What we are learning
Over 2018, as we scope this inquiry, our partners and we will be sharing our insights and reflections across a variety of platforms. We will link to these pieces here over the year.
From 2011-2017 Lankelly Chase ran a social innovation programme focussing on good models of support. We funded people who were innovating – trying new ways to support people who were facing issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, mental ill health and abuse. Some of the innovators we worked with had personally lived the problems they were seeking to address. Some were professional practitioners who wanted to try new practice models.
From this we think we learned some lessons that shape our new theory of change, a key one being our shift in understanding effective support for people facing severe and multiple disadvantage.
When we started to fund work to tackle severe and multiple disadvantage, we were continually asking “what is good support?” What is the support that people in crisis or facing the toughest of times really need to help them move forward in their lives?
The answers came pouring in to us. Good support is trauma-informed, like the incredible Transforming Choice rehabilitation centre in Liverpool. Good support is built on trusting, open relationships, like the ones nurtured by committed support staff at Cyrenians in Edinburgh. It is asset-based, with people viewed as resourceful, like in the Mayday Trust’s transformative coaching model.
But as well as all of this, good support is creative, facilitating people to reinvent their identities and create their own answers. It is co-produced. It is bespoke. We started to get overwhelmed by all the different approaches which constituted good support.
We looked across all of the models and methodologies that were being used by our partners in different contexts and we realised our mistake. We had been looking for a magic bullet of good support which could be scaled and replicated and applied in every situation, to every person facing disadvantage. This is impossible.
Every person facing severe and multiple disadvantage is different. Our lives and experiences are all different. We live in different contexts, have different relationships and come from different cultures. We assume this when we are working with a person who has anxiety. We know there is no one solution that will solve their anxiety forever. An online short CBT course may work for one person but long-term art-based therapy may be needed by another. Why should this be any different for a person whose presenting need is homelessness? Our partners knew this and so did we, but it took us a little longer to understand the implications for our inquiry into support.
We stepped back from looking at the models of support and instead started to notice how our partners were behaving. What the common behaviours were that underpinned all of this transformative work? How were people behaving as they co-produced solutions? Perhaps they were listening, and trying new approaches, and adapting if the approaches didn’t work. And perhaps they were making decisions together as they worked on the frontline rather than having to refer decisions up to distant boards and advisors.
Now, we think that when we see good support systems in practice, we see that people amplify the system behaviours that emerged in our work exploring healthy systems in places. We came to the same conclusion in our work on support. There is no one perfect model of effective support for people facing disadvantage. It is the presence of these behaviours that allows support to emerge that is effective at contending with the complexity of severe and multiple disadvantage.
These behaviours present challenges that we now realise we face. We notice that traditional hierarchical organisational models can repress some of these behaviours amongst staff like devolved decision making. We understand that commissioning structures and evidence standards can rigid and can hinder adaptation. And we know that grants made by funders like us can often reinforce inequality of power and voice, with funders passing judgement on what is good and fuelling competition and marginalisation.
It is because of these challenges that Lankelly Chase’s role is now to change the systems that perpetuate disadvantage by exploring and promoting these behaviours. And it is because of this that our previous focus on support is becoming a focus on power.