This post is the last in a series of reflections on the Right to Control Trailblazer work in Essex over the last few months. For an overview of the work, an introduction to this post and links to all previous posts in the series, please see the opening post of this series.
Bringing together 3 local public agencies, and different teams from within those agencies, is bound to throw up a number of interesting points at both a principle and practical level. It’s the stuff management books are written of. Here are the issues I’ve encountered so far, in no particular order.
1. Literally bringing together several professionals across different agencies is a logistically difficult thing to do. Email addresses, phone numbers, who to contact if that person isn’t in, finding times when everyone can be in the same room at the same time, building a rapport between each of the individuals, working across different typical office hours – is just a practically difficult thing to do. If you throw in any element of time pressure, a lack of understanding of the “why?” or a lack of commitment, the logistics of bringing people together becomes exponentially harder.
2. People operate in different cultures with different expectations and behaviours arising from those cultures. This is obvious, but by far the most interesting implication of it so far has been in the application of language: the single thing that has exercised brains more than anything else (at least collectively) has been on deciding what to call individuals exercising the Right to Control. Are they clients, service users, customers, people or citizens? Addressing this point to the satisfaction of all will be as crucial to the success of the Right to Control as any process redesign, because of the cultural and attitudinal factors it represents.
3. I suspect there is a hierarchy of policy sectors to be found in this work, both in central and local government perception. From a central perspective I suspect that hierarchy goes something like employment > housing > social care. From a local government perspective I suspect that hierarchy is inverted. The implications for this in terms of engagement, particularly with regard to senior managers and who thinks they hold the ultimate decision making power, represents huge risk factors to roll-out, since the tension it creates could fatally undermine the whole project. How does a public service reform agenda that brings together senior leaders from across different sectors address these tensions? I’m pretty sure it’s not through talking about efficiencies and savings, because those discussions give rise to the crucial but difficult question of who gains these efficiencies/savings (if not the service user!). And if that’s the case, what – really – is left?
4. Bringing people together across different agencies to do similar work creates two related but opposite risks: diluting the professional expertise of an individual, or placing too much trust in the professional expertise of an individual. On the one hand, if you require an individual to work across several funding streams then you’re diluting their expertise in the area they originally knew about. But if you equally lift them above the fray and maintain their work only in one area, you’re undermining everything you’re seeking to achieve. I suspect the solution to this one is to have different levels of expertise commonly available across all service strands. When a service user accesses the Right to Control then they enter at a point where a group of individuals who work across all funding streams can be found. They can then quickly identify, in partnership with the individual, the best approach to take with them, and so call upon the professional expertise available at different ‘levels’.