What should organisations be doing to influence commissioners?
Moving from a commissioner to a provider - what we can learn. Pip Cannons from Community Catalysts, in discussion with Alex Fox, Shared Lives Plus.
Alex: Welcome to your new role leading Community Catalysts, Pip. What was your previous role?
Pip: I was a commissioner for Somerset County Council responsible for developing a marketplace of new forms of support for older and disabled people in the community. As part of this role I worked alongside Community Catalysts for many years to develop the successful and innovative community microenterprise market in Somerset.
Alex: We are always trying to find ways to persuade commissioners that they should spend their limited time and resources on radical change, not doing more of the same. Most commissioners like what our members do (Shared Lives, Homeshare and Family by Family). But it’s a smaller group who can see the potential clearly enough to invest in it seriously. What should organisations like ours be doing differently to influence commissioners?
Pip: There are lots of fellow commissioners and social care leaders who see the potential that Comm Cats, Shared Lives Plus and others offer. There is a desire to implement real change and transform lives, but there are many obstacles and many calls on limited finances that can get in the way of this. There are two things that organisations like ours should be doing differently to help commissioners make good decisions and build their confidence in developing a broader offer.
- We need to be more assertive in showing that what we offer can meet a range of needs and can be part of a viable and scalable solution to meet the commissioners pressing needs. We should build strategic partnerships & work more collectively with existing providers and each other, to show the added value of combining our offers to meet specific needs. We need to demonstrate the complementary and exponential value that our combined offer has, especially when put alongside or as part of the existing core offer.
- We need to de-risk ‘new’ and ‘different’. Commissioners don't have an independent national body to turn to for the non-regulated community sector that provides quality assurance like they do for core regulated health and care providers. What could we do together to provide that collective assurance? Could we come together to form a co-op of some kind for instance to provide that function for its members?
Alex: what interesting ideas. We have gone some way to creating a picture of how the ‘asset-based’ organisations out there can combine in a local area to provide an offer that’s more than the sum of our parts. This is shown in the TLAP ‘rainbow’ directory of innovations in community support.
The inner rings of the rainbow contain organisations which support people in crisis, or who want to leave hospital, or need lots of support and accommodation; the outer rings are more focused on daytime activities and whole-community, resilience-building work. The idea was that commissioners could use the catalogue to see how they might combine our work, your work, organisations like Good Gym, The Cares Family, KeyRing and more. It helps funders to decide which approaches to choose between and which to combine, because they do very different things. But it’s a small start in tackling the big challenge you identify.
Your idea is I think more radical than that? I wonder if the starting point is to establish the goals and needs we all share, and then work out how a coordinated approach to working with local areas and their leaders could save us all time, or bring more impact and scale than we can achieve on our own?
I’m currently updating the asset-based area framework based on the work we did with the Social Care Innovation Network. Shall we map out that shared territory? Maybe other organisations reading this will be interested in joining us in that project?
Pip: I am really keen to build on these steps and work with you and others who want to take this further and to the next level. I believe passionately that there is more to gain. We need to capitalise on the opportunity presented by the recent announcement of more funding for social care and ensure that it is spent wisely on more innovative and impactful solutions that people want and not poured into more of the same.
Alex: Now that you have moved from commissioning to provision, is there anything that you wish you’d known as a commissioner, or that you’d like other commissioners to think about?
Pip: I’d like other commissioners to think about commissioning solutions to problems not services. Too often commissioning is simply re-procurement of an existing service. This limits the thinking and ringfences the likely solutions and outcomes. Posing problems to be solved will enable a different type of thinking and enable and encourage more innovative solutions to be considered from a broader range of partners. Commissioning is often seen as the bad guy. It isn’t. It just needs rethinking. I wish I had articulated this more clearly as a commissioner and pushed for more radical change. I intend to keep trying!