Benefits and pitfalls for commissioners

When using the Star well, there are significant benefits for commissioners and service providers and especially for service users. Find out more about the benefits of using the Outcomes Star below, as well as the pitfalls to avoid in order to achieve those benefits when introducing the Star into the commissioning process.

Key benefits of using the Outcomes Star

Shifting the focus on to outcomes

For commissioners and service providers alike, the Outcomes Star drives a way of working where outcomes are the focus – where all stakeholders are not just focused on the services that are being delivered but the actual change that happens as a result.

For service providers, measuring outcomes can help them raise their game and shift incentives to things that really matter for the service users they work with.   And for commissioners, a strong focus on outcomes over outputs allows you to adopt a different lens when monitoring service performance, to take a more meaningful approach to assessing value for money and to have greater scope of innovation in service design and delivery.

Improving service delivery by improving keywork

Each version of the Outcomes Star provides a consistent, clear and accessible framework for keyworkers to work within – setting out the areas they need to cover, and the change they should be working to achieve.  And because the Stars are designed to be done with service users, as opposed to done to, they help foster productive relationships and promote meaningful conversations between keyworker and service user.

The accessible and simple format of the Outcomes Star can also support multi-agency working, particularly if working with people with different professional and non-professional backgrounds.  Because each version of the Star is holistic, it can capture a meaningful overview of a person life, and if used over time, it can demonstrate how their life has changed.

Providing a framework for planning services

The Outcomes Star Journey of Change identifies five main stages that people can go through in the journey from high risk or dependency to self-reliance. Each stage requires different – though overlapping – types of service provision. Commissioners can use this journey as a framework for planning services and in their service specifications to ensure services are available for vulnerable people at each stage and to achieve the outcome of moving people to the next stage.

Developing a learning culture

Both for commissioners and service providers, measuring outcomes using the Star is a relatively straightforward way of being able to learn more about what works.  The Star won’t provide all of the answers, but it can help you ask better and better questions. Read more about Star data here.

Pitfalls that commissioners should watch out for

Requiring the use of any tool without active buy-in from service providers

Imposing the Star on a service provider runs the risk of the Star becoming another tick box exercise and another brick in the wall of bureaucracy facing service providers. Services may already have tools embedded in their practice, or they may not have a culture of keyworking which is vital to successful use of the Star.
In order to avoid issues, commissioners should do the following:

  • Talk to Triangle before specifying the Star in a contract or framework, to make sure the Outcomes Star is a suitable tool for their service and if there is a version of the Star that will work for them
  • Recommend the Outcomes Star to services but don’t make it mandatory until you understand if they already use other good tools that may be duplicated by the Outcomes Star
  • Explain the theory behind the Star and why it works to managers – bring them along with you and be confident that usually any initial resistance is quickly overcome
  • Put the service managers themselves in touch with Triangle at any point for a discussion about how the Star can work for them.

Specifying the Star even though it isn’t suitable for that service

The Outcomes Star doesn’t suit all service delivery approaches and settings.  Imposing the Star somewhere where it isn’t designed to work will not bring benefits to any party.
Before recommending or mandating the use of the Star, you should make sure that there is a good fit:

  • The service should have an on-going relationship with service users, in which they meet them one-to-one on a regular basis
  • The service should want to measure outcomes as an integral part of their ongoing work, rather than through occasional research
  • The service wants to measure progress and is working actively with the service on all or most of the areas in the Star
  • The service wants to measure distance travelled towards end outcomes, rather than just whether or not an end outcome has been achieved
  • The service and the commissioning or funding body want to use Star outcomes data in an ongoing way for learning and service improvement
  • If the points above aren’t true for your service, then you may want to get in touch with us to talk it through, or you may need to consider other tools and approaches.  The Inspiring Impact programme is a good place to start.

Not allowing a realistic time for implementation

Underestimating the amount of time and planning needed to embed the Star (and any other new tool or approach) effectively risks undermining its use from the start. As the Star is a licensed tool, services will need to organise licences and training from Triangle, and are encouraged to develop implementation plans, steering groups and pilots.  And once the Star is up and running in a service it will take time for meaningful, distance-travelled data to be collected.

What to do:

  • Understand Triangle’s terms of use for the Star and support services to procure appropriate licences and training
  • Set realistic timeframes for services to equip themselves and their ways of working for a new tool like the Star – where possible allow for pilot periods
  • Accept that meaningful distance travelled data will take time to collect and that quality assuring that data is an ongoing process.

Interpreting outcomes information in too simplistic a way

Star data and outcomes information in general is more nuanced than typical service quality and service output data, so interpreting Star data as showing that a service is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is often over simplifying what Star can show.   Using Star data requires a good understanding of the outcome areas covered by a Star, and especially of the Journey of Change behind the ‘scores.’

What to do:

  • Take an interest in Star data – understand which version of the Star is being used, what outcome areas are covered and what the numbers mean by understanding the Journey of Change and detailed scale descriptors
  • Use Star data in a spirit of learning and enquiry – a basis for asking better and better questions
  • Don’t focus only on quality and output data in monitoring reports and meetings – incorporate Star data reports, case studies and other broader measures
  • Don’t set numerical targets for achieving outcomes on the Star without understanding what the numbers mean in the context of the service you are commissioning
  • Be careful when linking funding to the achievement of certain scores, as it could be incentivising the manipulation of data. Read more about this on our Payments by Results page

Not making the most of Star data

Star data can deliver at many different levels. See our Star data section for more information on this. However to get the most out of your Star data, it needs to be accurate and collected correctly in the first place.

What to do:

  • Include specifications around quality assuring Star data within a service – such as incorporating use of the Star into keyworker supervision, and regularly auditing case files
  • Talk to Triangle about ways we can support accurate use of the Star through our tools, training and services
  • Encourage a service to engage with their own data – using it as a basis for learning what does and doesn’t work, finding evidence for gaps or improvements in the service, and sharing data analysis with keyworkers to show how useful accurate data can be
  • Quality assure data directly, by ‘spot checking’ service user case files and assessing the extent to which providers are involving service users in completing Stars and undertaking quality assurance steps themselves.