Report launch: Building Collaborative Places

| Anna Eaton

Title: Building Collaborative Places: Infrastructure for System Change

Published by: Collaborate CIC supported by Lankelly Chase

Published: February 2017

Today we were at the launch event for Collaborate’s new research report into the infrastructure needed for whole system change across our local public services, anchor institutions and civil society. Collaborate is a community interest company which helps public services collaborate to tackle complex social challenges.

Their report has been published in the context that something about public services is not working. There are huge inequalities across regions and communities in the UK and demand is ever-increasing alongside the major challenge of ongoing austerity measures.

Collaborate’s Chief Executive Henry Kippin and Director of Public Services Anna Randle introduced the report by explaining that through their work, they have found there is lots of small innovation and ambition, but that these projects get stuck at the margins of wider systems and are the exception, not the rule. The report draws on real practice and real projects and identifies nine infrastructure blocks they believe are needed and must work together to help achieve and encourage wide, whole system change.

A panel including Lord Victor Adebowale, Oldham Council Leader Jean Stretton, Lankelly Chase’s Director of System Changes Alice Evans and Collaborate’s Anna Randle then talked through some of their experience of system change and took questions from the floor.

Lord Adebowale highlighted what we think are 4 handy and simple elements that he believes are required for system change:

  1. There needs to be a transfer of power.
  2. Outcomes have to be defined by the user not the provider.
  3. System design has to be understood, simple, clear and relevant.
  4. People and providers have to listen, not just hear.

There were some wonderful discussions around the difficulty of shifting hierarchical power, what it means to truly collaborate and how important it is to recognise that none of us know what the future is.

What emerged from the event through the questions from the audience and the perspectives from the panel members, was the human, emotional impact and aspects of system change. People were expressing fear, frustration and describing how it felt to unlearn things and let go of power. One panel member described how system change can be viewed as a journey of human beings changing their relationships with each other.

Similarly, both Cllr Stretton and Alice emphasised the importance of communication and how using simple, inclusive language can have a major impact on where we view ourselves and others in system changes. Several panel members advocated that any person or system leader should think about change by starting with themselves. Alice urged the audience to let go of the language of ‘them’, ‘they’ and ‘the system’ and instead to use ‘we’, ‘I’ and ‘our system’. These small language changes can shift our perspectives and our thinking when it comes to tackling problems and working together.

Another interesting, emotional element was the idea that we have to feel we have the right to question fixed systems or process, and that we can feel safe doing so. This was a powerful concept as so many of us can feel trapped and fearful of doing things differently and each person involved in change as an emotional battle to be brave.

Check out the report for a practical approach to system change. And perhaps, a follow up to this handy, infrastructure toolkit, could be a report on the emotional aspects of whole system change.

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