Transcript: Doing public service management differently


A conversation with Toby Lowe and Diana Hekerem about the Human Learning Systems approach

Podcast Episode: Doing public service management differently

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What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

INT: The Centre for Public Impact, Healthcare Improvement Scotland and Iriss, are together delivering events in November and December 2021 that will explore how a Human Learning Systems approach can support people and organisations to commission health and social care differently.

In this episode, Toby Lowe, Visiting Professor of Public Management at the Centre for Public Impact; and Diana Hekerem, Head of Transformational Redesign Support at Healthcare Improvement Scotland, tell us about the Human Learning Systems approach. They explain what it is, how it works and talk through some practical examples.

Michelle: Welcome Toby and Diana and thanks for taking part in this podcast on human learning systems. It’s really all about doing public service management differently. So, a very intriguing topic and I’m excited to talk about it with you both. Human learning systems then, it’s an approach that aims to make public services more human, more effective and that produces better outcomes for people and also to be less wasteful. It’s based on the premise that public service management isn’t working and needs to be done differently. So, I’m really interested in; what’s not working with public service management currently? And how is this manifesting? So, if I could put that to you Toby, first, if that’s okay?

Toby: Yeah, grand. The basics on which almost all public management in the UK is done is an approach called New Public Management. And it’s first assumption is that the people doing public service need to be controlled and incentivised by targets. So, the basic presumption is that workers won’t act, in to achieve the public good unless they have very specific targets set for them and that there are rewards and punishments associated with meeting those targets or not. So, the first thing to say about that is; that assumption is entirely wrong. All the evidence says, exactly the opposite; that people that go into public service, go into public service because they want to serve the public. So, don’t need to be controlled into doing a good job. The entire assumption around which we do public management is basically incorrect.

Secondly, the implications of that meaning, because we had this control-based idea of management; that people have to be rewarded or punished in order to make them do a good job then the terms of that reward and punishment need to be really tightly set. So, what it means is that everyone’s job must be turned into a specification like a metric of; this is what doing it well looks like and this is what doing it poorly looks like. So, it becomes a manager’s jobs to set these terms of reward and punishment. Now, if what we care about is producing good outcomes in people’s lives; how is a manager supposed to know what a good outcome is in each of the people’s lives being served? They can’t possibly set good rewards and punishments at a kind of standardised level that enable workers to do a good job in each person’s life. It’s impossible because you don’t have enough information as a manager to go, “In this person’s life, what you should do is this. In this person’s life, what you should do …” it’s impossible to do that. So, they end up setting standardised performance measures that don’t help producing outcomes in people’s lives.

And the worst aspect of it is, and this is all what the evidence says; this has a tonne of research about this. Is that by focusing on this idea of reward and punishment and controlling workers, it turns the job of public service into meeting those targets. So, it turns the attention of public service workers, social workers and whatever, away from “what is my relationship with the person that I’m serving, what is it that they need, what is it I can do to help?” Like when people are following the public management thing, they’re not thinking that. They’re thinking, “What is it I need to do to achieve my target?”

Michelle: Diana, would you agree with that? Or do you have anything to add there?

Diana: So, I think yeah, I think there’s a lot of what Toby said that really resonates because we think about whether what motivates you is intrinsic; does it come from inside you or is extrinsic? So, in the world of improving we really recognise that for public servants; it comes from within, what your motivation … Whereas, it’s exactly that, that extrinsic motivator, “I will financially reward you for being better.” Is a distracting motivator for lots of people who have gone into … and can actually reduce the amount of intrinsic … that motivation that comes from within to do well. If you become distracted by the extrinsic, the what people might give you or reward you to do a thing.

Michelle: Okay.

Diana: And so the whole public, the ethos of … and I’ve often thought the challenge I have with working with other, private organisations is not recognising just how much of public service is driven by that and what you need to tap into to incentivise or to motivate people, to enable people to do change; is that bit that drives you from within. And that’s been, like if the last two years have shown anything; it’s that when you tell people or enable a space where people can go with what motivates them you get real creativity. When those motivators, those measures that Toby talked about when they became irrelevant because we didn’t have, we couldn’t invent the measures quick enough to deal with the creative and the change in the disruption that happened during Covid, and particularly that first lockdown. So, people had all those targets and stuff removed from them and what you saw was the most amazing community initiatives and community groups.

We wrote up a whole series of examples from right up the North of Scotland where community groups that had nothing to do with health and social care were helping the delivering of medicines and they were taking food to people who were isolating because they were enabled to do that and their reward was, “I am doing the right thing.” Doing the job right, for people who are in for example social work, they go into social work because they care about making people’s lives better. And the tension comes when meeting the target is doing the job wrong; that creates such tension and then it is a demotivator.

Michelle: Absolutely. So, human learning systems then is an approach that’s been put out there then to solve this problem? To do this flip, if you like in terms of how it works? So, can you tell me a little bit about what human learning systems are or the principles of human learning systems then?

Toby: So, the three key words are in the title. So, it’s human, learning and systems. So, the human bit is exactly the same. It reconnects with the moral purpose of public service. It says that the purpose of public service is to support human freedom and flourishing. So, it kind of defines public service roles as, you need to get to know the people that you’re serving, find out what it is that they’re strengths and needs are and respond to those. So, as simple as that. It roots public service in the idea that it is the job of public service is to help promote human freedom and flourish.

And the other aspect of that is, that means that it is unique to each person’s life being served. So, you can’t talk about kind of human flourishing at a generic level. What it really means for public service is, what does human flourishing mean in the life of each and every person? So, you need a relationship with the people that you serve to know, “What is it that I can be useful with around here, in this life as a public servant?” I need to really understand this person, if I’m going to be able to help.”

Diana: And it enables relationships. So, much of that public service has been pushed into transactional space. And I was in a conversation I had around alcohol and drug partnerships and discussing somebody, “like what … if you had a magic wand, what would you put in place for this person?” We were talking about an individual. And they said to me, “A relationship. A therapeutic relationship.“ And when you probe into that, around people who are working with people who have got very challenging, chaotic … what they want is a sticky relationship. Somebody who will stay with them and be with them throughout and actually it doesn’t matter whether they are a social worker, or a youth worker or a … it’s that power of somebody to walk alongside somebody and learn and understand their lives.

And I think our job as public servant management and I speak as a manager; is to create the conditions and I apologise for adding even more jargon into this conversation, but what do we need to make possible? What do we need to get rid of so that when this person starts interacting, reaching out to people who are there to help them, that person that they’ve reached to, can help them? In an adult to adult, positive, genuine way that navigates them and supports them to be able to take control of their own lives and to be able to thrive. And as the system right now puts in place so many risk averse barriers that prevent that, we would reward the number of interactions you’ve had with that person, not the outcome that that person achieves. So, it’s really grounding. It’s so obvious, it’s quite hard to describe when you get into it. You go, “So, if you meet Bob and then you talk to Bob and you find out … and you have a good conversation with Bob and you’ve found out what’s really challenging Bob is this, is the fact he hasn’t got a house.” Do you know what I mean?

Michelle: Yes.

Diana: He’s having to jump around and every time he gets into something, he loses his house. And then cos he hasn’t got a house, he can’t get a job. And it makes things really chaotic and it means he’s not getting to see his kids and that really upsets him. And then you go, “Okay, right well I’ll stay with you till we get your housing sorted and your this sorted and your that sorted.” That person who’s done that can’t be rewarded on “how many houses have you secured for people today?” because that wasn’t the point. It was part of the point but it wasn’t the point. The point was that Bob now knows there’s somebody in his life who will help him get to where he needs to be. And that’s why …

Toby: And … sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. So, that’s exactly where the learning bit comes in because if … to respond to the unique life context of each and every person in a bespoke way; which is what the human bit is about, means you can’t use that management by control anymore because basically what you’re saying to each of the public service workers is, “You need to form a relationship with Bob.” In the exact way Diana said. “And learn together and experiment together about what it is that will enable Bob to live the life he wants to lead.” You can’t control that; you can’t set a certain target in advance to do that because Bob’s life is different from Jim’s and Fiona’s and blah blah blah. So, the job of management is no longer controlling the worker who works with Bob because you cannot set those kinds of metrics in advance and say, “Are you doing a good job because you’ve hit this, that or the other.” It just doesn’t work. So, the job of management is about enabling Bob and his worker to learn together successfully.

Michelle: Okay, yeah. Cos I was just thinking about how special the relationship actually is. It’s not just any old relationship, it’s not just creating a relationship with somebody. It’s quite a special and particular relationship you’re developing and I guess this is where this learning element then is coming in whereby, you’re working together.

Diana: And the thing that’s interesting, I think, about it and why I love it, is because it’s not kind of flag waving advocacy, do you know what I mean? It’s not … so, while I know you said at the beginning it’s a lot of words that could mean anything like most public sector language is, but the thing about it is it’s actually rooted in really practical stuff.

What we got through the last 18 months, lots of people saying, “We get this but just tell us, like how do we do it?” And it’s, “How do we do risk assessments? How do we budget differently? How do we pay people differently?” One of my often used phrases is, the good stuff’s in the dull stuff. So, lots of people who get really passionate about these kinds of human rights, “I’m human led” and outcome incentive, are quite big on philosophy and policy. Whereas this actually, and I’m sure Toby won’t mind me saying, this is quite wedded in a lot of the dull stuff. Like what’s your commissioning framework? What’s your procurement mechanism? What’s your approach to risk management? Because if I’m afraid to let you go to the cinema with your friends as a way of supporting you to test out your aver … that person is saying, do you know I haven’t been out my house in months and months and months and months and months, they find out that there’s a great film they like, they then support them to go to the cinema but you could take a whole risk averse approach that that’s not our job in public service blah or you could be like, “this will be the thing, this experiment could really enable that person.”

So, actually what is your organisation’s risk assessment that allows that to happen or not? How risk averse is your culture? Do you need to change your risk policies to enable that person? Those enablers for human learning. And then you end up having very long conversations about risk management which does not excite many people, I’m afraid to say.

Michelle: No. Uh huh.

Diana: But actually if you do risk … if you flip risk as a … “these are things that I’ll put in place to make sure that you are as free to do as much as you can and I’ll just make sure as little bad stuff happens around you as I possibly can.” That approach to risk is really enabling and allows you to learn within it. That’s why people should have more conversations about risk, really.

Michelle: Sure. And I suppose one of the problems perhaps there with management is that, how do you measure the success of what you’re doing then? Because it’s all experimentation and a journey. So, I suppose there’s a real … for management and I guess maybe that’s part of them flipping their mindset around this. But like so, that has to change perhaps, yes?

Toby: Exactly. So, you’re no longer judging the worker on, “Exactly how many houses have you got this month for people like Bob?” because for Bob it was a house but for someone else it was completely different. So, the thing that you are managing and you’re saying, “Am I doing a good job as the manager?” is, “Am I creating an effective learning environment for my staff?'' That’s the key question. So, the point is that the attempt to manage and control outcomes and blah blah things that you can just stop doing all of that cos the evidence says it doesn’t work.

The process is managing effective learning environment. So, the success markers are, “Are we able to enable the workers to construct effective codesigned experiments with the people whose lives they support?” Are they able to do that effectively? Those are the things that you can be judged on, as a manager. “Am I doing my job properly as a manager?” It comes down to effectively, “Am I creating an effective learning environment.

Diana: So, we do quite a lot with Toby and the event that’s coming up, why we want to do it with Iriss and with Toby is that because we see how it fits for quality and the future of how you have … So, Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s job is to support the drive to quality health and social care for the people of Scotland. And within that, how do you plan for quality? So, not how do you write a good (… unclear) … I know that’s also one of the dull stuff, I needed to do good ones but it’s more the question you kind of said at the beginning like how do you know what success looks like?

Well, success … that’s the question you need to ask yourself at the beginning of any piece of work. If you look at the Dundee Drugs Commission Report; it talked about things. What people said is they wanted … What was good for them was no wrong door. So, it didn’t matter where in the health and social care system. Whether the voluntary, whether the commissioned, or the public provided delivered piece of the system. But wherever you turned up, you were looked after. Nobody said, “You don’t meet …” because what was happening, and causes harm and mortality, that’s the thing, this isn’t just a bit better.

The approach that we currently had meant that people would set criteria because they had to have service criteria and somebody would come to that service and they wouldn’t meet the criteria for the service. So, they would be turned away from that service and after having been turned away from that service; death would result. We know that, that’s what the Dundee Drug’s Commission Report talks about and it said the solution was to have no wrong door. So, what does that mean? So, it can mean we identify every door, it can mean … but what it does mean is that actually the people who are behind all those doors talk to each other and build relationships with each other and understanding with each other. And when somebody comes through the door, they start learning about that person and say, “Right, okay. Now, I’ll do this for you. I’ll not pass you over or signpost you somewhere else. But I’ll connect you with this worker who’s behind that door cos they’ll be able to help you with that bit.” That takes a different … you know, that’s a whole different way of approaching. “This is the service and this is the criteria for this service. This is this service and this is the criteria.” And nobody behind those doors ever wanted to turn anybody away. They were … the system drove that outcome.

Toby: And this is, so this is beautifully the systems bit of human learning systems in that we recognise that outcomes aren’t delivered by services. So, this is where the thinking about … thinking about outcomes is great but thinking about outcomes for the last 10 years or so has been mostly mis-directed because the framing has been outcomes or something that can be delivered by services. Or so that outcomes can be purchased by commissioners. “We will buy an organisation’s time who will deliver.” Now, that is not how outcomes work. That is, pretend how outcomes work.

Diana: Uh huh, uh huh.

Michelle: Even the language around that. Around sort of delivering outcomes for people, I mean …

Toby: Yes. It’s like …

Michelle: … what are we talking about?

Toby: … oh, just have a think about how an outcome is actually made in someone’s life. It’s hundreds of different factors and lots of different people and organisations, most of whom are nothing to do with a traditional public service, all coming together. So, the most important person in creating an outcome is the person themselves, their family and friends, the shops that they visit, the neighbourhood that they live in blah blah blah. All of those are really significant parts of the system that is someone’s life that creates an outcome.

So, the system’s bit of human learning systems is that when the worker and the person are learning together about what creates an outcome and the desired outcome in their life; they’re taking that holistic relational perspective. So, it’s like the worker is asking the person, “What are all the people and organisations and factors in your life that lead to you being a happy, thriving person or not?” and so it becomes part of the worker’s job to bring all of those conversations together. So, as Diana was saying, if that person needs a house; okay, let’s go and have a conversation with the people who allocate houses. If that person needs some talking therapy to address kind of mental … Let’s go and find a person associated with that blah blah blah. And having that, a systems perspective or like how all these things are connected in people’s lives and offering that kind of joined up perspective; that’s the kind of final piece of this puzzle. So, it’s a set of actors in someone’s life learning together about how that life can be different, that’s the systems bit.

Michelle: Where ultimately does accountability lie in using this approach? There’s obviously some risks perhaps involved in some of the ways that you might work when using an approach like this. So, if something goes terribly wrong in the experimentation and maybe it doesn’t generally because of the way it works, but is there room for that to happen? And who is ultimately accountable for that then?

Diana: So, one of the speakers next week, David Caesar, who works around the kind of the leadership of health and social care for Scotland through a Project Lift approach. And that’s really wedded in this collective and distributed leadership because it’s that bit about also asking the leadership to start flipping their thinking round. And for you to … part of the job of a leader is to give away some of that power because it’s about building … so, again there are lots of overused words within management but it’s about trusted relationships.

That’s what we, through our case studies that we wrote about in Toby’s eBook, that was all where people in a leadership agreed to give away power. And we recognised and they built a trusted relationship. Now, it’s not that there’s no accountability and not that there’s no risk management but it’s the flipping round of, do I at the top of this, can I really control those micro-risks? Who’s risk and what risk am I controlling for? Because if by controlling the, I know I’ve given out 3 widgets of whatever service I’m providing, I know that … and then somebody can tell me that those 3 widgets have been delivered for X amount of money that I’ve paid for those 3 widgets; tick - I’ve met my accountability criteria. If those widgets didn’t deliver an outcome for that person and that person still ends up with harm but I’ve ticked my … I’ve done my job; I’ve done my diligence. I said I would spend £30 on three widgets and I’ve seen that those three widgets were delivered so, that’s okay.

In the borders we did some work with community led support team, it’s an organisation called NDTI, and their leader at that point; she said it was one of the hardest things for her in developing a model where they put in place local community hubs, people come to those community hubs and talk about what they need and they don’t go on a waiting list and they don’t get assessed but they have a conversation and that conversation starts connecting and enabling and supporting and the person thinks about what their connectors are and their strengths are and it takes a strengths based approach. And she said she couldn’t control how that would work and she couldn’t control what it would deliver and that was hard for as a public service leader but actually what she had to do was to encourage and support and enable and hold the space, with that became empowered. Not that you’re not accountable, you’re just accountable for different stuff.

Toby: One of the things that the Human Learning Systems (… unclear), is it recognised that there are lots of different accountabilities and lots of different accountability conversations need to happen. So, a social worker is accountable to the person that they’re serving. “Am I managing this learning journey that we’re going on together effectively?” They have a different accountability conversation maybe with their finance person in the social work office. “You have a budget for activities with this person, and you chose this really expensive activity. Why was it that you chose that?” So, that’s a conversation, an accountability conversation.

To like a social work professional standards body, there’s a different accountability conversation. “How did you manage the tensions of maintaining a professional learning relationship with someone that’s not too close but not too far away?” So, that’s a professional standards accountability conversation. All of those types of accountability conversations are important, the question is; how do you facilitate each of those conversations and how do you enable those conversations to have the data that they need to inform those conversations? So, that’s part of it and secondly, kind of picking up Diana’s point about then what are the leader’s accountable for? Well, leaders are accountable for creating the conditions where that public service as learning is possible.

So, for example, you would hold a leader accountable if they didn’t provide enough resources so that each social worker had a caseload of 500. Cos how are you going to have an effective learning relationship as a social worker if you’re managing a caseload of 500; that’s impossible. So, there is an accountability conversation for whoever decided that resource aimed to say, “That’s not good enough. You’re not enabling us to do our jobs. You need to sort that out.”

Michelle: Say social work departments are in that situation at the moment as you just described and they’re listening to this podcast; where does the conversation start for them? How do they start to turn things around?

Toby: So, what we’ve seen around this is that the unit and method of change around this is the experiment. And what people are experimenting with is experimenting with doing public management differently. So, there needs to be a set of people who recognise that the way their things are doing at the moment is not just inhuman but it’s wasteful because the real irony about all of this new public management stuff is it was supposed to make public service cheaper and more efficient. It doesn’t, public service is massively more wasteful and massively more expensive because it’s currently spending a tonne of money on stuff that doesn’t help people.

And we’re going, I’ve got one for example that we’re going to do at the case study next week; example from a council down in England that spent three quarters of a million pounds not helping others. Kids being taken into care and whatever. If they’d helped, so did exactly the thing that Diana was talking about before; the person asked for help from a service, “No, you’re not … your case isn’t serious enough blah blah blah.” If the council had taken a relational approach and gone, “Right, okay. Let me just hear what it is that you need, understand your life. What can we do to help?” would have cost 20 thousand pounds to sort out. The change thing comes about when you’ve got enough people dissatisfied with how things work right now to go, “we will run an experiment in doing public management differently. We’re going to take a bit of whatever it is that we do, take away all that new public management control stuff and let’s experiment with the human learning systems approach.” And what they do is, what we’ve seen people do is they build that up from the ground. So, they start by asking, what does a learning relationship look like between the public facing workers, say social workers or it could be health workers blah blah blah, what does a learning relationship look like between that public service worker and the person they’re serving? Let that learning relationship go and then they go, “Okay, as managers what do we need to learn from all of those things happening? And what do we need to enable those things to happen?” And those are the experiments that we have to do.

Michelle: Okay.

Toby: So, you build it up from the ground and it creates an alternative way of doing public management.

Michelle: Right, so it’s fostering a learning culture at the organisation which is different from how it currently is? Yeah.

Toby: And then up to place level. “Okay, how do we as commissioners need to commission differently in order to enable learning blah blah blah?” So, it just cascades upwards from doing the work differently.

Michelle: Okay. Could you give me an example then either from a person point of view or department or organisational sort of change point of view then? Just a really practical example.

Toby: A really kind of concrete example of a council doing things differently with the human learning systems approach; is Gateshead Council in the North East of England. So, they decided that they were going to try an experiment with doing their approach to council tax arrears differently. Previously how it had worked was that someone got into council tax debt, it would raise a little flag on the system and they’d get sent a letter saying, “We see you’ve missed a council tax payment.” And at that point an enforcement process kicked in because the assumption was that people who got into council tax debt could pay but were just choosing not to.

So, they got automatically generated sent a letter saying, “We see you missed a council tax payment. Unless you contact us by this time to talk about this stuff then we will start an enforcement process that will eventually come with the bailiffs going round.” No one responded to that letter. Stressed people in debt, they’re just not even going to open that. So, then the enforcement process would start to kick in, they’d say, “You haven’t contacted us by this time or other. Unless you give us a ring to arrange a payment plan, we’re going to send the bailiff’s round.” By that point about 50% of the people would phone up because what their immediate thing was, let’s stop the bailiff’s going round, so they would agree a payment plan that then they didn’t stick to because they didn’t have any money. And so eventually something like kind of 90% of people went through this enforcement thing, the bailiffs turned up.

As soon as the bailiffs knock on their door it adds an extra £200 to the person’s debt; it’s just literally as soon as the bailiff touches the front door. And what they were able to collect was virtually nothing because it turns out the reason that people were in council tax debt was that they were really poor. So, what had happened is that this whole enforcement process was making vulnerable people’s lives a whole lot worse for very little financial return. The council were like, “Let’s treat this different. Let’s have a radical rethink about this. What would happen if we treated someone getting into council tax debt as a sign that their life was having a bit of a wobble?” so, their basic idea going, most people’s lives tick along alright with a kind of a … but every so often someone’s life wobbles.

Now the council were like, “What signals can we hear of someone’s life starting to wobble and how could we put support around them as soon as we hear that?” and they were like, “What happens if we treat people getting council debt as a sign that their life might be wobbling and that they might need some help?” So, they did an experiment. They took a bunch of people who for whom the flag was raised on the system and went, “Let’s take them out of the enforcement system. Let’s make that standard council process go away for them because we’re doing an experiment so we can do something different. Let’s phone them up or let’s drop round their house and try and build a relationship with them.”

So, they phoned people up or they went to visit and said, “We see you’re in council tax debt. Let’s put that aside for a minute. What’s going on in your life? Tell us about your life.” And they heard all the things that you might expect from kind of people in poverty and who were experiencing some quite desperate circumstances so, “I’ve had to quit work because my mum can’t come and look after my son anymore in the evenings because she’s scared about my neighbour who’s being a bit anti-social which means that I had to quit my second job which means that I couldn’t afford to pay the council tax anymore.” Or, “I’ve got caring responsibilities for my mum and her condition’s worsened but she can’t get any help through this so I’ve had to blah blah blah.” And a bunch of stories … turned up in one place where there was no food in the house at all. So, the first thing that the worker was in an attempt to build a relationship was, “Tell you what, let’s have a conversation while we’re going to the shops and let’s just get some shopping in.” So, they built relationships and then they said, “Whatever it is that we can do to help with the things that you’ve told us about; we will try and sort out.” So, not, “Oh it’s not my job to sort that out. Sorry, that’s their job.”, “We will sort this out and if I can’t sort it out myself, I’m going to pull a specialist in who can help.” So, they found … one of the things they found with this initial experimental cohort of 50 people; every single person’s benefits were wrong. 100% failure rate on people getting the right benefits.

So, they brought a person from DWP into the team. So, this person went through people’s benefits claim there and then with them. So, they’re actually sitting in front of people and it turned what had previously been a 6-week process that had an 80% error rate. So, 80% of the claims were wrong. 6 weeks it took to get 4 out 5 things wrong, turn that into a 2-hour process with a 100% success rate. And of this initial experimental cohort of 50, I think it was something like 32 people’s lives like significantly turned round that did that thing of, went from wobbling to, “Oh actually, I’m pretty good now. Thanks very much.” People started paying their council tax again blah blah blah. So, taking that human learning systems approach turned out to be much more cost effective, and make the outcomes in people’s lives better.

Michelle: There’s some people in these systems, if you like, who are going an extra mile almost in their roles. And you’re probably not always going to get people in jobs who’ll want to go that extra mile. There’s different skills perhaps involved in doing your job then?

Toby: So, there’s a couple of really important points to pick up that you made there Michelle. So, firstly that exactly there is a change in people’s job scope from, “I do the thing … I’m hitting my targets meaning I’m doing a good job.” To “I am forming effective relationships with the people that I’ve serving and responding to those people well.” And that’s a much less tightly defined job role. And some people find it much more difficult to operate with that looser job role where saying, “Your job is to build relationships with people, respond to whatever it is that they need.” Now, thing being is that is the skills and capacity to be able to do that is exactly what we need from public servants. The organisations that have switched to doing that, one of the things that they find is that that reframing of the job role isn’t for everyone. So, some people leave but that’s fine because if we’re saying if it takes this relational approach then what are needed are people who can do that relational approach.

So, there is likely to be some change in staff but the other thing that Gateside Council found, when they were doing it, is they don’t have a skill shortage for people who can do this. So, the person who led the change, for the council tax thing, was a person who was a council tax arrears officer before. He was dis-satisfied with what his job was doing before and so decided to change it. And fortunately encountered a Director of Public Service Reformer who went, “Yeah, okay. Let’s build an experiment around the change you want to make.” And what they found is they said, “Who then wants to join this team?” And a bunch of people put their hand up. And they then started other bits of the council working in that way. And what they’ve discovered through all of this, is the council does not have a shortage of people who can work this way. So, one of their key messages, it doesn’t require massive retraining; we have the people to do this, we just need to liberate them to do it.

Diana: Katie Kelly who was the senior on the council, they created a whole different way of thinking and she just said, “Right, who’s up for the experiment?” And it was a really interesting thing that she did because she didn’t say, “I’ve got a job description for you to come in and lead this work and who can fill these job descriptions?” She said, “I want to do this experiment about doing all this stuff differently and who wants to be part of it?” and then people came to be part of it and she worked out how they made a team out of that. And it’s an incredibly powerful work and it’s called Vibrant Communities. And as you say, there’s no shortage of people. People don’t go into public service, it’s not the motivation whether in health or social care or in community or voluntary; people go for the different passion and it’s just allowing us to have jobs that … and work in roles that can do that.

Michelle: And would you be recommending then that organisations or people who are listening so, today who are thinking, “I’d love to try and think about this a bit more.” Do they need help with facilitation of that or support with that? Or do you think it’s something that they can run with by reading some resources and accessing some tools?

Diana: You can cos it’s about the freedom to act. Where working either as part of national learning systems or where there’s projects where you can connect with other people; is because it is disruptive and it’s slightly scary, undoubtedly. And having a process and so, but it’s not just randomly going about an experiment, there’s still the dull stuff … do the dull stuff well while freeing your mind to think completely differently; it’s important.

So, what are your, if you’re talking quality improvement language, what’s your change idea? So, you take that experiment, their change idea was to stop putting enforcement in place. What they wanted to see, did more people stay at home? Did people have better outcomes? So, they had measures along the way. So, they had a change idea. They conducted a theory of change. They decide what they want. They planned. They studied what they did. They measured it so they knew what it was working. They adapted it as they went. So, they still went through a process and then they were able to conclude at the end of it, has this made things better or not? And we would talk about making sure you’ve got balancing measures because it may have made things worse in a different place.

It might have meant that there was a big massive hole in a budget somewhere which meant the council then had to sack 20 social workers, they didn’t by the way but that was just a random analogy, I just want to be clear. But looking at that and being noticing of that is part of the picture. And then at the end of it you can then assess it and we would talk … but then you were able to assess, is this something we can spread? Can we continue this experiment elsewhere? If you just kind of chuck yourself into it, you might not at the end of it know whether it’s worked or be able to persuade the powers that be that you can continue to do it or you should do it more broadly. You know, making sure you’ve put a project plan in place and you’ve decided and you’ve documented what it is you’re trying to change and you’ve put in place how you will know if a change is working. That’s all those measurements, it’s not that they don’t have measures and indicators or anything like that, it’s just you’re doing it with an intent that; is that the intent to enable learning and to enable and empower and not to control. It’s the bit that Toby said about, if you get the intent right, you drive your change ideas and your whole plan with that different intent; you will get a different outcome.

Toby: And just to pick up that question of, can people do this for themselves? Absolutely, like all of the Vanguard pioneers, that spoke … so, the reason that we’re able to talk about this stuff is not cos we developed the theory first. All the theory comes from the practice of the pioneers who have been changing this stuff. So, every single thing that I’ve talked about today; is from someone’s practice that’s already doing this. All we’ve done is stitch it all together and say, “Actually what you’ve got here is a completely alternative way of doing public management.”

And why that’s important, is because it is a public management system. So, you can’t just change one practice without it having blah blah so, you can’t say, “Okay, we’re going to stop measuring this, this and this.” Because then your performance management system doesn’t work and then blah blah blah. So, you have to do the whole shift, it’s not just about changing one thing here, one thing there. So, a bunch of people have done this, the pioneers, and so what we’re trying to create as Diana’s said, is a way for all the people who want to make this kind of change to learn together because it’s hard work, making that kind of paradigm shift.

So, what we’ve got is people who want to make that change, if they want to draw on the experience of others, there’s a kind of network of practitioners building communities in practice, all of that kind of stuff. If people do need help with like supporting their particular organisation or place to change, there are a bunch of people that they can draw on for that help. So, we’ve kind of formed a loose association of all the different people and organisations who are available to help organisations change; it’s called the Human Learning Systems Collaborative. You can kind of see information about it on the Human Learning dot Systems website.

Michelle: Fantastic.

Diana: And in Scotland we’re building a learning network around collaborative communities in which this event next week is part of that programme of work to create across health and social care organisations in Scotland who want to think about lots of different ways that they can support a more collaborative community, what matters to you, person centred, whatever language you want to use about. But we recognise that learning network between us as a national organisation, being able to convene in space. So, I would absolutely, the ideas come from the ground and the people wanting to do things differently.

What both Toby’s learning community and our learning community and they’re not very complementary spaces and we’ve incurred both, is to support people. Because it is disruptive, this. And that can feel very isolating and very … you know, you’re putting yourself out there and at times you will have a crisis of confidence that this is the way to go because there will be a lot of people, a lot of the system will be pushing back to you in quite micro ways, you will feel resistance. And I talk about tenacity in transformation because if you’re going to do things differently, it takes time. There is no silver bullet, and magic will not occur overnight. So, having other people who are there to go, “Yeah, yeah we went there. I remember when that bit was hard too but this is how we helped.” That peer support around this and creating a community round it is, I think, is as important as getting into the tools and techniques so I would absolutely say these national ways of bringing together people who are learning. So, we’d learn together about how we do this, that feels really important.

Michelle: Well it’s been wonderful to speak to you both about this approach. I can really get a sense of your passion about it. Thanks again for agreeing to take part and I really enjoyed the discussion. Thank you.

Toby: Thank you Michelle.

Diana: Thank you very much. Thank you.


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