Going for collaboration at the GoLab Conference

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Triangle co-founder and Outcomes Star co-author Joy MacKeith reflects on the theme of collaboration at this year’s Social Outcomes Conference and points to Human Learning Systems as an effective way to make this the norm in service delivery.

Hear Joy describe what Triangle has learnt about what works in service delivery in this podcast

Watch her conversation with HLS proponent Toby Lowe

In early September, I had a fascinating two days at the Government Outcomes Lab (GoLab) Social Outcomes Conference.

I learnt about Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) and other outcomes-based funding initiatives around the world, from France to Australia and Paraguay to Japan, but for me, the most interesting session was on the UK’s Life Chances Fund.

We heard from many of the initiatives receiving this funding, all of them doing incredible work in a range of sectors including vulnerable mothers, employment and mental health.

The strongest common theme was how this additional funding and its link to long-term outcomes drove meaningful collaboration between providers and commissioners. In these initiatives, all parties are working together to identify blocks and create an ecosystem of services that has the needs of the person being helped at the core. It was inspiring to hear about their work.

Interestingly there wasn’t very much talk about the payment mechanisms and the extent to which linking funding to the achievement of particular targets was a valuable part of the process. From behind-the-scenes conversations I have had at this conference in previous years, I know that this can be a sensitive subject. Projects can be reticent to raise this issue when funders are in the room.

There were, however, some interesting discussions about the sustainability of these programmes. Although they can demonstrate cost savings, these are not always savings to the organisation providing the funding. For example, the local authority provides the funding, but the health service makes the saving. And they are not always ‘cashable’. For example, re-offending rates are reduced, but that does not make it possible to close down a wing of that prison and thereby reduce costs, at least in the short term. This fact can threaten the sustainability of SIBs as the rationale depends on the logic of these cashable savings. Perhaps we need to look for other mechanisms to support collaboration.

I have attended this conference for the last four years. This year I sensed a growing recognition of the importance of a person-centred approach to service delivery and the need to create a collaborative service system to achieve this. And more and more people now have experience of seeing how this can deliver improvements in practice. What we need now is a way of making this way of working part of typical day-to-day practice – in commissioning and service management, rather than something that happens when there is an additional pot of money to incentivise and support it.

Here I think Human Learning Systems (HLS) has some of the answers. It is an approach with problem-solving and ‘doing what it takes’ rather than ‘doing by the book’ at its core. This was a point made at the event by Lee Whitehead of Manchester Metropole University. He studied many SIBs and found that those that followed the HLS principles were more likely to succeed.  Gary Wallace of Plymouth also talked about how they are taking the kind of relational approach that both HLS and Triangle recommend outside of the context of a SIB.

I’ve been exploring HLS and the overlaps with Triangle’s Enabling Help principles with Toby Lowe, one of its leading proponents.  You can watch our conversation here.

And for a fuller description of what Triangle has learnt from twenty years of creating and supporting the Outcomes Stars in practice, listen to this episode of Next Stage Radicals where I describe the main messages of our Enabling Help report.

Also, look out for October’s edition where Mark Smith of Gateshead Council will be talking about how they are transforming their service delivery – informed by HLS and working with the Outcomes StarTM.

I will certainly be back at GoLab in 2023. I hope there will be even more space next year to hear from people like Mark who are finding ways to implement the person-centred and collaborative approaches, that are so important to Triangle and the people who use our Outcomes Stars– with or without a SIB.

Further reading: Dr Anna Good shares her thoughts on #SOC22

Musings on the importance of trusting relationships, professionals’ emotional labour, and the desire to improve delivery through data. 

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