Interview: Andrew Donaldson, Staffordshire County Council

We spoke to Andrew Donaldson, Head of Strategic Policy and Partnerships at Staffordshire County Council and found out about their work in the local community.

Tell us about what you’ve done: 

There are three strands of work that I’ve been working on. Firstly, we’ve appointed a partner to help us build capacity in the voluntary and community sector capacity and stimulate social action. Then we’ve developed our approach to community capacity building called ‘people helping people’, which sets out how we will build community capacity and enable citizens and communities to take greater control.  And finally, we’ve been working with the New Economics Foundation and the Cabinet Office to help them with their thinking around social action.

Who has been your greatest inspiration or influence? 

I’ve been inspired by lots of people but there’s a handful of really strong local social entrepreneurs on the ground who are doing the work day in, day out who truly inspire me.

The best thing about what we’ve done is…

Strategically, when I look back, it’s landing the continued investment in capacity building with the third sector. We’ve managed to secure a significant budget over the medium term and this brings with it a strong delivery plan and strategic partnership which drives it forward. We have managed to get cabinet members to back what we’re doing which is vital to the success and momentum of the projects on the ground.

More operationally, we’ve piloted Asset Based Community Development in three districts, we’re testing out crowd-funding as a way of maximising community investment, we’re trying to hardwire the new approach into community care and we’re working with school clusters to support them in stimulating social action in their communities.  (To name but a few… Ed)

What has been the biggest or best mistake you have made? 

I think we spent too long thinking and talking about what we were going to do rather than acting on the ground, and this lack of action nearly lost the support of the members. They were keen to see stuff happening while we were discussing the theories and concepts.

I think also we haven’t spent enough time thinking about how we’re going to embed these new approaches across the organisation; how are we going to link with members and commissioners so that the organisational development is shifted to accommodate the transformation. I worry that this shift in culture is happening too slowly so that while the communities and front-line are working differently, the Local Authority systems still support the old ways.

Did anything surprise you during the project? 

When I started to notice this approach, I knew intuitively it was the right thing to do but I wasn’t convinced I would find the evidence to back it up. However, I have been staggered by the sheer number of strong examples in the UK where these new approaches have had an amazing impact on the lives and well-being of communities and citizens; where money has been saved and real change affected. But for some reason, this evidence is not quite as prevalent in the discussions with policy and decision makers and it’s still seen as something on the margins.

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of doing something similar? 

Find and connect with a small number of people who are already doing this and a few steps ahead – people who have a sense of the risks, what works, what doesn’t and engage with them honestly because I wish I had known the people I know now, before I’d set out. I now have a strong peer network of others who are committed to this approach and I use them a lot.

What’s next?

Now it’s about driving the delivery plan and demonstrating the impact of the new model on outcomes and financial savings across health and social care and the children and family sectors. This new approach demands a different type of leadership and I’m identifying and supporting other people in the area who show the same commitment to the transformation, who can lead on it and influence others. That way, I think we’ll slowly embed the model into the system more widely and deeply.

Where can we find out more? 

We’re just in the process of refreshing our website, so watch this space and the meantime feel free to contact me at andrew.donaldson@staffordshire.gov.uk

Tell us your favourite quote… 

A colleague from a London borough said to me recently, ‘partnership happens at the pace of trust’ – in the complex world within which we work, it is fundamentally about relationships and trust.

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