Our job is to the mind the gap between the bureaucracy of our systems and the opportunities in our communities — Cormac Russell
The first step is realisation. Accepting that most of us in the social sector are employed because of failure.
As Matthew Manos has written — it’s a field of business that profits from past societal failure — rather than the contemplation of the signals of failures that have yet to exist.
The entire premise relies on reaction.
The challenge — as we discussed this week at the Festival of Strengths — is how to switch your organisation to be pre-emptive. And that requires a whole system change.
A move from telling to listening.
A move from managing to coaching.
A move from filling the gaps with services to closing the gaps through connections.
It also means taking a position. Believing in what people can do rather than what they can’t. That’s a philosophy that doesn’t sit easily on a business plan. Predicting what your services look like when the ultimate aim could be less service is difficult.
However running a business where you admit you don’t have the answers boosts your capacity for innovation. It immediately places you in a collaborative state. Willing to seek advice from others , open to new partnerships.
The bureaucracy of our systems would be solved if we stepped back and only did what we can do best. At Bromford we are focussing on the ‘irreducible core’ of service that our communities must receive from us.
The services we currently have that replace, control or overwhelm the power of community will become obsolete. The second of our organisational design principles is that we should think community first, services last.
It’s not easy to change people’s mindsets from doing to connecting. It’s not easy to remove the scripts, policies and rules we have built around our institutions that suffocate creativity.
As Philippa Jones writes here, Bromford have been exploring this way of working for nearly five years. The launch of our new localities approach will see Neighbourhood Coaches with patches of around 175 households replacing traditional Housing Managers who each look after 500 households. Last year we invested £1.1m in testing it, and following successful pilots we’re rolling it out at a cost of £3.5m.
At the Festival of Strengths I was lucky enough to share a platform with the people from Wigan Council. Their work shows that Adult Social Care doesn’t need to be in a permanent state of crisis.
There is an approach that both Wigan and Bromford share:
- They refused the urge to panic when their environment changed — instead investing in people and giving them the space to think differently.
- They gave people permission to challenge preconceived practices and ‘rules’.
- They refused the rush to technology as a solution, recognising the vital role of people as a differentiator of service.
- They took a different attitude to risk and learning from failure
And both are at the early stages of seeing the rewards from their investment.
Seemingly — what’s good for communities is also good for business.