Change that leads to better lives

Blog: Strengths based change – 10 things for success

Jenny Pitts, programme lead for the Community Led Support programme, reflects on her own learning from the last decade and what it really takes for local areas to make a success of embedding a strengths based approach.

CLS 10 year celebration
Image of gold and white balloons on a pale grey background. Words: "Celebrating 10 years of Community Led Support". On the right is a gold version of the CLS logo and the numbers 2014-2024

12 years ago I was lucky enough to work with a bunch of amazing people to shape a different approach to adult social care. Working with people who drew on support for themselves or a family member, we weren’t driven by any legislation or regulatory requirements or supported by a tried and tested business case; we did it purely because it felt the right thing to do. Staying well for longer, living a life with meaning and, if we find ourselves drawing on the system, ensuring that is a positive experience, were simple ambitions. The one thing that we all shared was a passion to make a difference, to show what was possible and to be governed by our values about how we wanted to work differently together. And it did make a difference; the feedback and the evidence told us we were getting something right.

10 years ago that learning shaped what became the Community Led Support programme at NDTi - values led change that delivers real impact.

Over the last 10 years we’ve had the immense privilege of working with over 35 areas across the UK and the programme continues to develop based on that collective learning. In this blog, as part of our 10 year Community Led Support celebrations, I want to share 10 things we have learned that determine whether the time and effort (and cost) being expended on what gets loosely called ‘transformation’ is actually going to make a difference where it matters.

  1. Coproduction, really involving people who have first-hand experience of the system should not be an afterthought (nor a photo opportunity) but is the only way to really understand how the system is felt - what it gets right and what needs to improve. I am always blown away by how much goodwill there is from people to give their time and energy to make the system better for others. Never take this for granted and don’t waste it. Some people may give their time as a one off, others may be willing to work with you throughout the process, codesigning and even implementing a new way of working. Inviting that involvement, truly listening, understanding and working together will really help ensure the impact of change is felt where it is most needed.
  2. Similarly, collaboration has to be the bedrock for change. Statutory organisations do not have all the answers, expertise, knowledge or solutions, and neither should they. This is everyone’s challenge and only together, really working with community members and organisations, can meaningful solutions be shaped for that community. Involving everyone in identifying local priorities, defining success and agreeing the steps to get there and working together to achieve it is vital.
  3. We need to work with the whole system, recognising its complexity and that change in one area cannot happen in isolation. This is the challenge of coordinating that change but also the richness of it. When you’re clear what needs to change you will know who needs to be involved. Whilst you can’t change everything at once, remembering that change in one part will impact on other parts (positively and negatively) is so important. It’s not static and it doesn’t fit into neat boxes; don’t try and contain it and don’t over programme manage it.
  4. Unless we are prepared to question everything we may limit the possibilities. Other than action that breaks the law, the bank, or causes harm, nothing should be ‘off the table’. Keep asking ‘why’, get different perspectives and, to quote Matthew Syed, don’t let’s become “prisoners of our paradigms”. The more voices, ideas and perspectives you include the more likely you won’t miss the great, unimagined opportunities.
  5. But, if we naively think that behaviour will change because we invite it, we need to think again and take time to understand the existing cultures within and across teams and organisations. Do staff and partners feel trusted, valued and that their voice matters? Do they feel able to say something isn’t working to try a new idea and for it not to go to plan? Is there a fear of retribution, of failure or of blame? Knowing this, working with leaders and having honest discussions that seek to nurture positive cultures is paramount.
  6. Give it time. Be realistic – you’re changing something that has become embedded over decades. You will get quick wins if you work diligently, but don’t expect the world. This is an ultra-marathon! Monitor progress, celebrate the difference it’s making and be patient. You won’t get it right everywhere first time, but this rich learning is invaluable. Community Led Support works, but how it works in all of your service areas and local communities won’t be discovered straight away.
  7. And don’t expect everyone to be as excited by your change programme as you are. Many people and community organisations have been working in strengths based, preventative ways for a long time. Take time to understand local strengths and assets and find the champions, what is already happening and who is doing what. Build on what exists, join it up, learn from it and make this change something that everyone feels a part of.
  8. Be clear what evidence you’re collecting and why and make it everyone’s business. Take an informed approach to measurement and understanding impact that is based on what you want to achieve and make sure it is balanced, including stories and feedback. Agreeing this together and using it positively and proactively will get everyone interested in what the evidence is telling them. Don’t talk about ‘performance’; this is about learning, informing and highlighting what’s working and where a different approach is needed.
  9. Think whole community and whole person. If we limit our thinking to only involving the current players we will not break out of our health and social care strait jacket. Find out what mainstream services, the private sector, the hyper-local groups are doing and what they can offer. They can be an invaluable part of the solution; this will grow over time and always seek to broaden that local involvement.
  10. Somebody has to kick this off in a concerted way but, once it is established and has become business as usual don’t retain ownership of the whole thing. Make sure the bit that you are responsible for is still working and contributing. Support it, help drive it and steer it, but let it go! This is one of the hardest things, but it means it develops a life and an identity of its own and new possibilities you wouldn’t ever have dreamt of can be seized.
Jenny CLS 10 blog
Black and white headshot of Jenny Pitts, programme lead for Community Led Support. Quote: "As an approach it needs to influence all that you do, how new staff are immersed into it, and the skills they utilise, and the way commissioning supports the third sector and provider services."

This work never finishes but will evolve if it is nurtured and allowed to flourish. But don’t be fooled into thinking the job is done. It will be fragile and easily swept back into old ways of working unless you invest in embedding those new cultures. As an approach it needs to influence all that you do, how new staff are immersed into it, and the skills they utilise, and the way commissioning supports the third sector and provider services. Most importantly, a collective commitment not to sacrifice the core values and principles that govern the work will ensure it stays responsive and innovative but remains grounded in ‘doing the right thing’. Never more so is that needed. We need to reignite the optimism, excitement and sense of purpose that working in this area can bring and that we are sorely in danger of losing.

Change is a constant, but not all change is transformative. We have to be prepared to be radical, to break out of our silo thinking, to form new connections and always be open to new opportunities. Really achieving something that comes close to ‘transformation’ is neither quick nor easy and nor can it be done by one organisation working alone in the same way it always has done. But with new thinking, values and passion and by everyone working together, pooling resources and with a willingness to question the unquestionable, it is more than possible.

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