Championing diversity

It is interesting that a methodology that came out of very commercial and competitive sectors has so much resonance with the public sector.

I am often struck by the fact that alliance contracting was developed in the tough competitive and commercial worlds of the oil, construction and infrastructure industries yet is based on values we would recognise easily in the public sector – equity, collaboration, fairness, diversity.

Developing a true alliance with a risk share needs vision, strong leadership, trust, tough financial conversations and occasionally brutal honesty. Not cosy stuff but all done in a spirit of collaboration and seeking to find the best for each and all.

At its core is valuing diversity: diversity of supply, diversity of organisation types, diversity of perspectives. Problem solving, design and development are enriched by having a variety of views. If you look at an object from your perspective, you only see the 2D view in front of you. If you move around, see it from other people’s point of view, you get a richer picture. Better still, if people with different views share these and understand each other’s then you get a collective view and will develop a solution or approach that makes sense to all.

We need to those different perspectives. Transformation in public services will come from listening to and partnering with people and agencies that bring a fresh perspective. The recent Locality and Vanguard report makes a good case for ‘local by default’ following their research into why and how people access services. The Age UK work in West Cornwall is an example of how a simple intervention can make a difference without needing any professional input or organisational change. Indeed, it needs traditional providers to ‘let go’.

When people say “yes, all well and good but we need to do this at scale”, I want to reply that the traditional organisations and professions need to ‘let go’ at scale.

Pioneering commissioners and grant owners have been contacting me to help them use an alliance approach for (relatively) small value service contracts with multiple third sector organisations. They are keen on the principles of trust, diversity, sharing of opportunity and risk. I honestly don’t know if we can adapt the methodology designed for multimillion pound projects with a small number of large commercial organisations. However, I am very willing to try.

I want to help find ways to utilise local expertise and people with great social entrepreneurial skills and experience embedded in their local communities. The ‘can do’ attitude and flexibility of non-statutory organisations adds richness and strength. If we can do this in a financial and contractual form alongside statutory organisations it will mean they are not side issues and nice-to-haves but a core part of the overall offer.

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