What We Learnt

Participle was about systemic innovation: linking a big vision of the welfare state to practice in communities and within large-scale institutions across Britain. This has been a rich learning process and Hilary Cottam will publish in more depth on this during 2016.

Some headlines:

Combining a big vision with on the ground practice drew partners towards us. It enabled us to start in a different place and to work with complex systems. We have ignored institutions that need fixing and started instead with an exploration of root causes and real life perspectives. This has always reaped dividends.

We have increasingly seen the importance of focusing on relationships within the broader capabilities framework. Relationships open people to change and support a continuing developmental journey.  You can’t give someone a capability or do it to them – embracing this approach means embracing a shift in power. We have learnt about the systems, cultures and metrics that are needed both to grow and sustain this change. 

A 21st century welfare state needs 21st century infrastructure. We have embraced technology as an integrated part of our practice.  Technology can enable these new approaches to support many thousands and can disrupt business models making the new approaches cheaper. Making this work in practice however has been one of the most challenging parts of our work. We still have more to learn.

Growth and scale requires resource and capital. We embraced the idea of the social enterprise and hoped for social investment. In reality social investment has not been forthcoming for organisations like ours that concentrate on the messy reality of people’s lives and it is increasingly clear that these financial models and cultures as currently developed are unlikely to align with relational models.

As our partners have told us, relational work reaps dividends. Those who invested early have seen strong social outcomes and reduced cost but they have also learnt that  support is necessary to remain open and sustain what is often difficult work. Leadership from the top has been imperative for success so has a complementary local vision. Where our work has been embraced for reasons of cost cutting alone we have not been successful.

Over the last 10 years Britain has become more unequal. It is important to remember that whilst we cannot thrive without designing a 21st welfare state, no welfare state however great can deliver in a context of escalating inequality.