How do we ensure that organisations work together to provide the right service in the right setting, with better outcomes for frequent users of public services? Dyfrig Williams spoke to Melys Phinnemore to learn from the Frontline Futures Programme.
Is Housing fit for the future? The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Cymru have undertaken research on where the housing sector is and where it needs to be, because service delivery is taking place in a rapidly changing environment. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act means that public services will have to work together in a different way too. Not only that, but there’s much less money to go around, and the financial footing of Housing Associations is less secure now that Universal Credit is paid directly to claimants instead of housing associations.
Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales repeatedly talks about the need to take well managed risks. The above situation is one such situation, where housing associations cannot continue to work in the same way.
What is Frontline Futures?
CIH Cymru developed Frontline Futures to help organisations to work differently in this changing environment. It‘s a practical course where learners identify, plan and develop a change project for their organisation. The programme is attended by a mix of about 3 or 4 people per organisation and typically this might be a number of frontline workers and a supervisor or line manager. They each identify and work on a change challenge after learning about the theory behind change. The programme is based over 5-6 months for a day a month. CIH have run two cohorts so far, which have looked at changing behaviour, practice and mindset.
Melys Phinnemore and Penny Jeffreys are working with CIH Cymru to develop and deliver the programme. They are particularly interested in leadership and cultural change. How can we enable people who access social housing to be the best that they can be? And how can we get staff, whose behaviour may have inadvertently taken away people’s independence, work differently. Supporting not advising by having coaching conversations with people?
Melys says that parent child type of caring or advising conversations very rarely change people’s behaviour. Saying “ I need to advise you that if you don’t stop doing this or start doing that ……you will or could become homeless” rarely leads to a better outcome. Neither does doing things for people, like filling out forms. Our helping behaviours don’t empower people to take control or encourage people to develop confidence in their own abilities. Our legacy of helping has meant that typically people will expect their social landlord to sort out noise nuisance and ball play where as private home owners do this for themselves.
Melys feels that frontline workers need to be empowered to use their discretion so that they can free up and target their resources based on need and take the well managed risks that the Auditor General describes.
What does all this mean in practice?
Melys shared an example with me of how changes had been made at Gwalia by a frontline worker. When a house became void, materials within the house were disposed because of health and safety guidance, whether they were useful or not. This rationale would have been enough to stop many projects, but this frontline worker set out to prevent this waste and developed a recycling project. She organised people to become patent qualified so that they could test and recycle electrical goods. When it was suggested that the Housing Association would be liable if anything went wrong, she worked on developing disclaimer forms. There is now an exchange shop supported by community volunteers which is thriving and not only are there savings from landfill many tenants’ are having a better start with semi-furnished homes. Early indications suggest that one of the side benefits has been some of the hard to let properties are now full and turnover at these properties has reduced. Gwalia are now looking at whether there may be an opportunity to expand this approach and even maybe develop an upcycling scheme.
How do we get people on board with changes in service delivery?
The above example clearly shows an empowered staff member that’s making tenants’ lives better. It’s early days, but staff have changed the nature of the way they talk to tenants. How can we help this change to happen within our organisations?
Melys mentioned the use of Johnathan Haidt’s theory about the elephant, the rider and the path, which is handily summarised in the video below. Haidt says that in order to enable change, you need to think about the rational system, the emotional system and the external environment.
The rider represents the rational system, which plans and problem solves. The elephant represents the emotional system that provides the power for the journey. There is a power imbalance here, so changing behaviour is difficult. The path represents the external environment. The two are more likely to complete their journey if you remove obstacles that stand in their way and it’s as short as possible. Haidt recommends that you:
- Give direction to the rider, so that they know where they are going
- Motivate the elephant, so you need to tap into emotion
- Shape the path to allow for easy progress.
Melys says that you have to empower and support people to make a change – give them the power to make incremental change through small initiatives that they can take ownership of. Once they’re party to the design and development of the initiative, it takes off. They can’t be part of the solution if they don’t understand the argument that’s being made. Having encouraging coaching conversations with staff help empower them to go back into their organisations and lead change.
Melys also referenced Simon Sinek’s TED talk on inspiring action, where he suggests that you should start with a clear purpose and outline your cause. He says:
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it… Why is it important to attract people who believe what you believe? Something called the Law of Diffusion of Innovation.”
In the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, innovation relies heavily on human capital and must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Sinek describes how changes aren’t embedded until a tipping point – the early majority won’t try something until someone else has tried it first.
Frequent users of public services who regularly contact organisations make up a significant proportion of the demand on services, which amounts to huge costs in terms of time and resource. CIH Cymru’s practical approach to learning and development is leading to financial savings and improved public services. It’s been fascinating learning about the changes that are being made, the theory behind them and most importantly about the empowered staff and tenants that the programme has produced. The Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office is currently working on a national study on behaviour change, which will share examples where public services have changed behaviour effectively. If you’re changing behaviour or the way that you allocate resources to frequent users, we’d love to hear from you.
More information about the Frontline Futures programme can be found at the CIH Cymru website at www.cih.org/cymru/frontlinefuturesprogramme.