Will you take a leap of faith or a methodical approach?

The Early Action Task Force‘s second report The Deciding Time, identifies 6 obstacles in the way of a more preventative, early action approach to tackling the problems and multiple disadvantages that blight many people’s lives and cost the country £billions. It recommends a fundamental shift from short-term, crisis interventions to investment in services and initiatives that provide longer-term, sustainable solutions. The Task Force talks about ten year tests of plans and the impact over the decade, incentives and sanctions to break down ‘silos’ and encourage preventative approaches. The report challenges the third sector, including advice services to think differently and lead the transition, with a special focus on advice provided by Matthew Smerdon and Joe Randall from the Baring Foundation.

Many people working in advice services (in England at least) face their own ‘deciding time’ at present with bids for the Advice Services Transition Fund required in January. The Cabinet Office and Big Lottery place an emphasis on early intervention and prevention in the Fund. Despite reservations about the condition and criteria for the Fund, it does provide the advice sector with an opportunity to, as stated in a blog for Legal Voice “move to a situation where advice services do better things. Changing the role and point of intervention of advice services – giving them a greater role in preventing failure, improving systems and people’s lives and in so doing saving public money, offers a chance to make the transition to sustainable services.”

At the launch of The Deciding Time, all commentators referred to systemic failure. Louise Casey, Head of the Troubled Families Team at the Department for Communities and Local Government, noted that a troubled system runs alongside troubled families. Getting to the root of problems is the key, she said.

The one thing that we believe has not been explicitly identified by the Task Force as an obstacle and building block for an early action approach and tackling systemic failure is method (or lack of it). There is one method that provides us with the knowledge of the systems with which advice services work and the helps us to understand and tackle the root causes of demand for advice. We are firm advocates (and practitioners) of Vanguard Method for systems thinking as a basis for service design and delivery. Without a method we may scramble around in the dark for ways to transform our services.

By way of illustration, in a recent letter to Department for Work and Pensions about Personal Independence Payment (PIP) implementation we said:

“We were……dismayed to see your consultation with frontline agencies that proposes starting with a blank piece of paper. This is a nonsensical approach and it will never enable the department to understand demand for its services and its causes. There is only one sensible way you can design PIP implementation – or indeed any other delivery system, and that is to go and study demand and build a base of knowledge about what your customers need – real people, placing real demands on the service in real time.

With a robust understanding of what matters to people you can then set up a service that aims to deliver only and exactly that. By experimenting and using data that helps you see what works and what doesn’t, you will deliver real quality for people and reduce delivery costs massively. Anything else is a leap of faith that will deliver waste and poor service.”

We need government departments like DWP to understand this. We need them to understand that their failures get picked up by advice services. We need to understand the need for method ourselves too in the advice sector. If you are interested in trying it, please get in touch.

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