Having purpose, an eye for detail and a sense of curiosity are the Fulfilling Lives workforce attributes I have flagged as desirable in previous blogs. Time is often at a premium for staff. Smaller caseloads and flexibility are ways of extending the time available to beneficiaries. Which brings me round to another attribute for the practitioner which, is pragmatism.
As I said in the item on curiosity, practitioners engaged with the evaluation of theory not only contribute to better practice but ensure theory is grounded in pragmatism. Thereby theory becomes better as well. People become less inclined to say: ‘that is alright in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice’. A pragmatic practitioner doesn’t just know the theory, but they act on it because it works.
At the centre of the Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) programme is evaluation and here the workforce is on the frontline. For it is they who source, collate and complete the two key measures – the Homelessness Outcomes Star and the NDT Assessment – with the service beneficiaries. Frontline workers say something they enjoy about the programme is the move away from a purely target driven approach. To make the most of this we need to make sure that the essential evaluation is not a chore. Not tasks that are completed as an add-on to a day’s work but ones that are integral to the way of working alongside beneficiaries and peer workers.
I have blogged previously about purpose and it’s time to move on to the detail – where the devil lies (alongside salvation) . The question is how do we recruit, train, support and retain an effective workforce? A workforce with the knowledge, skills and experience to change lives and systems alongside people with complex needs including homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental ill-health. One that supports people to overcome barriers to services and engagement. A workforce that is genuine and honest about the collaborative involvement of individuals with lived experience.
It is a big ask to come up with an exhaustive list of what the workforce does and how it goes about its tasks. Anyone that has spent time drawing up job descriptions knows the lengths you can go to trying to capture everything. Equally, they know the struggles of seeking to be both precise and concise. Perhaps that’s why so many job descriptions are rarely used in guiding day-to-day work and are only got out either when there is a vacancy or a workforce problem. In projects like Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) the issues are compounded because many of the roles are evolving and breaking new territory.
Helen Gavaghan, Senior Engagement Worker at Inspiring Change Manchester (ICM), gives an inkling of some of the things workers do to support people to think about change. She says some ‘traditional’ approaches need challenging and staff freed up to be open about working with both their own and their client’s lived experience. She concludes by suggesting learning about what it is that staff are doing is collected and brought together as a tool-kit for other practitioners.
In the Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) projects, when considering the learning that is being fed back overall, I feel there could be more detailed examination of what the frontline project workers do that makes a difference to people’s lives. I believe that there is some valuable learning that could be collected and shared and, if it isn’t, may be lost. General explanations of the approach, such as “building trusting relationships” and “avoidance of judgement” are fine – but I believe are in no way getting down to the specifics and nuances of the great work that is going on.
Vic Citarella delves further into the significance of ‘purpose’ for service users and the workforce in the Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) projects.
Indications are emerging from evaluations that the ‘purpose’ of each Fulfilling Lives project is very important in generating value and ownership. For beneficiaries, engaging in meaningful activities appears to create a vital sense of purpose. Equally for the workforces involved feedback suggests that the ‘purposeful’ nature of job roles generates added value and personal motivation. In my last workforce blog, I suggested that the value stemmed from four sources:
- Meaningful service user engagement
- Concepts of open-endedness and persistence (turned into practice)
- The ideas around psychologically informed environments (PIE) and the like
- Systems Change
In focussing on workforce matters in this series of blogs I have therefore dug a bit deeper to address questions such as: what is the purpose of purpose? How is purpose agreed, described and refreshed? What is it about the four sources which users and workers value that drives them on to achieve their goals?