People with disabilities face challenges in daily life that can sometimes go unnoticed. They may feel underserved by their communities and can face additional challenges trying to share these concerns with the people who can make a difference.

Essex County Council is working to make a difference and create positive change in the lives of people living with learning disabilities and autism, their families and carers. Working closely with health partners, Essex is taking steps towards providing better services and experiences for their residents, thinking about the needs of people holistically to address health inequalities.

We were asked to support Essex to help them understand the challenges residents face and help them integrate with a network of providers. We helped local health organisations and the council’s adult social care team come together to work out how they could achieve better outcomes for people living in Essex as one system. During the project, we compiled the tools we used into a ‘travel necessities’ suitcase — an approach any organisation can use to help ease their integration journey.

Integration Journey project aim quote

Travel buddies — collaboration can’t be done alone

Our core team included members from the Learning Disabilities & Autism commissioning and operations teams at Essex County Council, the integrated commissioning team, representing seven CCGs in Essex, and specialist health partner, Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust.

In weekly collaborative sessions, we ran activities to share insight from each team and learn what happens across the system. Everyone was treated equally and worked side by side to share first-hand experiences and build a shared understanding of the holistic resident experience.

Travel guide hiker animation

We found that the teams didn’t have full visibility of what either organisation were providing, the way residents were interacting with services, or what different pathways were available. Together, by focusing on the experiences of people, not on their own organisational priorities, the group overcame assumptions and developed higher levels of understanding and trust for each other.

Travel guide — facilitate and steer

FutureGov took the unofficial role as a travel guide, keeping the citizen’s needs at the centre of all conversations. We supported the group to develop a common understanding of their health and social care system by collating their experiences to create a shared landscape.

Travel tour guide

By mapping the current system — all known services currently offered from health, social care, community and voluntary sectors and the pathways people take through these systems — we could begin to understand the current issues, symptoms and contributing factors, while also identifying areas that perform well.

Building an understanding of the shared problems on all sides of the system sparked discussions and actions surrounding solutions. With all this information in an easy to understand system map, we were able to spot opportunities for improvement and change. We found five areas which informed our lines of inquiry for user research, so we could begin working with residents to learn even more.

Itinerary — moving at pace

Having an itinerary while travelling helps plot any journey. Using our project plan as our travel itinerary throughout the project helped ensure we had built-in rhythms including stand-ups, retros and show and tells to keep us moving at pace. Our itinerary provided set times for each team session, with clear outlines of what we needed to achieve during each sprint to keep us on track and meeting our goals.

Travel guide calendar schedule

Having this plan also made sure the team knew what to expect. We were able to allocate time for workshops and synthesis sessions, and forward planning gave us guaranteed time to bring the right people in the room and the right time. This is integral to building a culture of collaboration. Finding time to bring people together can be tough and when you add the challenge of multiple organisations, it’s even harder. Forward planning made sure we had the time and space to bring the right people together at the right time, and allow space to reflect or dig a little deeper.

Travel translator - everyone speaking the same language

Travel translator guide

Different organisations often use different terms or definitions to describe the same thing. Collaborating with three organisations, we found a different understanding of the word “integration”. Some teams defined this as bringing in new technology and others used it to mean the collaboration of organisations. It was essential we define the term as one group.

Asking the team to work on what “integration” means to them, what it might look and feel like, helped everyone understand the differences between integration and collaboration. Building a common terminology around collaboration is the first step to integration.

Camera & scrapbook — document the journey & share stories

Our team was constantly seeing, hearing and learning new things and were keen to share these stories. As with any journey, capturing stories and memories is important to continue to build learning and something we encouraged.

Travel camera and scrapbook

Regularly sharing stories back from our research (rather than waiting until the end of the project) helps build buy-in and move work forward. Documenting and sharing our research helped the council engage a wider audience and build trust with the partner organisations. We provided tools (such as personas and journey maps) for the team to continue telling the stories of residents, the challenges they face and the opportunities to design a better future.

The next journey…

Travel suitcase

The work has helped Essex County Council and health partners understand their own journey of collaboration and integration better, and given strong strategic direction, particularly around the learning disabilities and autism cohort.

If you’re working with multiple organisations who are looking to collaborate and work more closely; consider packing your design suitcase with your version of these travel necessities. Happy travels!

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