Accelerating Ideas – shaping local systems

In two blogs, I and my colleague Anna McEwen will reflect on what we achieved, struggled with, and learned around two of the main objectives of our recently completed Accelerating Ideas UK development project, supported by Nesta and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

  • establishing a new strategic advice arm and supporting commissioners to start and expand Shared Lives and Homeshare services
  • establishing our work in all four UK nations, building on our success and government support in England and Wales

We wanted to develop a strategic advice business for two main reasons: to help local leaders to work with their  provider organisations to improve and grow Shared Lives, Homeshare and other personalised models, and to bring us a sustainable source of income so that we rely less on grant funding.

This work started to in earnest in 2017-18 and accelerated rapidly: nearly 70 contracts to date, including work with Australia’s changing disability support service and in British Columbia. A typical example is the Shared Lives service review for Bridgend Council which included an evaluation and analysis of Shared Lives in Bridgend, and a comprehensive business case and options appraisal looking at externalised and in-house delivery, working with other localities, and growing the scheme. A key aspect of our work is the work of the team of people with lived experience and their Shared Lives carers, who carry out peer-to-peer research, alongside colleagues who look at practice, use of resources and compliance, to produce a rounded picture of what a local service does, its outcomes, but also how it feels to the people who actually use and deliver it.

One of our largest projects has been with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP) to develop and implement an ambitious five year plan for an additional 600 people using Shared Lives, across Greater Manchester. Jo Chilton, Programme Director, Adult Social Care Transformation Programme said, “Greater Manchester has high ambitions for scaling up Shared Lives but we want to ensure that people currently involved in Shared Lives and those who may wish to be supported in Shared Lives in future, help assess how ready we are to do more, and what would need to happen to make our ambition a reality. Our partnership with Shared Lives Plus is vital to getting this right from the start.” This included a detailed evaluation of five of the ten Shared Lives schemes using a combination of scheme health checks and data analysis. The city region is investing and working towards the UK’s most ambitious goal to date, of  15% of people who have a learning disability and use social care to be using Shared Lives.

Our main challenge has not been winning work, it has been expanding our delivery capacity to keep pace with demand. We use a small number of associates for specialist tasks, but a lot of the delivery has been in-house, and the expansion of our capacity off the back of demand for support, rather than through grant-funded expansion, is one of a number of culture changes for our team: we have needed to be willing to take some different kinds of risk to expand. We tailor our work to the local places we are working in, rather than around a bid submitted to a grant maker.  In changing our model, we were focused on remaining true to our values and serving our members, who are 6,000 Shared Lives carers and 170 local organisations. The key to this has been to develop an offer which is shaped by our values and coproduction approach, and marketing this and our unique place as the only national Shared Lives and Homeshare organisation, not as extra cost or time, but as the best reason to work with us: after all, what would be the purpose in expanding the most personalised support approaches, if you didn’t pursue that expansion in a personalised way?

Some of the impacts of this are more expected than others. We have long understood the need to get local areas to invest in development work, if they are to value it, so we hoped to see the buy-in we have achieved through contracted work, but one risk we identified was that it might make our campaigning work harder, around issues like Shared Lives carer pay, for instance. In fact, embedding the practice of coproduction with Shared Lives carers, and developing closer relationships with local leaders, has in some areas made it easier to raise issues around valuing supporting – and paying – Shared Lives carers, rather than harder.

It’s not all been plain sailing, of course. All the advisors who helped us develop this business talked about the risks of under-valuing and under-pricing our work, over-promising, and under-estimating the time needed for work. We thought we’d understood that advice, but we did all of those things and had to learn the hard way. This has increased pressure on our team at times. We’ve coped with those challenges though and this new way of working has not only given us a more sustainable future as a charity, it’s brought a level of learning and insight which we could not have achieved in any other way.

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