Written by Rob Hayne, Active Essex
Having returned to sunny Essex after an always enjoyable, thought provoking and hard networking couple of days in Nottingham with Active Partnership colleagues (always a great 2 days to catch up with people from all around the country..) – I thought I would share some reflections from the event (including snippets from some late night conversations in the bar)
I was hearing, and heard, attendees comment:
“Collaborative Leadership – that’s partnership working – we are all doing that aren’t we?”
“System change - we are already doing this in our place”
When we launched the Active Essex Strategy – “Changing 1 Million Lives” back in June 2017, we had begun to think about doing things differently. We delivered an Olympic Event (Mountain Biking in 2012), Tour De France in 2014 also a wide range of programmes and interventions - but we hadn’t changed the curve on physical activity data in Essex at a population level, whilst inequalities in our deprived communities were growing. Something had to change.
Essex (at a local government level) has been on system change journey for a couple of years, with our leadership at the highest level aware of the need to do things differently to improve outcomes for residents. The LDP can (and will) super charge the role that physical activity can play in this. We have support from our leaders, recognising the need to work across and through systems but also the ability to connect to our communities and residents and work together on issues important to them. The Essex Vision is the home for this work – 100 system leaders coming together to drive change, something we are part of.
So the term ‘whole system change’ has now become very real. The LDP has helped us shape thinking and we have identified seven important systems to influence to achieve our ambition of one million people regularly active across Essex. These priorities emerged from our Chapter 2 report “Delivering system change and can be download.
In the past, CSPs focused mainly on the voluntary sport sector. Now, in Essex, the seven systems settings we focus on are social care, health, community, education, planning and infrastructure, workplaces, and community safety.
We do not highlight voluntary sport as a system setting – we see it mainly as part of the wider community setting. This is “part” of the system that CSP’s and now Active Partnerships have been working with in the last 10 years. We have been driving systems change – but very much within our own system.
This thinking and realisation that most of our energy in the past was focused on delivering new projects/interventions in a community leisure setting. This approach is flawed in terms of tackling population levels of physical inactivity, in isolation – our level of resources does not allow change at scale – however can all show impact and change on people and communities locally.
We are faced with the need to drive wider collaboration - how to influence senior managers of CCGs, GP practices, planning, the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Director of Adult Social Care, as well as the huge number of organisations in the community sector. Only this way can we achieve population level increases in physical activity, rather than just relying on the community sport sector. However – we don’t “own” these systems or organisations, control their resources or set their policy…
It is this a different way of thinking about systems and settings, outside of our usual world, our control, comfort zone and influence, that is really challenging us. Of course, we have always done partnership working and collaboration, but it was mainly confined to the community sport sector.
Our expert adviser in Essex, Dr William Bird, hammers home his message consistently. He tells us that only a small percentage of physical activity is delivered via projects, interventions, classes, clubs, and formal provision. The vast majority is active travel (mainly walking to school or work) and informal activity with friends and family. These two areas are the promised land of increased physical activity. To achieve this, we need to step outside of the world of community leisure, and collaborate with planning, health, social care, and employers.
It is early days, but we are finding in Essex that the currency of physical activity genuinely opens doors for organisations that are focused on wider agendas of social and economic outcomes. The really hard bit is getting community safety to work with health to work with planning to tackle physical inactivity. Breaking down the silo’s is genuinely the holy grail of system change.
This work takes time…
For me, the history of how we have evolved as a partnership has helped to create the conditions for success and underpin the work we are currently driving. As a way of working – Collaborative leadership is an important element of how we enable a whole system approach to tackling complex issues.
There is also relevance in some of theory and philosophy that support system thinking and collaborative leadership. Myron's Maxims are consistently appearing and have been talked about a number of CSP events and meetings:
1. People own what they help create.
2. Real change takes place in real work.
3. The people who do the work do the change.
4. Connect the system to more of itself.
5. Start anywhere, follow it everywhere.
6. The process we use to get to the future is the future we get.
Emotional intelligence and social engagement are key behaviours in this work. Systems are not populated by machines – they are led and run by real people. We need to recognise this, use empathy to build relationships, responding to the strengths of people and organisations - and most importantly build trust.
Our Active Essex journey has shown us this – we’ve had 8 years to work on relationships in order to build the trust to open doors to leaders and impact on policy.
We need focus strongly on the on learning that comes from this work – we need recognise that working in complex environments means continuous learning, rather than delivering programmes, this is needed to create good outcomes.
With start somewhere as one of Myron Maxims, I believe it’s good to have a map to get some kind of idea as to where this might lead! We’ve been looking at stakeholder and systems mapping. This work is evolving with some good examples/ tools / methods coming from Public Health colleagues.
Any mapping will need to constantly change and evolve but if we are going to connect the system to more of itself - we have to start somewhere. I’d like to share our first draft of this work below - a place based example of this, at a locality level with Essex. This uses Chelmsford Local Authority as the place and starts to try and show some of the stakeholders, connections and dependences of partners involved at a local level.
We have 14 Local and Unitary Authorities in Essex and have built a map for each on. This enables us to show the impact our work is having, via these connections, showing granular understand at a local level from strategic partnership through to local delivery.
New Age of Collaboration…
To draw this to a conclusion, there is a need for us to focus our work and lead based on the principles of trust, integrity, alignment – build relationships, lead from the front when needed and drop into pack if required. We need to add value to the system and show our impact to policy makers. We need to provide better outcomes for communities and individuals and empower them to take responsibility. We will need to put our collective goal ahead of our own egos and agenda’s, owning the culture, vision, mission to have a system wide, population level impact in our work if we are to truly hard wire physical activity into everyday lives.
The measurement, impact and effectiveness of this work however need’s a whole different blog!
Rob Hayne, Strategic Lead Business Operations, Active Essex