The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for improvement. It’s an opportunity to reimagine public sector delivery. The past six months have highlighted areas for improvement within our public institutions, helping us recognise the urgent needs of our residents and communities. As we continue to navigate the complexity of the COVID-19 crisis, we must begin to look at how we transition, taking action on the lessons we’ve learned from new approaches and new ways of working to deliver the best outcomes.

Reflecting on the last six months

Holistic support

When the UK was first hit with the realities of the crisis, we saw households needing holistic support to meet their needs around food, employment, healthcare, education and housing. All at the same time and often urgently. This meant we had to coordinate our activity in the public and private sectors better than ever before to meet those needs. We needed to prevent a poor repetitive experience of the household, but also make sure we’re using our resources efficiently in a crisis. And in many cases, minimising the number of contacts with our staff.

Understanding real resident needs

To provide holistic support, we needed to really understand resident needs, this means their levels of vulnerability and their assets. Which households needed assistance and which needed resources in order to meet their own needs?

It’s important to recognise how households interact and support one another within families and communities. Our thinking about these household units has been challenged in recent months, both by the pandemic and social movements, which have helped us think about networked wealth and support. Offers are now being tailored to individuals and we’re seeing a shift from a previous offer of ‘one size fits all’.

Re-imagined technology

Much of the technology we use in the public sector is rooted in large cumbersome systems where we record information, often as a single service. The pandemic has shown us that we need flexible tools that allow us to respond quickly to changing events. We need to be able to support people to do their jobs and work with individuals and families in a joined-up way, meeting those holistic needs.

Our existing tools don’t help us work in collaboration with communities and voluntary groups, they’re often closed environments that act as a blocker.

A need for a preventative approach

Whilst there were many good examples of a strong reactive response to community needs during the pandemic, we still have a long way to go on adopting truly preventative approaches in our work. At a national and local level, we’ve been slower to prepare for the expected economic impacts, homelessness, winter pressures and the possibility of a second wave.

Lessons moving into recovery

The last six months have taught us a lot, and reflecting on these lessons has provided us with areas to focus and build upon as we prepare for the next few months.

Preventative approaches and future services

We need to do more to design services and tools that support our communities earlier, intervening when problems are preventable and more often than not, cheaper to address. Within this, developing tools and approaches to monitor and support newly vulnerable groups will be essential as the pandemic progresses into a new phase.

By iterating our services and building on lessons and insights from our crisis response we can make sure innovative ways of working aren’t lost. Formalising processes and structures that have worked well will stabilise our services, making sure they’re more cost-effective.

Understanding lessons and insights from our crisis responses will also help us shape our priorities. We can capitalise on our community initiatives and assets, all of which will support and shape future services. Building on the care and support delivered by our communities over the last six months will allow us to co-design services and shape the role of residents in their places and local institutions.

A joined-up experience for residents

Finally, formally bringing together and coordinating multi-agency partnerships (CCGs, Council, VCS) to develop and deliver programmes will help us rebuild resilience.

Challenging and removing some of the digital barriers we find within our services will help us deliver a collaborative, collective and holistic experience for every household. Navigating the impact of change in these organisation’s vision and strategies will see the delivery of new prevention-led services through to implementation.

All of which will help us prepare for a potential second wave and ultimate recovery that utilises the power of our communities, and public institutions.

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