Our job is to the mind the gap between the bureaucracy of our systems and the opportunities in our communities – Cormac Russell
Sometimes it’s preferable to pull the plug on a service before you see it collapse in front of your eyes.
A recent report says we are trapped in a reactive spending cycle on public services – with hospitals, schools, adult social care, and prisons all being propped up with cash bailouts ‘just to keep troubled services going’.
We instinctively know that the demand issues that are hitting the social sector are a result of complex problems. We know that billions of pounds may give some short-term relief but won’t tackle the root cause.
Are we destined to be forever reactive, or is there another way?
There’s a reason many of our organisations are waiting for the next crisis: they are designed that way.
- Health services are designed to be reactive: only around 3% of national health sector budgets are currently spent on prevention.
- Prisons are becoming overpopulated because the system is designed to accommodate overcrowding.
- Housing and social care are designed to be difficult to access – with multiple providers of similar services.
Seemingly we get the outcomes we were designed to achieve. How can we design better ones?
As with so many things – the answer lies in going back to the start.
At Bromford we’ve gone back to problem definition across every aspect of our organisation, dividing it into 31 unique service areas.
We started with a very simple task for each leader: define your service offer in just 150 words.
Not to describe what a service does, but to question why it even needs to exist in the first place.
Asking why a service needs to exist means you can pose all sorts of playful questions with the intention of shaping a better outcome.
What we found was many of our services have an imbalance between solving problems for the customer and solving problems for the business.
A good example is a reactive home repairs service, good for the customer (get stuff fixed relatively quickly), bad for the business (costly and a logistical nightmare).
That then leads you to explore new lines of inquiry – how could we coach customers to repair things themselves? How could we better balance reactive and planned services?
Across the social sector, reactive services aren’t just bad for business, they fundamentally disempower citizens.
Many well-intentioned services can replace, control or overwhelm the power of community to do things for themselves.
The social sector is a field of business that profits from past societal failure – providing episodic interventions when things go wrong rather than pre-emptive problem-solving.
Our role then to is to move beyond designing reactive outcomes and into designing for progress.
That means thinking about customer needs right at the start of the process – something that sounds obvious but just isn’t applied in practice. This lack of design thinking is exactly why people aren’t getting the sort of social outcomes they expect.
As citizens, we aren’t interested whether you’ve hit your targets or your service level standards. We don’t care about your transformation plans and your five year forward views.
We don’t care about your outcomes – only the progress your outcomes represent.