Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Our Place Guide to Co-design

This short guide aims to provide an introduction to co-design in public services: the reasons to do it, the principles that underpin it and some practical approaches for making it work. It focuses on co-design as opposed to co-production, although there are clear overlaps and links between the two, and much that is said here is relevant to both.

Above all, it seeks to make the case that co-design implies something very different to ‘consultation’ as its often understood, and it urges councils and other public bodies to think carefully about the ways they set about planning and undertaking engagement activity with service users.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Patients in control: ‘assume it’s possible’

Imagine walking into a GP surgery. For most of us, the first thing we normally face is a reception desk with overworked staff fielding phone calls in front of long queues of waiting patients.

What would happen if you took the reception desk away? Can you picture the waiting room as a place to talk to healthcare advisers, to find out about different wellbeing programmes without needing to necessarily even see a GP? The experience might feel something like going into an Apple Store and being greeted with a friendly smile and an iPad to search for options.

This is one of the latest ideas from the Bromley-by-Bow centre – reimagining the waiting room as a space to actively engage with patients, rather than a space where people are passively processed.

Operating in one of the most deprived areas of Tower Hamlets, BBBC is a pioneering community organisation – a vibrant hub with a café, arts workshops, offices, a nursery, garden, GP surgery and officers from the local housing association. The programmes that they run include helping people with long term conditions to take control of their lives, learn new skills, supporting people to find work and establishing social enterprises. The GP surgery (along with five others in the local area) refers patients to BBBC programmes through social prescribing.



Bromley-by-Bow Centre


The philosophy underpinning this approach is not necessarily new or unique – The Marmot Review into health inequalities emphasised a social understanding of health, and more recently Dr Atul Gawande dedicated one of his Reith lectures to the importance of medicine shifting from a focus on health to wellbeing. There is also evidence from social prescribing pilots elsewhere in the UK of the success of the approach. But the BBBC has put a wellbeing approach into practice and made it sustainable – based on an unswerving belief in the power of stronger, and more networked communities, and people’s capacity to achieve their goals and raise their aspirations.

OPM worked with the Bromley-by-Bow Centre (BBBC) to create a commissioning simulation as part of the South East CSU Person-Centred Care project. This aimed to explore the tools and knowledge that CCGs might need to confidently commission programmes and services that put patients in control.  Participants had to imagine they were at a Commissioning Challenge event for a fictional CCG – although not dissimilar to what some CCGs are already doing. At our event, commissioners, patients, local authority representatives, clinicians and voluntary sector providers had come together, to work up an idea on how to reduce Type 2 diabetes and heart disease through a living well programme.

Simulations always risk being slightly contrived, but the aim was to go beyond commissioners’ usual environments, draw inspiration from the setting and think about how to join the dots between different organisations in local areas – all of whom could have something to contribute to a wellbeing approach that puts patients in greater control of their health.

What did we learn?

Creating the space for CCG commissioners to come together with local organisations and patients is essential to understand what each has to offer. Patients in control programmes will rarely sit in isolation – they are part of a menu of options, and commissioners need to think across the local system.

We found many examples and case studies of programmes that could be described as putting patients in control. But commissioning these are not yet the norm.

Participants talked about the importance of CCGs being less risk averse – finding ways to challenge entrenched cultures, and influence others internally and externally. This is not an easy task in a time of tight budgets and long lists of priorities.

Within this context, being able to demonstrate impact and outcomes is vital – we have blogged about measuring impact in the context of commissioning earlier on in this blog series on person centred care.

Despite these challenges, overall, we found that there is real desire amongst CCGs to use the commissioning process to ensure that there are person centred approaches in place. As one participant in the simulation said: ‘The aim should be for a Bromley-By-Bow Centre in every local area…’

In the words of the Centre itself: ‘assume it’s possible’.


This is the third in a series of blogs to be published following the development of a set of online tools and resources by OPM in support of the person-centred care agenda for South East Commissioning Support Unit. The first is entitled: Person-centred care: putting patients in control and the second: Person-centred care: measuring impact.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mythical Maze Makers: An impact study of youth volunteering on the Summer Reading Challenge in 2014

Summer Reading Challenge volunteering (SRCv) is a Reading Agency programme targeted at young people aged 12-24 and involves volunteering in libraries over the summer to help with the running of the annual Summer Reading Challenge (SRC).

In 2013, nearly 6000 young people were recruited as Summer Reading Challenge volunteers in 1454 libraries across 137 local authorities. In 2014, The Reading Agency were successful in securing a grant from the Centre for Social Action at the Cabinet Office to expand the number of young people involved in SRCv. Following consultation with the library sector, it was agreed that a 40% increase in volunteers would be possible in 2014.

The expansion of SRCv means that it is increasingly becoming a key volunteering opportunity in the wider context of developing high quality social action for young people.

OPM was commissioned by The Reading Agency in May 2014 to undertake an impact study of SRCv. During the summer of 2014, qualitative research was undertaken with volunteers, SRC participants, library staff and other stakeholders in four case study locations in England – Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Norfolk and Tower Hamlets.

Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agency, said:

“What this report shows is something that we have frequently heard from our library colleagues. Young volunteers not only develop their own skills by working in libraries over the summer; they also act as powerful role models for children, inspiring them to read more and encouraging them to join in with the Challenge. It has been wonderful to see the benefits to everyone which have come from young people participating in this amazing programme.”


Friday, February 6, 2015

Youth volunteers can breathe new life into Britain’s public libraries

National Libraries Day on Saturday is the perfect opportunity to recognise the role of young volunteers in shaping the modern library service

The long summer holidays are nearly over and in a seaside town in Lancashire, a small branch library is preparing for an event to celebrate the end of the Summer Reading Challenge. Families are beginning to wander in, keen to escape from the drizzle outside. The library manager visibly breathes a sigh of relief when three young people arrive – with their bright blue ‘Reading Activist’ t-shirts signalling they are ready for their final volunteering shift of the summer. By 2pm, the Children’s Library is full and the next two hours pass in a buzz of reading related games, crafts, stories and celebration, whilst other library users quietly get on with looking for the latest recommended books, or using one of the public computers.

This snapshot encapsulates the description in last year’s Independent Library Report, led by William Sieghart of libraries as ‘modern, safe, non-judgmental, flexible spaces, where citizens of all ages can mine the knowledge of the world for free…’

There are no shortage of campaigns and initiatives championing libraries, and this coming Saturday is National Libraries Day, designed to encourage people to ‘use it, love it, join it!’ Last year, BBC 6 Music organised its own library celebration. When a library closure beckons, opposition is quick to mobilise.

Libraries unite a wide range of visitors: information seeking aficionados, hipsters, sound archivists, job seekers, teenagers doing homework, children looking for the latest Jacqueline Wilson book, and even those just wanting somewhere to retreat to with a copy of the paper.  But libraries are operating in a rapidly changing world, competing for limited resources, and need to adapt accordingly.

Sieghart made the case for investment in the modern library service and a key recommendation was a call for volunteers to be a more important part of the library workforce – recognising the 100% increase in people giving their time for free in libraries since 2009.

However, in these recent debates about the future of libraries, there has not been as much emphasis on how young people are a crucial part of this volunteering picture – often overcoming outdated stereotypes of libraries being stuffy and quiet, and not a place for teenagers to spend their time.

OPM spent last summer evaluating the impact of young people volunteering in libraries to support the annual Summer Reading Challenge (where children aged 4 to 11 are encouraged to read six books during the school holidays), run by the charity The Reading Agency. In 2014, 8,126 young people aged 12 to 24 volunteered in 1,740 libraries – helping to run the Challenge, devising reading related activities and talking to children about books.

The report has been published this week with a clear message that volunteering in libraries gives young people the chance to develop communication and team working skills, experience a professional workplace, work with children – and most of all have fun over the summer.  70% of volunteers in 2014 said that they loved the experience of being a volunteer.

The research team visited 20 libraries in total – from Carnegie libraries in Lancashire steeped in the legacy of their founding aspirational vision, to the most visited library in the UK in Norwich. We saw some under-used spaces and buildings in need of investment but we also saw libraries coming to life with a bustle of reading related activity and enthusiasm. Tea and biscuits lured families to stay and talk to their neighbours, and in many cases, there was a genuine sense of there being ‘something for everyone’ in the library.

Volunteers often told us they’d be spending their summer ‘bored at home’ if they hadn’t decided to volunteer, and that they were passionate about the role they could play in inspiring younger children to read.

Other stories gave an indication of how volunteering can be life changing – one 19 year old talked about how shy she had been at school, and had been struggling to engage with sixth form as a result. She volunteered for the Summer Reading Challenge three years in a row in her local library, and is now leading teams of volunteers, mentoring others, getting involved in other local community events, working part time in the library and about to return to college.

This was youth social action at its most powerful – young people making a difference in their local communities, volunteering close to their homes and changing attitudes towards libraries. At the end of the summer, 71% said they would like to continue volunteering, and over half said they would use a library more as a result.

Library staff were equally enthusiastic about young people volunteering as it enabled them to host more activities for the Summer Reading Challenge than would be possible with core staff alone, and improved the public perception of the library as a welcoming and relevant place to be.

Libraries will continue to evolve and they will undoubtedly look very different in 20 years’ time. Our research is a call to recognise the role of young volunteers. They are not a replacement for full time professional library staff, but they are a powerful way to ensure that libraries reflect the communities they serve, provide more that appeals across age ranges, and inspire new library users through their doors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The role of Digital in Local Participation: Kai Rudat Memorial Breakfast Seminar

On the morning of Tuesday 25 November we are hosting a breakfast seminar on the role of digital in local participation, with speakers from across local government and the voluntary and community sector sharing their experiences of how they have used digital means to facilitate dialogue with citizens.

Digital presents an opportunity for local government and the voluntary and community sector to involve the public in decision making on their own terms, through channels that are less institutionally-focused and more citizen-driven. It offers the potential for citizens to engage and mobilise around local issues and local needs, opening up new virtual spaces for civil society where ideas can be proposed and discussed in an immediate and highly visible way.

Recent research however, has found that 11 million people in the UK still lack basic digital skills and capabilities. It’s hard to believe that in an age where the internet is at the heart of society, 21% of Britain’s population remains ‘digitally excluded’. This has a real social and human impact. But more people, networks and organisations having digital access will not be sufficient to re-energise local participation in itself. The digital approach sits within a wider engagement landscape and is just one of the tools which can cultivate active citizenship around local needs – both ‘online’ and ‘offline’.

During the event we will hear innovative case studies of how our speakers have engaged members of their respective constituencies and those sometimes considered ‘hard to reach’, often from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. These examples of good practice and experiences of key challenges and barriers to a digital approach will be open to questioning and discussion with our audience.

Dr Andy Williamson @andy_williamson will shape the discussion for us. He has extensive national experience in digital democracy, online campaigning and citizen engagement and will be raising themes such as:

What do local leaders need to do to engage effectively in digital dialogue with citizens? Are there any features particular to localities with high levels of digital engagement and what are these features? How do we measure success in digital engagement? Where does the digital approach sit within the wider engagement landscape? What platforms are used, and are theses the right ones? Where both online and offline engagement methods are combined, have these complemented each other or is there a tension between the two?

Our presenters will be:

Cllr Peter Fleming  @dmontfort – Leader of Sevenoaks Council, presenter to the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, discussing the changing nature of representation in a digital age.

Cllr Peter Lowe  @CllrPete  – Deputy Leader of Dudley Council, the first local authority in the UK to bring public meetings to Facebook.

Sam Mauger  @ageuklondon – Chief Executive of Age UK London, deliverers of the ‘MiCommunity’ intergenerational digital inclusion project.

Chris Martin  @mondomartin – Operations Director of Youthnet, whose online digital service ‘TheSite’ is accessed by 85,000 16–25 year olds each month.

Debbie Moss  @vinspired  – Public Affairs and Policy Manager of vInspired, who have focussed on how digital plays a role in young people’s participation in political issues across a number of programmes, particularly through the recently launched ‘Do Something Swing the Vote’ campaign.

There are a limited number of places still available for the event via our Eventbrite page. Registration opens from 8.30am.  So book up now or follow the debate using the hashtag #digitalparticipation on Twitter.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rural library services in England: exploring recent changes and possible futures

In recent years, public library services have undergone – and continue to undergo – a huge amount of change. That change has been felt across library services, but due to their limited size and lower footfall, rural libraries have been placed under particular pressure and have gone through some of the most radical changes in the way they are operated. Commissioned by Defra and Arts Council England. Following the 2013 reports Envisioning the Library of the Future and Community libraries: Learning from Experience, this research explores what the experience has been – and could be in future – for rural libraries specifically. The research comprised:

The general conclusions are positive, highlighting that rural communities face specific challenges and opportunities but have rallied around to improve and expand library services.  Building on this, the most successful and sustainable rural libraries will contribute to a range of local outcomes, attract income and provide access to many different services and activities, otherwise missing in many rural areas, if local authorities plan strategically.

Monday, September 1, 2014

25th anniversary guest blog series: Self-supporting and strong communities can be key to tackling isolation

My Mother died ten years ago. She received home care services that supported her to get up in the morning. This in turn helped her to go across the road to the local primary school and do sessions with the young children; she told them about what life was like between the wars. This experience helped her retain her own sense of worth, it was good for the school and it benefitted the wider community too. The moral? Let’s see services that remove barriers to active participation, and never as just ends in themselves.

I’d like to see the development of more safe, strong, self-supporting communities. Gone should be the days when we’d tick the box that says: ‘social care; done’, especially if that means that someone was bussed to a day centre miles away from home for the day, only to return to a life of isolation.

I did qualify my statement above by saying “MORE safe, strong, self-supporting communities”, because of course excellent examples exist already. There are, and always have been, individuals and groups within communities, formal and informal, who, with a minimum of fuss, provide all sorts of help and support to those who need it; and friendship too.  But undoubtedly there is more to do, especially given the unprecedented financial constraints under which service providers are now operating.

One of our films on Social Care TV looks at isolation in Dorset and how it’s being addressed. It introduces Brian, who, in the film, has recently lost his wife and says that he didn’t much care, if he was crossing a busy main road, whether he got to the other side or not. But by being encouraged to go to a local tea dance, Brian is shown to be healthier, happier and less isolated.

The Guardian newspapers says the problem of social isolation is so severe that they’ve included it as one of the five modern giant evils that must be tackled by people working in the public and voluntary services. A recent Guardian panel of experts, including a colleague from SCIE, discussed how professionals from local government, social care, healthcare and the voluntary sector can work together in tackling isolation.

At SCIE we’ve produced an At a glance guide to older people and isolation. In it we said that, as the UK’s population rapidly ages, the issue of acute loneliness and social isolation is one of the biggest challenges facing our society. It’s a moral and financial necessity to address it, for the sake of both the people concerned and the wider community. And let’s also remember that carers can also be isolated, so their needs should be addressed.

Let’s start to remove barriers to people having active citizenship roles. They may need to have the appropriate care and support to achieve this, but it’s worth it, surely? I know it was for my Mother.

Tony Hunter is Chief Executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)


About the series

OPM is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and as a public interest organisation, we’ve always contributed to the debate about the future of public services.

With this and the next general election in mind, we’ve asked a number of senior thinkers to give their views on the challenges and opportunities facing public services and society in the near future.

This is one of a series of guest blogs, which we’ll be adding to in the coming weeks and months. To read previous posts in the series, go to our news and comment page.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Valuing Volunteers – It’s time for a smarter approach to recognising and rewarding those who give up their time

This week the Local Government Association proposed that community volunteers be given some kind of rebate in their council tax.  This proposal was rejected by some in the voluntary community, particularly the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, but embraced by others including the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action.

In my work as a doctor in a hospital I have seen just what a difference volunteers make.  Greeting patients and visitors and helping them find their way through the labyrinth of an unfamiliar hospital.  Taking papers, sweets and other treats for patients on wards who can’t reach the shops.  Manning the hospital café.  In fact, I have always thought people valued their help even more because they know they are volunteers.

And on a bigger scale, volunteers are vital to running a large network of charity shops that generate around £1 billion annually for good causes.  Samaritans and Childline, schemes for visiting and befriending isolated older people, kitchens and hostels for the homeless – the list goes on.

We are often described as the ‘time poor’ generation.  In such pressured times, the potential of volunteering is huge, but can, for many, feel like one commitment too many.  At ValueYou we think we need to find more ways to support volunteers and do more to recognise their contribution.

There are some who are wary of doing anything more than giving thanks to volunteers. Sometimes this unease arises from a natural – although largely unfounded – fear of straying into tricky areas of employment law.  For the most part, volunteering takes place on the understanding that the volunteer has undertaken to do something ‘to help others’, and to give them anything beyond a handshake or a pat on the back is unjustified.

I think we need to take a more intelligent view as to what motivates people to behave altruistically.  Human motivations are often complex and we mustn’t assume we know what these are, since individuals will commit to volunteering for different reasons. Some volunteers will say that they are influenced by the appreciation of those they help and from the positive response they will get from others when they hear about their good work.

In truth, we do understand how to recognise the work of a volunteer – it’s just a question of the urban environment presenting new challenges.  Imagine a small village where residents who give up their time to local causes are ‘known’ in the community – people would show them their appreciation where they can, whether it’s a free drink at the local pub or a couple of extra sausages thrown in at the butchers.

At ValueYou we have identified an enormous willingness amongst local businesses to show their appreciation as part of our volunteer recognition scheme. They do this by offering discounts and gift vouchers to volunteers who make a regular contribution in the local community. The challenge in a large urban community is anonymity.  ValueYou helped them to identify the volunteers. For businesses, it also makes commercial sense.

So, how else could we make our appreciation more tangible?  NHS organisations could start by providing a form of identification to allow their volunteers to access certain benefits like discounts at some restaurants – just like I can get with my NHS staff card.  Could commercial organisations who reward their best performing employees make small investments in staff who make an extra special contribution as part of business volunteer schemes?  Councils could offer free parking as well as council tax discounts.  The Government could mandate discounted rail fares.

And I would urge other organisations, public and private, to think about what else they could do to give a little back to those who give so much. If some people get involved in volunteering for what others consider the ‘wrong’ reasons then I am confident that they will soon come to value the experience itself much more than any material gain they might also be getting.

Dr Kieran Mullan is Founder and CEO of ValueYou and also works as junior hospital doctor.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From getting ready to getting going: Our Place learning event

Our Place is an exciting movement about building a movement for change in local communities. Run by Locality, and its delivery partners, including OPM, the project encourages collaborations between citizens, councils and other organisations at a very local level generate new solutions to our biggest local challenges.

On 24 June, OPM,  in partnership with Locality and LGA, hosted an event to enable people on the Our Place programme and those who are interested in the programme to share emerging ideas and activities with each other and build networks with some of our partners, Pioneers, Champions and Relationship Managers.


Our Place participants tell us about their projects and hopes for the future


We had some exciting speakers from the Pioneer Neighbourhood Community Budgets Programme, Champions and Relationship Managers. Just to name a few:

These events set the scene for the next stage of the programme as Our Place areas work towards their Operational Plans, ready for November 2014.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Young People Doing Good Things

That’s the simple and effective slogan of youth volunteering charity vInspired, and working with vInspired as their evaluation partner has got us thinking about this issue. Young people’s civic engagement has been framed and reframed under various guises in UK policy over the past decades. Recently the focus has shifted from accusatory stances characterising the young as ‘apathetic’ or ‘anti-social’, to harnessing the energy of and recognising the power young people have to shape their own destiny and contribute to communities. Our work has brought us into contact with many fantastically engaged and giving young people including the GLA’s peer outreach team, young volunteers at London Tigers, and students at Aston Manor academy, to name but a few.

There have recently been a number of national campaigns and initiatives that seek to encourage more young people to get involved in volunteering and incorporate the voices and choices of young people into social projects, such as Step Up To Serve and the Government’s Youth Social Action Fund. Nevertheless, important questions remain, including: how can such programmes engage young people from hard-to-reach backgrounds? What kind of impact does volunteering have on these young people? And what are the barriers which prevent young people from volunteering at all?

What stops young people getting involved?

In answer to this last point evidence suggests that a change in attitudes towards and perceptions of young people might help. A new Demos report linked false negative stereotyping to adverse effects on young people’s self-esteem and employment opportunities. The report reveals that 80% of the young people surveyed believe their generation is more concerned with social issues than previous generations.[1]  A failure to acknowledge the will to participate of many young people presents the first barrier to reaching out to groups.

Encouraging young people to volunteer with existing traditional and more formal volunteering opportunities may not necessarily work. Mason argues that these traditional opportunities are frequently structured according to the concerns of the adult rather than young people.[2] Approaching civic engagement from an adult perspective may not accurately reflect the realities of young people. Jonathan Birdwell, the Head of the Citizenship Programme at Demos, stated that “Teenagers are motivated to make a difference in their community but the approach they take is radically different to previous generations. Teenagers do not rely on politicians and others to solve the world’s problems, but instead roll up their sleeves and power up their laptop and smartphone to get things done through crowd sourced collaboration.”[3]

Another hurdle is negative perceptions of volunteering itself. A YVC evaluation exploring the perceptions of young people before and after volunteering stints, found that many young people did not perceive volunteering to be fun or worthwhile prior to participating. Perceptions were changed following voluntary work, with over 90% of young people reporting improvements to self-esteem, team work, self-confidence and awareness of others.[4]  The current consensus is that there are positive impacts for young people themselves and their communities to be gained from volunteering.  The challenge now is how to engage young people.

Volunteering opportunities, particularly to reach groups on the margins, need to be more youth-centred and accessible. Carolynne Mason believes that volunteering should be linked ‘voice’ and empowerment, and to achieve this it is crucial that young people are involved in decision making processes:  ‘A culture of participation can have a positive impact on young people’s sense of ‘self-efficacy’ which in turn had been found to be a key factor in influencing their levels of civic engagement.’[5]

Whilst reports have explored the impact of volunteering on the general youth population, there is apaucity of evidence pertaining to socially disadvantaged groups.[6]  There is an urgent need for more evidence about the outcome of young people’s involvement in volunteering through effective evaluation of programmes that prioritise young people’s own perspectives.

A youth-led approach

We’re currently evaluating several of vInspired’s youth volunteering programmes, including NCS cashpoint. This programme offers grants of up to £500, along with support and advice from the vInspired team, for young people aged 14-25 to create the change they want to see in their communities. They have an opportunity to use their own creativity and passion to provide valuable, sustainable community based services based on their own ideas. A high proportion of those involved come from the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.[7]

Cashpoint is unique as it begins from the starting point that young people want to get involved in helping and improving their communities. Subsequent opportunities are completely shaped and owned by young people themselves, encouraging them to become social agents who can lead change on issues they care about. A previous evaluation revealed that participants developed a variety of skills through the programme, around project planning, budget management, leadership, fundraising and team-work. Furthermore, volunteers were confident that involvement had enhanced their employment prospects.[8]

The evaluations of NCS cashpoint and two of vInspired’s other programmes, Talent and Team v, give us a great opportunity to share learning and examples of good practice at a time when funding is being made available to enable young people to volunteer. We look forward to sharing our findings next year.

[2] Carolynne Mason (2013) ‘The civic engagement of young people living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage’ Chapter 7 in Debated in Citizenship Education eds James Author and Hilary Cremin.
[5]Carolynne Mason (2013) ‘The civic engagement of young people living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage’ Chapter 7 in Debated in Citizenship Education eds James Author and Hilary Cremin.
[6] ibid