A Framework for Identifying Aspects for Improvement

I was reflecting on experiences of various meetings last week, and it struck me that they quite neatly fall into categories I’ve used in the past to assess why organisations don’t follow good practice or improve.  These were cases, all to do with community engagement, where I could clearly see that something was wrong – sometimes it was my fault and sometimes down to other people.  Here are the categories and some of the examples (I’ve tried to keep it anonymous – this isn’t about naming and shaming):

•    Lack of awareness – the voluntary organisation didn’t even consider the issue of consulting its clients (not for anything in particular, just generally).  It wasn’t on the agenda.  It wasn’t that we weren’t able to do it or even that we wouldn’t have wanted to do it – we just never thought about it.  But perhaps the clients would have answers to some of the issues we were struggling with.
•    Lack of will – the task of drafting a cross-public and voluntary sector strategy was delegated to a single officer, not even involving the partners, and the timetable for the following public consultation is rushed.  I suspect it’s largely because they’d like it out of the way as quickly and simply as possible and want to avoid any hassle.  They’d probably call it just working efficiently.  But the risk is that the strategy is ineffective and much of the time and effort spent on it is wasted.
•    Individual capacity – despite tremendous commitment and goodwill towards their volunteers, a ‘sheep dip’ approach was taken to training them.  No account was taken of what the volunteers might actually need or what they themselves might be able to add to the process.  It was also felt that they were lucky to get the training, so they should be grateful, even though it wasn’t something they’d asked for or necessarily wanted, but rather was a condition of becoming a volunteer.  Arguably this was about having a particular ‘perspective’ (implicitly assuming a top down rather than equal approach to engagement) rather than ‘ability’, but ‘capacity’ is a deliberately broad term.
•    Collective capacity (organisational, whole systems and inter-organisational) – the strategy referred to above (arguably) doesn’t do the job.  The ability to produce what is needed is there in the various partner bodies, but they don’t have the ability (or perhaps it’s the will) to bring all that expertise together to produce a strategy that would make a difference.
•    National / institutional / outside of the current system – there was nothing specifically in this category that I identified as causing a problem, but an easily accessible database of best practice examples from other areas would have been helpful and might have resolved some of the problems.

So, it’s quite pleasing to know that my framework works.  But a little dispiriting to see so many examples (in just one week) of things not being done as well as they could be.  And that’s down to me, as well as to many other much more talented individuals.  At least the framework provides a lead on what could be done to improve things in future.

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