How Department for Work and Pensions managers (‘DWP’) at the heart of this partnership have driven change internally.
Fulfilling Lives is a voice that represents a group of people from our communities that often struggle to overcome barriers to access support services. The local DWP teams recognised this and wanted to go on a journey with Fulfilling Lives to explore improvements to service provision and access for customers with multiple complex needs. The DWP managers understood that Job Centres do not work in isolation and are integral to local support systems and important community partners across the sector. When viewed from this stance, Job Centres need to be welcoming, inclusive and provide equity of access to the opportunities they offer.
It is for these reasons the DWP embarked on a partnership journey with Fulfilling Lives that would empower and enable the workforce to better respond to complexity and, for the Brighton Job Centre Plus (JCP), to develop greater insight into often-misunderstood members of our local community.
Active feedback gathering – the outside looking in
To understand how the Brighton JCP were perceived in the local community, senior managers invited local services to several coffee mornings to share their clients’ perceptions of accessing the Brighton JCP. From these conversations, it emerged how the building itself and front of house at the Brighton JCP was a significant barrier to engagement, causing, fear, anxiety & stress to customers, particularly those with multiple complex needs. The physical environment was described by one attendee “as speaking louder than the Job Centre staff” and this was significantly hindering a proper conversation with customers or at worst was often seen as a trigger for incidents.
Rather than looking for short-term quick fixes, the management team sat with the feedback and decided to use this as an opportunity and platform for change.
Question for DWP partners: What were your initial reactions to the feedback you received at the coffee mornings?
The initial response from the management team for Brighton Jobcentre was of great interest as the feedback was not surprising but the consistency, scope, detail, and volume gave far more weight and impetus to making specific changes than had ever been received before when trying customer surveys and other routes to identify areas to improve
Finding partners to support change
They decided to approach a local partner who knew clients with multiple complex needs well, the Fulfilling Lives team, and develop a relationship to think about how we could address these issues collaboratively for the long term.
Question for DWP partners: What did you find most helpful about the collaboration with Fulfilling Lives?
Most useful in the collaboration with Fulfilling Lives was the structure offered which became a framework that Brighton Jobcentre could use to facilitate change, the feedback from Fulfilling Lives consultants with lived experience and the fresh set of eyes from Fulfilling Lives painted a picture for Brighton Jobcentre that was incredibly illustrative.
We know that change is difficult. Therefore, by virtue, culture and systems change is difficult. So how did the DWP team address any barriers of challenges?
This is where the importance of developing safe spaces for staff really paid off. Spaces where new ways of thinking can be allowed to form and be challenged and, where tackling thorny conversations is indispensable. Spaces where trust and honesty can be established.
Question for DWP partners: What do you feel was the most effective way you helped overcome barriers to change?
The most important and effective way of overcoming barriers to change was to include as many Jobcentre staff as possible in the process of change and by doing this showing trust and honesty. This we feel prevented fear of change and gave confidence to exploring change.
- Sharing the vision: clear messages
Despite some staff understandably feeling displeased at being initially kept in the dark about mystery shoppers or assessments of the environment, and the unforeseen impact of coronavirus and the immense pressures and challenges that have come with it. The Brighton JCP team have stayed with us and continued to work as equal partners towards our common goal of improving the system for those customers with multiple complex needs.
The team had a clear message about why the partnership with Fulfilling Lives was important and why changes were important
2. Engaging colleagues across the organisation
Two ways in which the DWP managers were able to leverage the learning from this collaboration to drive the change internally was through employee participation and effective communication.
Firstly, Brighton JCP staff had the opportunity to be involved in decision making through two working groups that were established to implement Fulfilling Lives recommendations. Additionally, when feeding back on the outcome of the mystery shopper and environment assessment the feedback was presented by Fulfilling Lives to the entire Brighton JCP staff team. Including the G4S security guard team. This approach set the tone that as a service we were all it in it together and we weren’t going to shy away from the tough questions we need to ask ourselves.
Secondly, this approach to openness and effective communication was extended to senior leaders. The learning and momentum developed with the wider workforce established the platform to communicate in a way to DWP senior leaders that painted a clear picture of what was possible in supporting this group of customers going forward.
3. Supporting staff: training and development
By embedding a mandatory training resource in the induction process for new employees the DWP workforce will have better insight into trauma informed practice and complex needs. Leading to more confident, knowledgeable, appropriate, and empathetic responses towards customers presenting with complex trauma histories.
4. Sharing the change with others
Creating a workforce development resource that is embedded into the DWP Sussex & Surrey district learning and development platform, presented a unique opportunity to share the learning beyond the Brighton JCP and aid the DWP to continue the drive for change from within.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the degree of effort culture and systems change requires generating the traction to make it happen. It needs people who can adjust to their audience and adapt the messaging to differing levels of an organisation and in doing so create momentum to bring people with them, and ensuring senior leaders understand the value of the proposition.
Question for DWP partners: Looking back on the change journey and partnership, is there anything you would do differently?
Although the change journey could not be fully envisaged at the outset, it would have been beneficial to link up with national DWP colleagues at an earlier stage. This would have started conversations about national roll out of training resources earlier as we have since found that navigating the national framework of training and development a complex task because of the differing agendas in different areas of the DWP.
Question for DWP partners: What might you say to other leaders looking to embark on large scale change?
We would say with a very high level of conviction “seize the opportunity and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain”. Also, we would say it is so important and powerful to begin to better understand how our services can be prohibitive and the benefits of removing barriers for people with multiple complex needs.
Author: Alan Wallace
Should you wish to find out more about our partnership work or our systems change efforts, please contact:
Alan Wallace, Systems Change Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead: email@example.com
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