Nicola Underdown, Head of Engagement (West)
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
I’ve been thinking a lot about messiness recently – and not just because of the chaos around trying to decorate the spare room in the run up to Christmas! The DIY does provide a nice parallel though – the bigger the task list gets for preparing the room, the more compelled I have felt to file my receipts, tidy the spice rack and even start to tackle the tax return instead. Feeling overwhelmed by the redecoration, I was drawn to simple, finite and discreet tasks where I could exert some control and see some quick progress.
I think a similar process is happening when we work with local places that are trying to bring about change in the way they deliver services, particularly when they are trying to change culture. Culture is hard to define and tricky to measure, so investing time and effort in making a change can feel like a futile exercise. As the end of the year approaches, our engagement team has been reflecting on the factors which seem to be associated with changing culture and improving information sharing in the name of public service transformation.
Take leadership, for example. Leaders have a vital role to play in describing a future that everybody wants to be a part of. By capturing and expressing a compelling vision for the future, it helps to remind partners of the goal that lies beyond the struggle, and it can help unlock barriers which might be standing in the way of sharing information.
In Nottingham North, for example, the strong leadership comes from Graham Allen MP, who has a powerful and persuasive vision of how things can be changed for the better in a deprived constituency. This enables him to get partners to the table, sharing a commitment to change. But how can leadership be invested into all those partners, so that they can carry that vision with them and spread change throughout their own organisations?
Another good example is in Cornwall, where the Living Well pioneer programme is helping to improve outcomes for people in need of health and social care support. They do this by having a conversation with the individual to develop a holistic understanding of their needs.They then share information appropriately and provide support, whether it is for traditional health and social care services, or support to re-engage in the community, gain new friends and so on. The initial pilot was driven forward by inspired, passionate and enthusiastic individuals who were keen to make change within their locality. How can the programme be scaled up and broadened out across the whole of the county, without losing touch with that grassroots appeal?
A common thread across many of the places we support is around capacity and capability to work on information sharing. We have always been keen to say that we ‘start from the policy end’, asking what the local place is trying to achieve, and what information needs to be shared to help design, deliver and evaluate that. This means that our conversations are with the transformation leads, heads of service, chief officers and so on. Their organisations have already had to respond to a period of austerity and their teams are at full stretch. Who has the right mix of skills to keep this work aligned to organisational or partnership objectives? Who has the capacity to drive this forward?
These themes are emerging across all the policy areas with which we engage, and in many of the local places. Their cross-cutting nature means that we are able to share learning and good practice which might otherwise have escaped notice. It also brings the opportunity to accelerate progress and give inspiration (and reassurance) that barriers can be overcome. In the New Year, we will be sharing more of what we are learning with local places, but until then, have a very merry Christmas from all of us at the Centre!