Designing a new decision-making process
Barnet Borough Council

Designing a new decision-making process


Challenges and opportunities

The London Borough of Barnet wanted to develop an ambitious internal programme to support their future decision-making strategy, helping new services to be efficient, economical and involving the input of citizens and residents.

Their aims included building a new relationship with citizens, a necessary drive for efficiency and a ‘one public sector’ inclusive approach. The programme, One Barnet, aimed to explore what role the local authority should play when there is considerably less money going into local government.

Barnet asked Engine to design a model to support the council to commission people-centred services, especially focused on services for the most disadvantaged in the borough. We analysed and explored the current processes and operations of the council and used our research and findings to visualise a model to support service commissioning and development. This model clearly breaks down the steps and considerations for commissioning a service, helping Barnet to inform decisions, increase efficiency and deliver people-centred services.

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What we did

To begin to understand the current processes and operations of the council, Engine facilitated working sessions which involved people from across the council and local partner organisations, such as the National Health Service and the police.

We reviewed and researched literature on disadvantaged people and translated several pieces of theory into tools to use in the working sessions. The aim was to produce an adaptable commissioning model for all the services the council offered, that would be tested and developed through focusing on the specific challenges of services for the most disadvantaged people in the borough.

These sessions drew out a structured process to envision, model, plan and communicate the new commissioning model, using research insights from the 1-2% of people living in Barnet who cost the council the most money.

Engine began 6 ethnographic studies, working with low-income families, children permanently excluded from school and young people not in employment, education or training, to draw out insights into their day to day lives. We then developed life costings for 4 families in Barnet - an analysis of the cost to the state of supporting someone throughout their life, including direct service interventions such as social workers and legal proceedings. This approach can also be used to project potential costs of others in similar situations, informing the cost to Income Tax revenue.

The ethnographic studies and life costings were used to develop an insight report and materials for the workshops. We used the research insights to run a series of exercises to begin to model how current systems work in Barnet. This helped the group to develop a range of principles and techniques to support the service commissioning model.

We worked with the Barnet teams to develop this further, exploring opportunities across systems and capabilities to support efficiency, teamwork, clear and economical decisions, and potential saving areas. This included possible partnership networks, citizen input and involvement, life coaches, supply and demand across the borough, and training and upskilling service advocates and champions.

Each of these propositions was run through the model, to highlight additional considerations, crossover between bodies and departments, and to identify issues around implementation and ongoing strategies. Engine also worked with the team to identify people and organisations that were critical to progressing the model and built a proposition to each of them to engage their involvement.

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The final model was visualised and broken down into seven steps, or platforms, which detail the council’s journey through each of the areas necessary to efficiently and effectively commission a service. This covers the journey from central Governance through partnership networks to the interfaces that residents directly interact with.

Engine detailed each of these platforms with key insights and principles from the research and modelling process, translated into detailed features, specifications and capabilities to improve the processes and relationships in each area. All the information in each platform and area serves to support Barnet’s decisions and services, benefiting both them and their residents.

Finally, Engine worked with Barnet Council to develop a report that was presented to the Government Cabinet. This report included a further synthesised model of the Commissioning Vehicle.

Throughout the process, Engine aimed to accommodate a range of learning types and worked to upskill the team as we went along – helping each participant to develop analytical and creative problem solving skills, including system thinking, through accessible exercises. We always kept the service user front and centre to ensure that the future services of the borough were developed with residents, for residents.

Client Testimonial

“Very creative and allowed for differing expertise, skills, knowledge and life experiences to come together, which is vital when considering delivering services.”

- Insurance Claims Manager, Barnet

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