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Clare Harding

3 key factors for delivering sustainable change

I have had the privilege of working on two adult social care delivery programmes during 2019. As we approach the end of the year, it feels like a good moment to reflect on common themes that contribute towards sustainable delivery.

The inherent complexity of the systems which deliver public services (including adult social care), and the varying delivery models, cultures and histories of different local authorities, means that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to produce sustainable change. Nonetheless, from my experience there are three universal factors that are common to successful change projects:

1.  A supportive and safe governance structure, which:

  • Uses an agreed set of data to provide evidence, monitor impact and set priorities and actions
  • Ensures one-to-one meetings are consistent and constructive at all levels
  • Enables piloting and testing of ideas, and the decision-making authority to roll out and embed change where successful
  • Has clear lines of accountability, responsibility and escalation
  • Normalises regular attendance and engagement at meetings.

2.  A strong brand for the change programme to assist in it being recognised and adopted across the council, which includes:

  • A council-wide case for change that communicates the future vision and equal accountability for its delivery across all services
  • A programme name that clearly communicates the vision rather than the case for change. Better Lives is a current favourite amongst the authorities we are working with (for an example, see this video case study)
  • Clear, consistent and relevant communications across different staff groups, as well as to the public, partners and providers
  • A toolkit of logos, templates, a vision statement and other communication materials.

3.  Continuous improvement processes at the core of business as usual activity, where there is a culture of:

  • Operational managers who see that there is always room to improve and delivering those improvements is a core part of their job
  • The vision of the programme is also the vision of business as usual activity and not an ‘other’ being delivered to one side
  • Change is a vehicle for moving from good to better, recognising that the council should always strive for improvement
  • Having the capacity to ‘get change done’, including time to drive ideas forward, monitor and review pilots and embed change.

There is nothing radical in any of the factors identified above, but our experience is that implementing all three elements together can significantly increase the ability of change to get traction, become properly embedded and prove sustainable in the longer term. Regardless of the change being delivered, it is imperative that these factors are in place. The way change is implemented is as important – if not more important –  than the decision to make it happen in the first place.

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