Long live commissioning! But what shall we call it?

What do you call an approach that moves #publicservices


  • ‘spending money on services to meet needs’


  • ‘intervening and learning in the complex systems that actually shape our lives’?
latest piece in the Municipal Journal

The former sees ‘services’ as the whole universe, brought into being by our public service cash.

The latter sees that people are busy living their lives and that funding is just part of the influence we can have on citizen and community outcomes.

The word we’re stuck with, like it or not, is #commissioning.

It’s been five months since I last wrote ‘it ain’t dead!’ (I checked). And I have to keep saying it.

Yet because commissioning covers that (still vital) process of deciding which services (in-house, outsourced, third sector) are funded and which are not, it still gets bracketed with procurement, outsourcing, and contract management.

It’s much more than that, and since 2011 we’ve been working to show how it much more deserves to be part of #systemschange #systemsleadership and what’s now called #humanlearningsystems

My latest piece in the Municipal Journal is at https://www.themj.co.uk/Long-live-commissioning-/221192

How would you try to get this message across? What would you call it?

See also

Our core positioning piece: ‘commissioning is an approach to transformation’


Can commissioning truly start from the assets and capabilities of citizens and communities? As we inch towards the post-Covid era, what opportunities and risks are opened up by the massive release of citizen and community assets during the pandemic?


Commissioning is dead, long live commissioning


Something new has been named – #systemsconvening


Register for the launch webinar on 2 September: https://bit.ly/SCBookLaunch

Download the book and join the community: https://bit.ly/SystemsConvening

Child exploitation is everyone’s business – contextual safeguarding can help.

By Claire Bethel

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) had a high profile following the public outcry which ensued from the widespread abuse in places such as Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford. This led to significant changes on the back of Professor Alexis Jay’s report into the handling of CSE in Rotherham in 2014.  Her report brought to light the previously unknown scale of the problem, estimating that at least 1,400 children in Rotherham experienced CSE over a number of years, largely ignored by those responsible for their care and protection. The response – alongside the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, also chaired by Alexis Jay – has included a far greater focus on CSE. Whereas previously, child sexual abuse was viewed as largely a familial problem, the exploitation of children by perpetrators outside the family including groups and gangs, as well as by their peers, has commanded far wider recognition. 

One of the ways in which the traditional approach to children’s safeguarding has changed has been the move towards contextual safeguarding, bringing recognition of the increasing complexity of this landscape. Contextual safeguarding takes account of the fact that, as young people develop, they are influenced by a range of environments and people outside their family including their peers and their online lives. Many local authorities now have complex safeguarding teams which recognise the risks posed by influences outside the home environment. A great deal of resources are consumed by children and young people who go missing, often repeatedly, with much police and children’s social care activity focused on finding and returning them. One benefit of the changing approach and culture is a reduction in the level of victim-blaming and punitive nature of the responses previously associated with CSE. Services – not least the police – are becoming more trauma-informed, trained to recognise the wider context of a young person’s life, the underlying causes of their actions (including Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the opportunities for recovery. 

Increasingly, CSE is seen in the wider context of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) with the pervasive risks posed by county lines now seen as a major component of serious crime, involving sometimes quite young children in criminality, more often than not linked to drugs and trafficking. CSE of the type seen in Rotherham and Rochdale seems to be less prevalent given the increased surveillance, with other forms of extra-familial abuse, including peer-on-peer abuse, online abuse and other forms of harmful sexual behaviour, more widely identified.  

The implementation of contextual safeguarding, pioneered by Dr Carlene Firmin at the University of Bedford[1], includes working both at the level of the individual child or young person using techniques such as peer group mapping to look at their contacts and influences, and at the level of the community. Multi-agency safeguarding groups work collaboratively with the local community, including businesses such as hotels and taxi firms – indeed any organisation that comes into contact with children or young people – to establish the potential danger points in the community and to come up with responses collectively. Improving the lighting in the local playground where young people hang out at night or putting CCTV in place in the stairwell in the block of flats where young people are at risk from gangs illustrate what can be done.

Whole-school approaches and peer group work can be particularly helpful in addressing problems in school-aged children with the potential for bystander interventions to address peer-generated abuse and issues such as inappropriate image sharing. Safeguarding is, rightly, seen as everybody’s business rather than a familial problem confined to the home. Parents – frequently seen in the past as the cause of the problem – are increasingly seen as key to the solution and as partners in the team around the child or young person, representing a seismic cultural shift for social workers.  

Some of our work in this area has included working with voluntary sector organisations and local authorities to help them understand the changing nature of the problem and to look at what steps need to be taken to deliver contextual safeguarding and address the growing problem of child criminal exploitation. This presents several challenges: not least, challenges for the workforce to understand the implications for professional practice and the overriding need to work collaboratively with other agencies, and the practical challenges of adapting council information systems geared towards meeting the needs of individual children or young people at risk of harm.

Children and young people affected by exploitation need holistic, flexible, child-centred, trauma-informed, non-stigmatising services delivered by practitioners who can provide a consistent response as and when – and where –  the young person is ready to receive it. We also need to ensure that we don’t focus so much on child criminal exploitation that we downplay the needs of children and young people who have experienced child sexual abuse or exploitation, including online abuse, who continue to require specialist interventions by skilled practitioners.

If you would like to know more about how RedQuadrant could help you to deliver contextual safeguarding in your area, contact claire.bethel@redquadrant.com

Claire Bethel

[1] https://www.beds.ac.uk/iasr/about/staff/carlene-firmin/

We’re hiring! Be at the centre of RedQuadrant

RedQuadrant is looking for a ‘hub’ person, to lead our bid support and admin coordination, working directly to Managing Partner, Benjamin Taylor.

It’s an initial one-year contract, £28-32k with room to grow, remote for the foreseeable future, really at the heart of growing a business – ideally it would be someone with

(1) bid management

(2) admin/operations management, and

(3) consultancy/public sector experience

…but what’s important is hard work and passion to be part of what we do and help us to grow. Please share to anyone who might be interested!


More details:

Full time, remote working for the foreseeable future, initial twelve-month contract with three month probation period, potential to become permanent.

Role to commence first half of May.

£28-32k with room to develop.

You will work directly to the Managing Partner and liaise with service leads and consultants, acting as the reliable centre of the business. This is a role at the heart of a great organisation, with the potential to grow with us and be a recognised and valued leader.

RedQuadrant is a radical, ethical public service transformation consultancy which has survived and thrived in possibly the twelve hardest years for UK public services in living memory (including 2020), and which leads and supports the Public Service Transformation Academy, a not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to building capability for public services to transform themselves. Please check our websites for more.

We need someone extremely well organised, solid, capable, and hard-working to run our bids, oversee our operations, and co-ordinate flexible hourly admin support and possibly interns and graduates, as well as linking to our small finance team.

The primary task is to provide solid backing to our bid process from opportunity review, supplier portal, framework, and compliance management to bid development, submission, and contract signing. This involves working with our service leads and expert independent consultants, and being on top of our existing material, prior bids, and compliance questions, outlining and quality assuring content, and directing process. An appetite for organising the complex and a will to win are critical.

Alongside this runs knowledge management (in Microsoft 365/SharePoint), tracking of other business leads, and maintenance of pipeline and monitoring. None of this is solo work – but you need to be the coordinator and the unfailing central point of reference for bid leads, consultants, and administrative assistance.

The secondary task is to grow into ensuring that the business runs smoothly and works dynamically to increase impact, reach, and profit, freeing the Managing Partner from operational responsibilities and working together to create new opportunities.

#bidmanagement #consulting #publicservices #operations

Why is a bridge and water such a good explanation of how people go wrong with business transformation?

Why is a bridge and water such a good explanation of how people go wrong with business transformation?

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I use this image to open a lot of my learning and teaching on service and business transformation. What do you see?

Some see

  • white water – froth and waste which we can remove one obstacle at a time, allowing us to see more at each step
  • the chance to bore out a concrete channel to carry the water smoothly… until the detritus builds up again
  • a flood of demand we need to build defences against
  • a rich, living ecosystem we should explore
  • upstream and downstream opportunities for improvement
  • a keystone arch – a miraculous way to make a bridge support its own weight. But try to copy someone else’s business excellence without understanding the scaffolding needed to make it work, and you’re just throwing stones in the air and hoping they stick.

The point is that when I say ‘here’s an image which is about business transformation’, everyone responds from their perspective, their understanding.

What do you see?

#businesstransformation #servicetransformation #metaphor #learning

There are five core things which, if you make them your practice, are likely to lead to organisational success.

Three basics:

  1. Honest conversations, discussing the undiscussable of emotions and reasoning – nothing can develop unless there’s a shared effort to get at the truth
  2. Clarity – no learning is possible, and productivity and psychological safety are unlikely, without clarity of roles, tasks, decision-making, and relationships
  3. Learning – true learning isn’t possible without planning, prediction, and learning and reflective practices

These three create a learning system

4. Culture shaping, understanding that leaders and systems and emotional responses to them create conditions which generate psychological safety and productivity – or not.

A productive system.

Intent – measure customer / citizen / community outcomes – as they judge them.

A purposeful system.

Culture and achievement of intent are self-correcting measures – if you measure the actual outcomes of your practices; the experience of employees and customers, and learn what works, you can’t go wrong.

But you have to make them a practice – daily, built-in, acknowledging your weaknesses.

Download the ‘five core practices’ here:


Which practice do you need to work on the most?


Local public services in the UK face a ‘perfect’ storm – we need Adaptive Councils

The challenges appear insurmountable. Conditions that are truly ‘turbulent, uncertain, novel, and ambiguous’. And we are running on empty. 

This paper, from @RedQuadrant and the Public Service Transformation Academy @ServiceReform, sets out twelve principles for an adaptive approach to meet the needs of our circumstances.

Which of these twelve capabilities do you think is the most important? Which have we missed? Did we get any wrong?

Full paper: https://lnkd.in/gXn9CkX

PSTA page: https://bit.ly/2JF7Hfp


What would you say if I told you customer intimacy was dangerous?

If you want to really satisfy your customers, read on.

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  • Most organisations hear ‘listen to what the customer needs’ and say ‘yes! optimise for this!’
  • They hear ‘transactional efficiency saves money’, and go ‘yes! everything efficient!’

Truth: there are two types of customer service flavours:

1) transactional – customers can reliably specify and find the right service, and just want it over with – or not needed at all. Paying a bill, changing address. You want reliable, standardised, low-cost activity to drive volume, fast.

2) emotional/’customer intimacy’ – when you really need to listen to know what the customer needs. Understand. Experts, specialists to work with them for a joint solution, and every requirement is a new, unique little project.

You can do one, or t’other. But try to mix and match, you’ve got problems. 

Treating emotional as transactional fails to meet the needs, costs you more, and upsets customers. Treating transactional as emotional… well, same.

Which parts of your service require customer intimacy? Which operational effectiveness? Are you sure?

Have you ever been given the wrong sort of service?


We’re all trying to make sense of things – in our own way and from where we are

Everyone responds to the incentives, demands, risks, and situations they face – only a tiny bit of this is visible to anyone else.

That’s why I use the ‘blind men and the elephant’. 

Blind men describing an elephant by Hokusai Which part of the elephant are you in? (Apologies for the metaphor)

My point is not that we can ever see ‘the whole of the elephant’ – forget it. 
Everyone’s world is their own, unique, based on what’s going on in their life and how they make sense of it.

The front end is sharp, spiky. Dangerous. Being there is a world of pain. Everything you send them looks like more spiky and dangerous stuff. 

The very back of the elephant? The universe is only sending them one message – dung.

This can help us at three levels

  • emotional literacy: if I don’t know what’s going on in their world, I can enquire, learn, adapt
  • thinking strategically: ‘If I’m in elephant rider world, trying to work with elephant foot people, that’s not just person-to-person’
  • thinking about changing the conditions of the different worlds – ‘how can I do what I need to do now, but make it slightly easier for our parts of the world to communicate’

What’s your best tip for getting into the worlds of other people – understanding what’s really going on for them?


A practical approach to making decisions in complexity

First, you establish enough shared context to move on – so you all know what is happening around you.

Then, you establish enough shared purpose or intent to move on.

Remember, you all need to be able to move to the next step together – any problems, back down you go!

Then, identify the critical ‘what if’ (risk) and ‘how to’ (outcome) questions which, if answered, will allow us to define the work to achieve the intent.

Generate ideas to answer those critical questions, select the best, and check benefits and concerns of the actions they suggest – do a mini ‘seven steps’ on each piece of work if necessary

Then assign tasks and get on with work… and learn what you’ve done wrong. 

The golden rule is:

any time you get a surprise, e.g. you learn that we didn’t understand the context, that our purpose might be counterproductive, that we didn’t really understand the context, that we’re answering a question wrong…
…you have to all go back down as many steps as needed to correct that problem.

It takes practice. And it works.

Where does your team go wrong on decision-making in complex times? Where do you get it right?


Download ‘seven steps to heaven’ – a decision-making model for complex times – here: https://media-exp1.licdn.com/dms/document/C561FAQG9RXREfwjpnA/feedshare-document-pdf-analyzed/0/1603262148057?e=1610557200&v=beta&t=R_4LBWEoYBUmOH5AkNuEz71TGAF_Wsvk0fO9u-H9lmI