Innovation in public services: better models, new roles, enabling technology

3 October 2017

The example of Community Circles

Community Circles is one of many initiatives offering ways of preventing some needs arising, bringing community assets much more into play, releasing local entrepreneurial spirit and engaging people and communities as “co-producers” of sustainable support. Circles are facilitated by volunteers and bring together family, friends and community members to support individuals. They use person centred methods and tools to identify things that are important to people such as increasing well-being, combatting loneliness, building community connections and improving care outcomes, and then plan and act to achieve them.

In a context where public services are notoriously slow to adopt new approaches, we believe a range of innovation elements are critical when looking to introduce and scale new models. There is some tendency to see innovation almost exclusively in terms of technology. However our model incorporates, but is not limited to new uses of tech. It includes innovation in:

· Delivery model – to move beyond marginal presence in the support mix we are innovating an effective model for delivery and scaling – deploying the roles of Circles Connectors and a new kind of volunteer role – Circles Facilitators. The model allows flexible embedding in a range of organisations and contexts supporting a set of offers from free, do it yourself materials to, major organisational partnerships. It is designed to drive out formal costs and support significant and sustainable scale up without the need for a large formal organisation.

· Methods – person centred methods enable effective planning, organisation and action by individual support Circles alongside activities such as community mapping to bring local assets into play. They bring energy and structure to support Circles impact and growth.

· Technology/Communication – using apps and tools like Rally Round facilitates coordination and communication amongst Circle members. Use of the full range of developing tech,social and team media supports dissemination of the Circles approach, facilitating very low-cost membership and communities of practice.

· Training and support – shifting from expensive traditional approaches to combinations of on-line, mentoring and peer support arrangements.

· Relationships and partnership – including a different relationship with public service commissioners, moving past a crude tender process or the expectation of large scale, long-term funding. Instead using forms of partnership which deploy levers such as social value, market shaping and innovation funding to build sustainable capacity. We are also exploring new forms of corporate social responsibility operating at the local level in a reciprocal relationship with mutual benefits for businesses and Circles including via transferable training for staff volunteering to support Circles.

· Next stage volunteering – it is sometimes suggested that volunteer capacity is becoming exhausted. Our facilitator model draws on new pools attracted by a different “ask and offer”

Supporting the introduction of new models

Frustrated by the glacial pace of change in public services Community Circles has innovated new approaches to grow Circles. We do believe, however, that the forthcoming Green Paper offers an opportunity to introduce some supports for the introduction and scaling of better models of support. For us support in two particular areas would help:

1. Commissioners effectively say “As there isn’t a strong enough evidence base for new approaches we will carry on spending enormous sums on approaches for which there is little or no evidence”. We must find ways of supporting rapid testing and development

2. Innovation funding targeted towards new models. To avoid waste, such funding should be overseen or disbursed from central to local by intermediaries with a strong focus on new models and approaches.

So much is possible – with a bit of help innovators who are values led and acting in co-production with local people to bring substantial assets into play can really make social care and other public services very much better.

Martin Routledge, Head of Development, Community Circles 

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