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All together now

VOICES all together now

Author: Andy Meakin, Director, VOICES

I read an exciting document about commissioning today. You’re thinking ‘yeah, right’. But, it’s true.

The New Local Government Network and Lankelly Chase have put together an excellent pamphlet published in April 2016. It’s called “All Together Now: Whole Systems Commissioning for Councils and the Voluntary Sector.”

This document articulates many of the thoughts that have been mulling around in my head for about a decade. No one organisation has a hand on all the levers necessary to deliver a truly effective response for people with multiple or complex needs. Yet, commissioning processes continue to operate in silos. These may be organisation or discipline based. Similarly, they pursue a paradigm where efficiency and value emerge through the competitive processes of the market. Performance measures are set at the level of individual service providers. Contract management is often target driven and follows a conformance to specification model. Commissioners themselves are tied up in short-term cycles for services that are meant to be tackling long-term social problems. Inevitably, the emerging dynamic is a process driven system that encourages blame shifting behaviours.

‘All Together Now’ argues for a new commissioning paradigm. It is a vision characterised by cooperation and coproduction between people, service providers, and commissioners. It is a vision where performance is measured based on contribution to system wide and shared objectives. It is a vision that places people and their enormous assets at its heart. It is a vision that releases social capital and values local knowledge. I’ll not go over the whole document here. Just read it.

Commissioners face a difficult challenge that is made more so by their time constraints and dwindling numbers. To implement the ideas set out in ‘All Together Now’ is yet more challenging without other related changes. One change that would help enormously is longer commissioning cycles. It is simply a fallacy that commissioning organisations cannot offer longer contracts. Long-term arrangements would give commissioners more time and space to work more collaboratively with each other as well as with people using services and their service providers. A well-worded contract or grant agreement can account for changes in the financial environment. Similarly, a skilled procurement officer can ensure that people can remain involved throughout a competitive process. Moreover, in the context of multiple needs, solutions need to be brought forward by consortia and partnerships of organisations working together. Commissioners need to actively encourage such partnerships.

It is clear that we cannot go on commissioning services in the same ways we have previously. ‘All Together Now’ makes a really valuable contribution to the thinking that’s needed to overcome our many challenges.

You can find ‘All Together Now’ here: http://www.nlgn.org.uk/public/2016/emphasising-social-value-puts-people-at-the-heart-of-local-govern…


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