Why the personal is collaborative in public services

Henry Kippin is Director at Collaborate and La Toyah McAllister-Jones is a Collaborate associate and Clore Social Fellow. Their interesting debate looks at putting the personal in public services.

The public is suddenly looming larger in the public services debate. Think tanks on the left are making the case for a shift to a more ‘relational’ model of public services. Echoing Jon Cruddas’s rallying call, they argue that increasingly complex social problems cannot be done justice by modes of public service commissioning and delivery that are stuck in the New Public Management mindset we were supposed to have left behind.

HK BW resizedOn the right, we are seeing a sustained push to embed choice, competition and market mechanisms in which money, power and services more obviously follow the citizen. Reforms to health and education are, to a certain extent, based on this premise. The citizen-as-activist rhetoric of the big society has been buried but not quite forgotten. Reducing dependence on (and therefore the cost of) public goods remains a core if sometimes implicit goal.

What the left lacks is a strong sense of the mechanics (and the change processes) that will make their relational model work. Conversely, the right is more convinced about the mechanisms, but is weaker on the ‘human factor’ that underpins it all. Neither has projected great clarity about the role of the state and public services in addressing inequality, immobility and the bespoke needs of those at the edges of society. None of this is surprising in a context within which the deficit agenda has reigned supreme.

LMJ BW resizedWhoever governs from 2015 will need to draw out elements of consensus within these perspectives and put the offer to citizens more squarely at the centre. Some fascinating forthcoming survey data produced by Ipsos MORI for Collaborate suggests that, although around third of the public say they would be ready to work with public service providers to help improve the services they receive – in essence ‘co-produce’ – far fewer people say that providers currently understand their needs, and even fewer experience personalised or bespoke services.

We are lucky to be co-hosting some fascinating work from former Clore Social Fellow La Toyah McAllister-Jones, who has been leading efforts to promote collaboration in the homelessness sector, and is currently leading a cross-organisational initiative to deepen service personalisation. La Toyah argues that the homelessness sector has already adopted many of the principles of the personalised approach in ‘person-centred working’, service user involvement and initiatives like the St Mungos Broadway Recovery approach. For her,

‘Access to personal budgets managed through direct payments is an immediate game-changer. It not only sends a message that the service has the power to make decisions, it puts them in the driver’s seat. Many of the personalisation projects in the homelessness sector use personalised budgets, but very few, if any, physically release money to service users. Many argue that service users with more complex needs may not be ‘ready’ to manage their finances, but this rubs up against the principles of personalisation.’

‘Traditionally’, argues La Toyah, ‘the homelessness sector service delivery model has essentially been paternalistic. To deliver more than just a shadow of personalisation, organisations need to consciously ask how they can devolve power downwards, and see risk taking in a more positive light.”

This is where effective collaboration comes in. For La Toyah, the sector needs to build its ‘partnership muscle’ internally if it is to build strong alliances with service users. In effect, real personalisation at the front-line requires much better collaboration at an organisational level, with citizens (through budgets) changing the way services are organised.

The utility of personal budgets will remain a controversial issue. But at a broader level, her work shows that more ‘relational’ and ‘personal’ public services will inevitably require a personalised approach. This, in turn, has to be powered by collaborative working across sectors and silos. This is of course well-trodden ground, but the demands of competitive tendering and over-simplistic commissioning continue to make it very difficult. Nonetheless, it is possible. Our recent research with the Institute for Government suggests that around 50% of service providers are already engaged in collaborative arrangements, often against complex needs. Initiatives such as the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) approach to multiple needs point to a different way of working for public agencies willing to make the leap.

We must make the case for the long term benefits of these citizen-centric services in the light of massive financial and demand constraints to come. Otherwise the only relationships worth talking about in future will be the increasing distance of public services and the public they are set up to support.


This article was written by Dr Henry Kippin, and La Toyah McAllister-Jones for NewStart magazine on  24 April 2014.  The full piece can be found at the below linkhttp://newstartmag.co.uk/your-blogs/why-the-personal-is-collaborative-in-public-services/

Following on from a series of round-table discussions and the Cafe on Partnerships event La Toyah developed a Good Partners Charter that you can download here and a Prezi you can view here.

Good Partners 022

 To find out more about La Toyah and Henry please click here


This image file is being used under a Creative Commons license.

About La Toyah McAllister-Jones

La Toyah is an Associate for Citizen Engagement and worked at Collaborate until February this year. She was a 2013 Clore Social Fellow and worked for Movement for Change, a community organising agency founded by David Miliband with its roots in the Labour movement. She has over 15 years of experience in the social justice field, with extensive experience working with vulnerable and complex needs groups for St Mungo's Broadway. She has also worked in the youth criminal justice system, developing a restorative justice programme across a range of services for young people living in Brighton and Hove, working closely with Sussex Police and the Youth Offending Team. This model developed in Brighton from this work became the foundation of the Community Resolution disposal now used by across the Sussex Police Force.

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