I want to share a story about when I was working with colleagues to develop a new strategic approach to how we commissioned & provided advice. We wanted advice to build on the strengths of communities and individuals, empowered residents, and gave them the tools and approaches to deal with challenges in their lives whilst being nuanced enough to know when an individual needs more support. We also needed to have advice services ‘rooted in communities’ that would see people within a wider network of local connections and mutual support which is inherently empowering and enabling, rather than simply ‘treating’ a specific problem in isolation.
What I find striking and healthy about the framework is that it doesn’t oppose behaviour change and co-production. On the surface, behaviour change may seem like socially-engineering a change in behaviour through influencing people’s subconscious. Co-production may seem like an open conversation with people where we build consensus and then act accordingly. Instead, we should be asking the questions:
- How do we have conversations with residents that get under the skin of their needs, value their strengths, but also change their expectations to be able to better adapt to changing future scenarios?
- How do we have conversations with residents that get under the skin of their needs and their networks but also of more deep-rooted cultural influences, like Values Mode Analysis, to understand how we might challenge & help them recycle or re-use more, manage money well or even look out for others?
How do we design a network of advice provision that can flex to changing types & levels of demand?
How do we help the network better understand & anticipate the types & levels of demand and need?
- Understand the keywords people are using to search through our website to look for advice [CAB example]
- Interview advisers on the changing patterns of need in the neighbourhoods they are working in, and what triggers these
- Use community researchers to understand the types of needs people are facing, how they are getting advice and how it is helping them
- Test out new ways of anticipating & responding to demand that brings both thick & big data
How do we help the network understand the root causes of the need, moving beyond the needs people are presenting with?
- Map the system to identify what’s influencing the need and who’s influencing the advice provided
- Use strengths-based conversations to see what people would want to do to tackle the issue, who could help them and what would help
- Use the insights to lobby & campaign for change
How do we help the network grow & embed advice across the borough?
- Start with the values of the people who are part of the network
- Understand the characteristics and principles for providing advice from individuals to organisations
- Assess the different resources & skills that people & organisations providing advice have to identify what they can pool or complement each other, including between council & community advisers
- Create the spaces for advice providers to immerse & experience & test design approaches to providing advice and be experimental and systemic
- Empower strategic advice partners to work with community organisations to build the capacity of the wider system
- Support the network to improve its own capabilities to become more effective to providing advice while connecting itself to wider infrastructure
- Work with the network to help it celebrate & reflect throughout the journey but also push & stretch itself and constantly rethink its role
How do we help people become more empowered through getting advice?
- Develop a journey of change where people can go from being aware of who can provide advice to them, motivated to look for it well before they reach crisis point, confident to share their issues with an adviser, empowered to use the advice to tackle the issue, find other people with similar needs where they can support each other to sharing the advice with their different communities
- Value advice provided by people’s friends, neighbours, colleagues or relatives as important not just to help them tackle an issue, but as a form of social solidarity and as an insight that can show how communities are building their resilience
- Create ways where the provision of advice is designed in a relational way
What if advice services were spaces in which people could come to help meet a particular need and get advice through to being connected not just with support networks but other people in a similar situation, who could develop projects to tackle the issue together? Like how to manage their money, a health advocacy group or develop a bulk buying coop? They could even turn into an accelerator like Fair by Design to connect people with lived experience with people with skills to scale these projects and investors. They could be based in spaces which are convivial and open and help people live more sustainably and cost effectively.
What if we connected our network of advice organisations to other institutions that are pioneers in collecting, analysing, repurposing and synthesising insights?
What if we used the insights on the needs emerging from the advice network to mobilise people around a common cause to try and hack or design out the issue?
What if frontline advisers in the advice network — be they from a council, a charity or a community group, could swap jobs from others from the network, including not just advisers, but social prescribers or community champions? So they could better understand their counterparts and see themselves as part of an advice family rather than a collection of organisations?