Systems Leadership in practice

I was kindly invited by Debbie Sorkin to attend an event on Systems Leadership last week. It was held at the University of West of England’s business school, and was part peer support, part theory and part sharing findings on how Systems Leadership works in practice.

I’ve highlighted before why I’m so taken with what Systems Leadership seeks to do – see here and here – and it was great to hear directly from people who have been explicitly putting this approach into practice through the Local Vision programme.

The Local Vision programme is run by the Leadership Programme and supports 25 areas with Systems Leadership at the moment. An interim evaluation (pdf) of how this has been working so far is now available, and there’s lots of good stuff in there to look at and consider. I’m particularly taken with the importance of the Enabler role – a person who:

  • Builds a safe space, relationships and trust
  • Surfaces hidden themes and patterns
  • Fosters recognition and ownership of what needs to change
  • Creates shared purpose and collective connection
  • Explores and fosters recognition of the nature of systems leadership
  • Brokers/acts as independent arbiter; encouraging reflection and learning.

As if to highlight this is a way of working that deserves more attention, the King’s Fund also last week published a fascinating report about the practice of Systems Leadership and “being comfortable with chaos”.

One final point: it was rightly noted at the UWE event that Systems Leadership isn’t the only answer. I agree wholeheartedly with this: we cannot and should not dogmatically take a Systems Leadership approach to every problem we face, if not for the sole reason that not every problem will be suited to such an approach.


Housing First: homes for homeless people

Image: -macjsp on flickr
Image: -macjasp on flickr

Via a slightly breathless article in the Washington Post, I came across a great approach to homelessness: Housing First:

A model so simple children could grasp it, so cost-effective fiscal hawks loved it, so socially progressive liberals praised it… Give homes for the homeless

There’s a terrific briefing from Shelter on what Housing First is (pdf); it’s key components are as follows:

  • Immediate (or relatively immediate), permanent accommodation is provided to service users directly from the streets, without the requirement of assessed housing readiness
  • No preconditions of treatment access or engagement are made (housing first, not treatment first)
  • Comprehensive support services are offered and brought to the service user
  • A harm-reduction approach is taken to dependency issues and abstinence is not required. However, the support agency must be prepared to support residents’ commitments to recovery
  • Support can ‘float away’ or return as needs arise and the housing is maintained even if the resident leaves the programme, for example through imprisonment or hospital admission.

In the US, a four-year study found that the Housing First approach led to 88% housing retention rate, compared to a 47% retention rate for treatment first models. A shorter UK study of nine housing services (pdf) has found a range of excellent outcomes, too, including housing retention, improved mental and physical health, some reductions in drug and alcohol use, some positive evidence of social integration, and some reductions in anti-social behaviour.

It’s interesting to me the parallels between the housing first model (get people a house, then support them) and the Individual Placement & Support employment model for people with mental health problems (get people a job, then support them).

This is intriguing stuff, and I’ll be keeping a lookout for more on this.