Some musings on my experience with outcomes based commissioning

I’ve been meaning to share this paper for about a year and a half, but only just figured out how to do it. That probably isn’t a glowing endorsement for the insights contained within, but stay with me! This has a largely local authority angle due to my professional background, but probably a bit of crossover as well.

OBC – From Operational to Strategic Dec2012

Thoughts my own and not necessarily shared by employers and colleagues, but who knows maybe they are! Welcome any all feedback


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Who wants to be an Heroic Failure?

When I was younger I used to be obsessed with a book called The Heroic Book of Failures, which as I recall was mainly about highlighting the epic levels of stupidity and inadequacy that human beings are capable of and I suppose celebrating them as momentous in their own way.

When I was younger, I never ever wanted to be a failure.

Nowadays, I realise the increasingly real risk that I might do something that mean I end up in a future edition of that unforgiving tome given that I know very little about anything and have come closer to ending my own life through my stupidity than saving someone else’s through my wit and courage. I often wonder if I am in danger of accepting failure too readily; or as Bill Haden would put it “have [I] lived with it for too long?”

Which is odd really because being a follower of the social innovator scene, one of the lines continually repeated is that failure is good, failure is necessary and failure should be welcomed and not feared. The rationale for this is sound – all of our great achievements and insights as  a species have been forged in the fire of our mistakes. Learning is by its nature often experiencing a situation so that we can avoid going through that same situation again.

But I have come to realise that it is cool to fail from a “movement’s” point of view, it is awfully testing on one’s resilience. As I said before, while I accept failure is inevitable, I do not wish to become a failure. However by failing quick and failing often, I have noticed that while I am learning a lot and developing my understanding, my heart and confidence is increasingly heavy. Yes we collectively come up with a better product/outcome but we have done so because of my mistake. I cannot share in the achievement because initially I got it wrong. And it is getting to the stage where I’d quite like someone else to be wrong and for me to sweep in with the “right” answer.

Trouble is, we’ve got loads of people in that latter category. Loads of people who know it all and would change the world if only the world can see it their way. Unfortunately these people tend not to be creators, but critical designers – they need something to feed off as one cannot critique in a vacuum. Is stupidity the oxygen for smart people I wonder?

Do we therefore need an army of failures – of heroic failures – to help us move forward collectively? I don’t know…  I sort of hope not, because that isn’t who I want to be. But I guess if it is the case then so be it. All I ask is that you spare a thought for us now and again, because while you may see the value in what we bring, we’ll always only see the value that we wish we could.

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“That’s why I pay my council tax!”

I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot recently. Sometimes there are phrases that appear to catch your ears and keep recurring in conversation and “that’s why I pay my council tax” is one such phrase for me.

It implies a transactional nature about taxation (in general) – that I deserve to get out at least the amount that I put in. Which is odd really given that for the most part this was never, is never and will never be the case. In fact taxation as far as I understand it, is pretty much an acceptance of re-distribution in the United Kingdom through the welfare state and other public services. We accept that although we are all born equal we don’t all live equal, and that is is better for me as an individual and the functioning of our society if I pay tax into a system that goes some (if not all the way) to ensuring none of our fellow citizens are left behind. I like that I live in a country that in theory is set up to do this.

In practice though, we of course see many attempts to either not pay tax, or in more extreme cases essentially engineer state subsidies through tax regulations that were never set up to defend themselves. After all, why would they? Why would someone actively try and undermine equality in our society when it is generally good for life in all its elements?

Why indeed? I’m a purist sort of chap. I don’t think that there are that many malevolent people in the world. I don’t even think that there are that many stupid people either. I do think (myself very much included) that we are very ill informed. It struck me that no-one ever explained the welfare state to me at school and why it exists. And I mean beyond its historical interest – actually why it is a fabric of our society.

Which brings me back to the phrase I keep hearing. At first I was annoyed by the Tax Payer Alliance tubthumping of it all. And then I realised that I wouldn’t mind hearing it more often if people said it when we saved an older person from a nasty fall, or re-housed the homeless or provided payments to a family so that they wouldn’t starve that week. To be honest, if i’m that worried about the cleanliness of my streets or disposing of my rubbish, I can do that myself (or pay for it myself). Making a difference to the lives of my fellow citizens, yeah, that’s why I pay my council tax.

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Deep Value: We know it works.

A lot of what is captured here resonates with my own thinking and experiences recently. An interesting and thought-provoking read, particularly distinction between “customisation” and “relationships”

Relational Welfare Blog Archive

Community Links delivers a wide range of practical services in east London. One principle underpins them all: We believe it is not only possible for one human being to make a real and lasting difference to another, it is often, in the most difficult circumstances the only thing that ever does.

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First Capital Connected – ask and you shall receive!

First Capital Connected - ask and you shall receive!

I admit that I can get quite frustrated with First Capital Connect, the operator of the Thameslink service I commute on everyday. My particular bugbear is the trains – clearly not designed for the commuter traffic they are under every day.

As frustrated as I am with the trains, I actually think the FCC comms chaps are a decent bunch and this was re-affirmed today as I got a great response to a twitter query I had about customer involvement in train design. For those that might be interested here it is below (with a picture of a mock up of the train above), and a big thanks to Lee for the comprehensive response.

“Hi Alex,

I understand you’ve been speaking with us regarding the new rolling stock – and the customer input that has gone in to the design. Your query has been passed to me as I’m representing ‘the customer’ in all of the design reviews and I’ve also been responsible for incorporating customer feedback in to the design.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the train design is now *virtually* complete. We have a full scale mock-up of the design in Kassel Germany – and we also have a 2 car pre-series vehicle in Wildenrath, Germany. The first train is due to enter service in 2016 – so we’re working to some very tight timescales now!

Customer feedback has been sought from a very early stage in the process. We worked with Passenger Focus a number of years back and we held several ‘focus groups’ so that we could get real feedback form a variety of different people who use our trains. This included peak, off peak, airport, regular and irregular travellers. We also included a large number of people with different disabilities to ensure that the trains exceeded the requirements set down in various bits of legislation.

Train design is highly regulated for safety reasons, but where decisions can be made, several factors were considered. Wherever possible, the leading factor in any design feature was the customer.

More recently, we took a number of stakeholders out to Germany to look at the mock-up. We got a lot of feedback – some of which we have been able to incorporate (with agreement from the Department for Transport.) The stakeholder visit included representatives from The Brighton Line Commuters Association, Hassocks Rail Group, East Surrey Transport Group, Association of Public Transport Users, Bedford Commuters’ Association, Hitchin Rail User Group, London TravelWatch, Passenger Focus, Rail Future (Anglia branch) Rail Future, (London branch), Cyclists’ Touring Club and also a Disability representative from the Department for Transport.

The train needs to meet the needs of a variety of customers with differing needs – it’s also fair to say that we’re unique in that we don’t terminate in London. This means that the train needs to be suitable as a very high frequency ‘metro’ style train within London – as well as meeting the needs of customers on much longer distance routes to Brighton, Bedford Cambridge and Peterborough. We also have 2 large airports on the route – so need plenty of space for luggage. We’ve done our best to incorporate all of these factors. We’ve also bought in designated wheelchair areas, accessible toilets, modern passenger information systems and a number of other features.

Now that the Department for Transport have signed the contract with Siemens, we are able to discuss and publicise some more of the details. Keep an eye out for further updates from us in due course.”

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Never a borrower nor a lender be?

I’ve been thinking recently about what goes on when people lend to each other.

This has been inspired by two things really:

Both have been a real learning experience for me. In the first instance, I found that most people I spoke to thought a local book-share scheme was an awesome idea and encouraged me to make it happen, but when it came to using it… well let’s just say I definitely have one person engaged with the site, and his name begins with A.

In the second case, I had an idea about trying to get local people in an area to lend money to each other as an alternative to payday loan sites like Wonga (I’d pitched it as a sort of localised Zopa). Again an idea people said sounded fantastic, but after I asked some residents whether they would use something like this, they all said no!

The consistency in both of the above has been, weirdly, that people are much more willing to give away books or even money, than they are to lend it. The words people would use around lending would be “trust” and “relationship” and that these would need to be in place in order for someone to lend to/borrow from a stranger. I’m not sure why this is exactly, but I think it might be something to do with feeling exposed – that lending is a very personal investment and if it goes wrong it has a very personal impact on the individuals involved. In fact in my own experience I’ve only really seen that sort of peer to peer lending within my own family, and that usually on the assumption that payback would be nice, but isn’t always necessary. People need to feel in a safe space to lend/borrow, but it usually takes ages to develop that level of trust between people. Tricky.

At the same time it is encouraging though! The reason I’ve been exploring these ideas is that I believe lending/sharing/borrowing is more powerful than arms-length giving precisely because it requires and encourages a relationship and that if done right this can foster stronger and more cohesive communities. But that doesn’t get me past my quandary – the thing that I most want to encourage through these “lending mechanisms” is the same thing that is stopping them from working.

This got me thinking about crowd-lending, which really to me just feels like a natural variation of crowd-funding. In essence I might not trust you enough to lend you money, but if I know a “crowd” of other people are willing to, I gain trust from being one of many.   So during our Camden Challenge day, my team came up with an idea that allowed people to ask for money/resources as a collective, take collective ownership for paying it back, but also allow anyone wishing to invest as a collective as well.

Why I think this might be better than crowdfunding, is that while every one involved can enter into the arrangement as an anonymous individual, by being part of it and having a lending financial stake in it, the likelihood of cross community connections is much greater.

I’m going to blog on this a bit more as I develop my idea and find out more about what does and doesn’t work (who knows a lot might fit into the latter camp!), but I really see this as a mature way of getting wealth to redistribute and recycle within communities and through this create connections that wouldn’t normally happen.

I’m learning a lot from other people in this process, so I’d welcome any thoughts/challenges/questions on this as I work it through.

Until next time!

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Ok I’m having another go at this…

… so be prepared!

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