genuinely co-creating, learning and adapting together.
You Will Fail At Some Point. So Fail Fast. Don’t start a really expensive IT project to replace your legacy systems when you haven’t even tested if the service works. Prototype. Test. Break. Rebuild. We developed a micro IT system for about £20,000 to kickstart the Deal. Losing £20,000 is bad. Losing £200,000 is bloody awful.
Take People With You. Involve them in the design. Let them try out new roles and play in a different position. Don’t go through restructures before you know what you’re doing. It kills momentum and by the time you’ve done it you probably need to do it again. But remember that not everyone will go with you. Radical change means some people will want to get off the bus at some point.
Keep The KPI Simple Stupid. Measuring what’s working is really important – but don’t obsess about performance management before you’ve started doing anything. Does if feel like the right thing to do for the customer? Is it hurting your business? If it’s not you’re probably safe to proceed.
The message I took away was the need for us all to be braver. To be unafraid of being laughed at.
Most of us work in sectors that are frighteningly risk averse – that fear the new and the different. That’s why many of us have the same structures, the same policies, the same job titles and even the same IT suppliers. And we go to the same conferences as there’s safety in numbers.
Believing in what people can do means being brave enough to admit that we won’t always be needed.
This is about us all being brave enough to start a conversation that really matters.