Building the bridge: creating culture change in public sector services

| Helen Sharp

This blog has been written by Nick Dixon, the Senior Advisor on the PCCA (Person and Community Centred Approaches) team, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. 

There’s a significant gap between public services and the communities they serve, pictured as a fast flowing river separating on one bank public services, with citizens and communities on the other. Who is on the bridge connecting the two banks?

Public service leaders know there’s a need for a new relationship with the people they serve. But barriers like control, fear, trust and perception seem to reinforce the divide and make it harder to close the gap. 

In Greater Manchester, there’s understandable reluctance to innovate and follow a different path. How do you truly share power with communities and follow untested routes when the risk of failure and subsequent blame from politicians, media or inspectorates is never far away? 

Behind any culture change lies power and influence – and this remains firmly on one riverbank. The words are encouraging but there’s little evidence of citizens taking accountability and influencing how budgets are spent, or of connections and trust growing between people and public services.

Here in Greater Manchester we’re seeking culture change, with Person and Community Centred Approaches (PCCA) at the heart of it. All ten Localities have embraced PCCA within their Locality Plans. All ten have a Social Prescribing model in practice, an approach to Personalised Care and Personal Budgets, and a workforce programme rooted in strengths-based training.

In a blog for NLGN, Policy Researcher Trinley Walker issues a challenge: “Given the pressures on public services from rising demand and the inability of current models to address that pressure, there is now little choice left but to embrace boldness and creativity.”

Every Locality in Greater Manchester is addressing this challenge, I want to comment on three who are embracing boldness and creativity. With the support of their senior system leaders and PCCA Team backing, they are testing new approaches to engaging their citizens and communities:

  • Rochdale has a strong culture that embraces coproduction and PCCA, embracing its history as the birthplace of the cooperative movement. Citizen engagement is a real strength. The Locality is building on a creative approach known as Citizens Enquiries and the Democratising of Space and is now developing a Cooperative Engagement Approach throughout its public services Recent strategic work identified a wish to develop a ‘People’s Partnership’, many examples abound of creative engagement seeking to share power through genuine coproduction. One example is the Ideas Shop a novel approach where small groups of staff including senior managers from public services meet with citizens to reach agreement on ideas to improve the neighbourhood.
  • In Bury, public service staff listen to and learn from residents in the neighbourhoods they serve, drawing on the ground-breaking ethnographic work that informed the Wigan Deal. This is complemented by public service support for building a social movement, see #KindBury. Building on the passion and commitment of both residents and voluntary sector and faith groups, the New NHS Alliance and Collaborate Out Loud are addressing power sharing, looking to create effective and decisive Local Community Forums.
  • Stockport is building on the ideas behind People Powered Health, which were successfully tested in the Locality a few years ago. The result is the ‘Team Around the Place’, which engages with citizens in the areas they call home, 34 naturally occurring geographies, rather than within public service-created constructs, such as the town’s eight Neighbourhoods or 21 Wards. The Team Around the Place not only aligns the public service offer in a neighbourhood more efficiently but enables a way for the specialist services, so often detached and removed from people’s lives, to connect with the rich assets available in every Locality, even the most deprived

Rochdale, Bury and Stockport have agreed for their innovative and bespoke approaches to be studied and the lessons captured and shared. We are not seeking to find the single model for transferring power and influence to citizens. It doesn’t exist. But we are looking for the golden nuggets of peer learning, which can be critical to overcoming barriers to progress.

Between September 2019 and February 2020, there is a period of observation, reflection and testing. Working in collaboration, the University of Salford’s Salford Social Prescribing HubIdeas Alliance and Macc will publish the results of this critical reflection in March 2020. These will be interesting and relevant to audiences on both riverbanks, and will help to build ever-stronger bridges between public services and citizens.

Get in touch

To learn more about PCCA in Greater Manchester, email

Further reading

To find out more about the themes and ideas in this post, read:

Photo by Torsten Muller

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