In our recent publication The Architecture for Personalisation Kate Fulton and I explore how best local leaders, social workers especially, can promote personalisation. The challenge is to promote personalisation as if we really mean it, promoting citizenship, family and community – not developing it as some new industry which will just be applied to ordinary people.
Social workers are at the cutting edge of personalisation – both its successes and its failures. At best they are discovering that it can be a liberating force, an opportunity to help people create new, flexible and community-focused support solutions. At its worst it is becoming more work, more forms to fill in, more complicated rules and – although its hard to credit it – more panels to try and get through. It is perhaps not surprising, given the thoughtless way in which government has gone about promoting personalisation, that we should be in this situation, and there is nothing inevitable about it. Local leaders can still protect people and staff from the encroaching madness.
One key lesson is to be entirely honest about the resources we have. If personalisation means giving people the chance to build more creative solutions with limited resources then the same principles should also apply within our systems. We can begin by being honest about how much time and energy social workers actually have and help them focus that time on things that really add values. Our estimates show that there is probably an average of £700 of care management time available for each individual served. This is a significant but very modest amount of time and it won’t be used well if it is spent largely on filling in forms to feed the system itself.
The only way of making better use of this limited time is to follow the principle of trust. We need to trust people more:
1. Trust people and families more. Give people information, contacts, simple systems and let them get on with it. Letting people make mistakes, solve problems and control things themselves is the key to good social work.
2. Trust community more. Encourage services to connect to people to design services with them directly. Make sure people are connected to community organizations and peer support groups.
3. Trust social workers more. Let people focus on those who need most help. In particular let social workers use their judgement. If they know of a good service, let them refer people to it. If they can see a quick solution to a problem then let them set it up.
Everyone fears that others cannot be trusted. Experience even teaches us that sometimes trust will be abused – people will lie, cheat or just make human mistakes. But a system that doesn’t encourage trust is expensive, stupid and disabling – by trying to put in systems that stop people making mistakes we delude ourselves that processes and rules will do what humans can’t do for themselves or if we shift power and control away from people then we shift it away from the point at which it can do most good. When we expect solutions to come from ‘on high’ then we are really expecting solutions from those who are least able to understand what really needs to be done and who are already trying to do far too many things for far too many people.
Trust, delegation and empowerment are efficient and effective – make them central to all your strategies and your work.
Simon Duffy is Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform www.centreforwelfarereform.org whose recent publications include The Architecture for Personalisation, Personalised Support, Personalised Transition and Personalisation in Mental Health