Last year Collaborate worked with Lankelly Chase, Coventry City Council and a wide range of partners in the city to explore how the ‘system’ of public services, third sector organisations and the community could be made more coherent and person-focused from the perspective of people experiencing severe and multiple disadvantage.
That work led to the publication of a report, Behaving Like a System, in which we outlined our conclusion that certain pre-conditions – in particular system ‘vision’ and ‘behaviours’ – need to be in place in order for these objectives to be achieved. We have received very positive feedback about this work, which is being used by partners to help progress system change in Coventry. It has also provided a conceptual framework and some useful practical tips for the growing number of people working in public services across the country who are using systems thinking to understand how they can work more effectively together.
We are therefore delighted to have received funding from Lankelly Chase for a second stage of this research to take place through 2016. With Lankelly’s support we begun examining another piece of the jigsaw: how can we hardwire the system vision and behaviours? We are calling this hard-wiring the ‘system infrastructure’ and its purpose is to support the achievement of the vision and behaviours already identified, making it practical and realisable – more than warm words.
We believe that to successfully change systems – and therefore improve outcomes – in places, we need to understand how we begin to create relationships between people in different parts of the system that enable them to function (or behave) as a system. We also need supporting ways of working and processes to ensure that these relationships lead to real change. This project is aiming to identify the ‘infrastructure’ required by different parts and people within the system, and using the conclusions, we also hope to work with local councils and partners to build it in practice.
From the first stage of the Coventry systems work last year and our initial exploration this year, we have some ideas about what this infrastructure might be. These include: skills (and the capacity to develop the right ones, for example through a collaborative, system-wide OD strategy and programme); places for collaboration to take place (physical, online); ICT (digital, social media, the means of making and maintaining networks); system accountability frameworks (to help underpin shared endeavour and a counterweight to silo accountability systems which undermine collaboration); collaborative evaluation tools, and system process (such as collaborative commissioning and procurement which incorporates insights from engaging with citizens and partners).
We have begun testing and developing these and will continue to do so throughout the next six months, and no doubt they will evolve significantly, particularly as we continue to examine them from different perspective (for example the local council and local residents). Coventry has been an excellent place to initially explore these questions: not only are the partners willing to continue exploring them with us, but Coventry’s Connected Communities programme and a range of neighbourhood pilots that are being developed have given us the opportunity to understand what is required from the perspective of citizens too, particularly those with complex needs.
We are also going to be exploring what is going on outside of Coventry and look to test our frameworks with people who are working on place-based system change. This will help widen the scope of our insights to include other places, but it will also begin to support the emerging community of people who are using systems thinking to understand what they do and how that might change in the future. We think this work has the potential to help all of us engaged in public service improvement and think differently about how we can work together to improve outcomes, especially with those people for whom the current model is not working.
If you are interested in finding out more please contact Anna Randle (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will also be posting updates here and on Collaborate’s blog.