“We all agree that we need to do things very differently, but when try to visualise what ‘different’ looks like, we get stuck.” The challenge facing a group of local leaders will sound familiar to many. As an NHS Trust CEO put it: “We know what we do isn’t working.” So how can we construct a system which is genuinely different, rather than just a pared-back version of our familiar systems, when there’s no money to fund innovation?
The answer is that ‘we’ – public service professionals – cannot, at least not by ourselves. Fortunately, our services are not the only game in town. The group of local leaders felt less stuck when they started to consider the totality of resources in their area. This was not just about the established voluntary sector organisations, although these were important. It was also about seeking and building leadership in the community. We are unlikely to find new leadership if we approach our communities with a fixed idea of what we want them to contribute to. Recent Centre for Social Action research (People Helping People, Nesta, 2014) found few people were interested in volunteering to help public services, but a majority said they would help an older neighbour.
Some services have been able to increase dramatically their volunteer numbers. King’s College Hospital in London trebled its volunteers by creating roles which volunteers and staff really valued. But many attempts to recruit volunteers to contribute to goals set by managers fail. In contrast, Local Area Coordination helps people connect with each other in ways which may not make them part of a service, but which Inclusive Neighbourhoods has found has a dramatic impact upon isolated or vulnerable people, as well as increasing the quality of community life for everyone. Community Catalysts helps people build their own ideas for helping others into viable community enterprises, which often remain outside the sphere of local care commissioning.
At the more formal end of the spectrum, Shared Lives carers are part of a CQC-registered local scheme and offer personal care, but do so in the Shared Lives carer’s own home, including the individual in family life and placing equal value on building a circle of friends and a sense of belonging.
These organisations, along with In Control and Inclusion North, are now working together to support citizens and leaders to have new conversations which can identify what ‘different’ looks like, and to pursue together the simple goal of ‘good lives in good places’, rather than ‘service efficiencies’. Those conversations will be difficult at times, as participants are tempted to revert to their traditional roles of service leaders and service recipients. Trust will be strained as budgets continue to be cut. But in the courage to swap roles – leaders becoming recipients of citizens’ expertise and citizens sharing responsibility for change – lies the possibility of creating something truly ‘different’.
Inclusive Change launches today as a partnership between Community Catalysts, In Control, Inclusive Neighbourhoods, Inclusion North and Shared Lives Plus.