East Sussex – a case study of putting social value and commissioning into practice

Background Info

The following information has been taken from East Sussex –a case study of putting social value and commissioning into practice: “The commissioning process in East Sussex formed part of a strategic move towards more personalised services for local people and investment in the voluntary and community sector.It was the culmination of many years of work, relationship building and a number of contributory factors. These included the development of a number of joint commissioning strategies and a report from September 2009 (Putting People First and Contracts for Services with the Voluntary and Community Sector1) which acknowledged the contribution that voluntary and community organisations made to the health, social care and wellbeing of the local population through the social capital that they created. When the time came to commission adult health, social care and wellbeing services the council and the local NHS decided that it wanted to try out an approach that would make use of this social capital. Commissioners had been holding conversations about the additional benefit of local organisations delivering services and how to use their bonding and bridging social capital to improve outcomes for local people.

Existing models of good practice in Birmingham and the Isle of Wight were explored and the idea of the Commissioning Grants Prospectus was born. Angela Yphantides, the Council’s Adult Social Care Third Sector Development Manager explained that both Adult Social Care and the PCT realised that the change for all partners would be significant and challenging, but that the benefits to service users and carers would ultimately be worth it.

An essential part of the background was the strong relationship between the council and the local voluntary and community sector, and in particular the three local support and development organisations (3VA, Rother Voluntary Action and Hastings Voluntary Action). The local support and development organisations and the council had made a conscious effort to understand each other better and develop a stronger relationship. The establishment of SpeakUp, the representative forum for the sector in 2008, was a manifestation of the investment in the relationship. There had also been discussions over a period of time about the structural shift in how the sector was funded and concerns about the potential negative consequences of going down a standard open competitive tendering route.

There were early discussions with SpeakUp about the inclusion of social value into commissioning. These discussions were then opened up and all sector organisations were invited to take part. Initially there was some scepticism on the part of voluntary organisations who expected the social value element to be awarded a very small percentage of the overall score in the process. In addition to this, the local support and development organisations and county council also continued behind the scenes high level constructive discussions and negotiations.”

What did you do?

“ESCC and the local NHS decided to jointly commission health, social care and wellbeing services for carers, older people, disabled people, people with mental health support needs and vulnerable people, people with learning disabilities and to support people to lead healthier lifestyles. They wanted to invest up to £9 million over 3 years in the voluntary sector to deliver these services in local communities, by awarding grants. Small grants were also made available within the overall prospectus.

The process was led by the county council and involved several commissioners. They adopted an outcomes based approach meaning that, instead of specifying in detail the services they wanted, they set out the outcomes and objectives for what they wanted to achieve for people in the county. As well as the individual service objectives, there was also a set of six ‘building social capital’ objectives which were common to all services. The process was also built upon a thorough equalities impact assessment which was refreshed during the process and served as a live tool. The EIA was used proactively to shape funding priorities and ensured that the funding award process did not create new needs or gaps in services.

Between June and September 2010 the council consulted widely about developing the Commissioning Grants Prospectus. They held a series of round table discussions about the social value aspect of the prospectus, during which it was apparent that ‘social capital’ meant different things to different people. In order to make it meaningful, therefore, examples of social capital were developed in the Innovations Learning Network and tested at one of the Meet the Commissioners events.

The following month there were a series of learning network events designed to support organisations interested in applying to the prospectus. The network themes were: innovation, cultural capability, user led organisations and readiness for personalisation. In December a ‘Meet the Commissioners’ event was held to test the draft outcomes and objectives and the voluntary sector contributions to those workshops helped shape the final objectives.

Meanwhile, the council procurement team worked with the Prospectus team to design the grant award process and documents. Stakeholders, including the local support and development organisations, were involved in commenting on the various draft documents. The prospectus was published in February 2011 and the application process comprised several stages. 173 applications were submitted by 73 organisations and went through a multi stage evaluation process. Seven panels, including service users and carers, scored the applications. The process included a negotiation stage, which gave an opportunity to discuss and shape some aspects of the proposed services.

By the autumn 67 grants totalling almost £7.5 million had been awarded to 47 organisations. The first monitoring reports are due in January 2012.”

What did you learn (things to avoid, things to do etc)

“The prospectus approach was a major shift away from the usual way of commissioning services, awarding grants to the voluntary sector. It took an innovative approach that was ambitious in its scope. It is clear that the main stakeholders saw this as the beginning of a journey and that lessons would be learned along the way. One stakeholder commented that it was important to be realistic about the process, make a start on the journey and accept that it would not be 100% perfect and learn lessons from putting aspirations into practice.

The process demanded a high level of commitment and resources from all the key stakeholders to make it a success. Within the county council the support came from the highest level of Chief Executive. The local support and development organisations showed strong commitment and leadership and supported both the public bodies and the local voluntary and community sector. The strong relationship between the public and voluntary sectors provided an essential foundation for the success of the process and the role of the support and development organisations was central to this. Whilst the local support and development organisations were involved in constant behind the scenes discussions, the existence of SpeakUp also provided the essential public forum for discussion between the public and voluntary and community sectors.

Adopting an innovative approach clearly involves a big change for everyone involved, whatever their sector. Several stakeholders commented that such a radically different process can actually stifle innovation precisely because it requires such a high degree of change. The level of change involved meant that a lot of trust was needed on the part of the voluntary and community sector. It was observed that at times there had been a lot of anxiety on the part of some organisations because the process was so different and was seen to threaten people’s jobs.”

How did this affect understanding and/or achievement of social value?

“Public and voluntary and community sector organisations often say that social value is inherent in the work that they carry out. Whilst this is certainly true, there are several problems with this. There may be no meaningful discussion and agreed understanding of what ‘social value’ means in a particular area, so there may be widely differing views about what is valued and how it is created and increased. Claims about the value that is created are often sparsely evidenced. As the report on the national pilot project on social value2 states, the social value element is often an unintended by-product of other work and happens, as it were, accidentally. The significance of the East Sussex example is that social value was intentionally commissioned and measured as a part of the wider commissioning outcomes. Commissioners decided to move beyond their intuitive belief that the voluntary and community sector creates social capital. They achieved this by articulating what they thought was valuable about the local sector and then gave it practical manifestation though a major commissioning process. In other words, they deliberately set out to strengthen social capital through the commissioning process.

Of course, initiatives like this do not happen in a vacuum. As mentioned earlier, laying the foundations involves building relationships, engaging in dialogue and contributing to the development of thinking. Some of the vital roles of local support and development organisations are to champion the contribution that the sector makes to an area and create a coordinated voice to influence policy makers, and the umbrella organisations in East Sussex had clearly been successful in carrying out these roles for many years. This work paved the way for re-structuring the relationship between the sectors.

The prospectus approach was a successful method of protecting and building the local social capital that voluntary organisations produce at the same time as opening up opportunities for other organisations. It provided a balance to overcome the risk of losing local social capital.

Even though it will be neither feasible nor desirable for all public bodies to follow the same route, there are valuable lessons that can be taken from East Sussex and applied everywhere. These can be summed up simply as: · Engage in purposeful dialogue about the ways in which the voluntary and community sector creates value in your area · Gain the commitment of key decision-makers and people of influence · Agree what is valued – what you wish to create, nurture, develop or protect · Design a process, however large or small, to put your social value aspirations into practice”

Links – URLs

East Sussex County Council – www.eastsussex.gov.uk East Sussex County Council published their 2012 Commissioning Grants Prospectus on 15 February. Please visit www.wealdencommunitystrategy.co.uk/…/Commissioning%20Grants%20Prospectus…. for details.

3VA – www.3va.org.uk/

Rother Voluntary Action – www.rothervoluntaryaction.org.uk/

Hastings Voluntary Action – www.hastingsvoluntaryaction.org/

Social value – www.navca.org.uk/socialvalue

Links – Documents


Contact (email address etc)

Angela Yphantides at angela.yphantides@eastsussex.gov.uk

Adam Chugg at adam.chugg@3va.org.uk

Martin Fisher at martin.fisher@rothervoluntaryaction.org.uk

Leave a Reply