Real change in public services is never easy, quick nor comfortable. If the people who are currently charge were the right ones to transform things, they would have done it, so real reform rarely rewards us with bigger budgets or more prestigious jobs: instead it often involves stepping back and letting others take charge. It’s no wonder we’re so adept at blocking real change. Here is the second of three blogs setting out common arguments for business as usual:
2. The only people who are interested are the usual suspects
How often have you heard an organisation say, “We’ve tried to engage with people but the same people keep coming forwards. It’s the usual suspects. They’re either people with an axe to grind, or they think about their own situation and not the bigger picture, or they’re just out to build their own status: they’re not elected by any one.”
This tells us some important things about the organisation in question. It tells us that the organisation has low expectations when it comes to engaging with ‘service users’ or ‘the community’. When those expectations are confirmed, it doesn’t question its recruitment process, it feels vindicated in the view that ‘they’ can’t do what ‘we’ need to do. In what other context do we expect to recruit the wrong people and settle for them when they join us. When an organisation finds the only people who engage with it are ‘the usual suspects’, you can be fairly sure that they aren’t investing in finding and developing anyone else. You can be fairly sure that they don’t have a training or support budget for those people. And you can be absolutely sure that they aren’t willing to pay those people, but are choosing from a pool of whoever is willing and able to volunteer.
Real change always means have real conversations with a different group of people. By definition they must be people who don’t agree with us, or our conversations with them won’t take us anywhere we haven’t been before. If we believe we need to do something different then we need to believe that there is expertise out there which we don’t normally tap into. If we’re serious about co-designing our new system, we will be prepared to spend as much money on finding, developing and drawing on that expertise as we would on recruiting to any other role. I’m increasingly convinced that one of the best measures of an organisation is the proportion of its paid staff who have lived experience. In many learning disability services that percentage is not far off zero.