Tuesday, 30 September 2008

In the Commissioners' shoes

It isn't easy, commissioning innovative services.

For one thing, the environment has completely changed. With the sharp separation between commissioner and provider (see "Great Wall of China" - left (whoops someone's turned it into a water park), instead of performance managing a contract, commissioners now have to understand the need, work out the solution, then procure it in a fair and proper manner.
All this, and typically providers have a monopoly on the data, and whilst commissioners often write reporting into the contract, as long as people get the service they need it's difficult to bring any serious sanction to bear if a provider fails to supply the necessary data.
Commissioning innovation is more difficult again. I'm not only looking for a new supplier (or at least opening up the market to more and different suppliers), but I'm also looking for a new service and quite frankly I don't know if it will work. Who wants their name to be associated with something that failed?
As we discovered working with public services and third sector organisations, there's a real issue for innovative service providers to understand what the commissioner needs in order to feel comfortable, and conversely it can be difficult for commissioners to recognise the resource cost of developing new services, presenting their outcomes and occasionally having services which don't work as planned, where people need to be redeployed.
There's also the personal issue - working with a supplier for years should result in a relationship based on trust. This means that a commissioner recognises, to move a service to another supplier means his/her friends are going to be out of a job. That's why you sometimes see unequal comparisons eg in one local authority they allow 40% overhead on salary costs for internal providers (providers who are part of the local authority) and 20% for third sector organisations - and that's without recognising that many of the overheads in the local authority (buildings, vehicles etc) aren't even declared as they are treated as fixed costs.
The Innovation Exchange in London is hosting a programme to work with public services commissioners and providers from a variety of backgrounds to explore these issues. This follows Ann James' very successful "Meet the Dragons" event.
I'm sure there's a lot to be learnt. The event is next week, I'm reporting on it and I'll update this blog.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Starting at the Top

How do you usually define your benefits and measures?

Many people define measures for each project. This means a lot of individual measures, which may only have meaning for the person who defined them. It means that the workstream lead (the senior responsible officer for delivering one of the organisation's overall strategic objectives) gets a pile of project reports and doesn't really have a way to aggregate tehm and report in summary. And it means that front-line staff and volunteers, and service users, often get fed up with "feeding the beast", collecting seemingly meaningless numbers that they never hear of again.

If alternatively measures are defined at the highest level they can be (typically at workstream or key theme level), then assigned to projects, many of these issues can be overcome.

  1. measures and benefits have to make common sense to people, and it's worth applying a bit of effort when you know the work will be reused

  2. defining the measures (and allowing them to be achieved in more than one way eg for obesity to allow schools to show achievement through numbers in reception year and Year 6, vs obesity programmes showing people losing weight start and end of programme, vs Public Health showing the same thing only measuring obesity in the general population and mortality/ morbidity associated with it) is done once and clearly

  3. projects only measure what is most relevant to their achievement from the existing list of measures

  4. when reporting, the workstream lead can aggregate up the numbers (be sensible, they don't necessarily add together)

This follows on from the last post but then so it should. Let me know if you find it useful

Sunday, 7 September 2008

More uses for Benefits Dependency Networks

I've just run three more Benefits Dependency Network workshops and attended a workshop event on how to run them.
It struck me how many different ways this fabulous tool is used:

For a single project or initiative, it's possible to use a BDN as
* a surrogate for a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
* a way of anticipating and elucidating all of the benefits (and dis-benefits) that can occur from a particular action
* listing all of the components or activities of a project and how they link to the final outcomes
* explicitly and in a group agreeing the drivers or goals of the project, benefits, and measurables

For a workstream (typically a priority of the organisation or group of projects of a similar nature) the BDN:
* confirms with the group what the whole workstream is aiming for, and what projects contribute to these aims
* identifies existing services which no longer contribute to the benefits or outcomes desired
* where more investment is needed or even whole new initiatives
* what is dependent on what - the order in time or priority of the projects

For an organisation
* highlight and agree the key aims of the organisation
* see how the strategic aims (typically the commitments made in public) contribute to the key aims, and what other aims or outcomes are needed (eg if the key aim is to reduce inequalities and a strategic aim or publically announced deliverable is to improve access to mental health services, what else do you have to keep doing to reduce inequalities?)
* identify areas for investment