Joy MacKeith shares her thoughts after the inaugural Towards Relational Public Services (TRePubS) Conference
How do you deliver public services that are relational – services that recognise and respond to the unique needs and circumstances of each individual? That was the topic of the conference ‘Towards Relational Public Services’ that I have just had the pleasure to participate in.
Sam Game and I gave a workshop which explored how the Outcomes Star helps to make ‘Enabling Help’ a reality in practice. Working in a relational way is one of the six core principles of Enabling Help, Triangle’s blueprint for effective services.
Sam, who leads the implementation of the Parent and Baby Star in Health Visiting services in Warwickshire, described how using the Star has helped them work in a more relational, collaborative and strengths-based way. Parents have responded incredibly well. They are much clearer about the health visitor’s role and they love the way that Star helps them see what is going well as well as where they have needs. And it isn’t just the parents. It has also helped commissioners to understand and value the service.
Our workshop was one of more than 40 sessions which took place over two days at Newcastle Business School – part of Northumbria University.
For me the highlight was Mark Smith’s presentation on service transformation work in Gateshead. He described how they have implemented an approach to working with people with complex needs in which there are only two rules: ‘do no harm’ and ‘stay legal’. In this ‘liberated method’ case workers have a low caseload and there are no limits on how long they can work with someone or what kind of support can be provided. And case workers have budgets and the discretion to spend money to help solve pressing problems.
What I loved about this approach was that the bureaucracy was stripped out, giving workers the chance to do simple things that could make a big difference and avert much greater problems down the line.
Mark is part of a growing movement of managers, practitioners and academics who are challenging the orthodoxies of New Public Management (sometimes described as the 3 Ms – Markets, Metrics and Management). They are making the case that outcomes emerge from many interacting factors and therefore cannot be ‘delivered’ or dictated. In this complex environment, learning rather than prescription and control is the most effective management strategy. And it makes more sense for commissioners to take a relational approach and to hold service providers accountable for learning rather than targets. This new approach is called Human Learning Systems.
Toby Lowe, Visiting Professor of Public Management and the Centre for Public Impact closed the conference with a call to action – for all of us who want to see services that are more relational, responsive and effective to come together and work with a coalition of the willing to create a paradigm shift in public management. It is an exciting vision, and one that I think the Outcomes Star, a tool with flexible, relational working at its core, can play a role in realising.
Joy MacKeith, Co-creator of Outcomes Star