Dedication is what you need if you want to be a paradigm shifter

Jovian Smalley Jovian Smalley, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks since I joined the Centre of Excellence’s Engagement team. In the space of just three weeks, I’m now up to speed with the Health and Social Care integration agenda, I’ve attended an event for Health and Care pioneers which explored current projects that are joining up processes and systems, and I’ve learned what informatics means for the profession.

Away from the books, I’ve become literate with our enterprise social media platform, Yammer, which is supporting the team in linking up and sharing stories from the road. I have also heard from one of our key partners, the Public Service Transformation Network about the importance of sharing our local successes with central government – and I’ve got to know thirteen fantastic new colleagues who all seem to possess a staggering set of skills!

Out on the road, I’ve been meeting people from two of the places that I am engaging with: Bath and North East Somerset and Cornwall. They both have big plans for transformational change, although they’re coming at it from different angles.

In Bath, services are starting to share data which is giving them richer insights into ways they can support people to get out of debt and back into sustainable work. In Cornwall, the council is using its pioneer status to co-design services with citizens and develop partnerships between the community and voluntary sector so that elderly, often isolated people live well and find friendship.

The common thread running through these two programmes is that their success relies on information being shared effectively between all the services involved. This is where the Centre’s seven Engagement Managers come in.

I have been supporting change in the public sector for twelve years now, but there’s no doubt that the challenges and opportunities the role of Engagement Manager brings means I’m on the steepest learning curve of my career. Perhaps my colleagues would say the same. But what have we actually learned? Well for me, it boils down to these three key points:

1.    You don’t have all the answers

These days, home makeover shows and agony columns tend to make us think an expert can solve all our problems. At the Centre though, we don’t want to engage local places on that level, or give the impression we can do this work better than the qualified professionals on the ground. In fact, the Engagement Manager is a critical friend who walks with programme managers and practitioners on their journey, challenging them to look at information sharing problems from a different angle and enabling them to find joint solutions.

2.    You’re not alone

Even though we work across England, shuttling between Sheffield and Cornwall, we all rely on each other’s support and experience to guide us through the engagement process. Yammer is just one tool that can help us do this, but so can a quick phone call now and then. If we really want to make a difference to the transformation work of local places, we need to remember that the Centre is more than the sum of its parts.

3.    You’re in this for the long-haul

As we have said before in a previous blog post, information sharing is a marathon not a sprint. Once you’ve started linking, you can start to shift thinking (and as a result perhaps influence the way national organisations are thinking). But we don’t pretend we can help make these ‘paradigm shifts’ overnight. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t need to exist!

So perhaps the greatest resource we Engagement Managers and all of our colleagues have is dedication. Dedication to finding ways that help local places continue the really great partnership work they’re already doing, and a commitment to sticking with them until they get the job done. They need time and space to build their case for sharing information and I’ve learned that, in the words of the late, great Roy Castle, dedication’s what we need.