Influencing local decisions
Influencing local decisions
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Zoe, Frontline Network Coordinator at Coventry Citizens Advice, talks to us about the Coventry Frontline Network and influencing local decisions.
Our quarterly Frontline Network forums give frontline housing and homelessness workers in Coventry the chance to get together and discuss the issues that affect their clients – things like Universal Credit and the Homelessness Reduction Act. There’s a strong operational focus in our meetings, and we want to use our members’ experience and knowledge to ask for improvements to existing issues. We also think it’s also important to keep an eye on policy, especially at the moment when we seem to be working against a background of constant change, so we try and use the forum to keep everyone updated about changes, whether they’re big national policies or local practices. We’re also keen to contribute to new policies at the design stage, so any change being implemented is as close as possible to what the frontline would like to see.
We operate in a single Local Authority area, which makes policy work a little easier for our Network! Working within Citizens Advice meant we had existing relationships with our local council, gained through previous partnership work on welfare reform, council tax and other local benefit issues, and we’ve built on this to engage the council in the Frontline Network right from its initial launch. We invite council reps to our quarterly forums, which gives them a direct link to frontline workers whose views they may not normally hear. In turn, frontline workers are kept informed about upcoming consultations and policy changes that they might not otherwise have been aware of. We also like to think that the Network provides a little time and space away from the day job, so that our members have the chance to consider new proposals and draw on their experiences to suggest how things could be improved.
Based on some of the work we have done, a few suggestions for effecting change:
Evidence We’re always keen to collect evidence from our members if things aren’t working, so we can engage with the relevant people and make the case for change. Anecdotal stories can flag up a problem – “I’m always on hold for ages when I call that helpline” – but they are difficult to act on. Specific examples with dates and details – “On 4th January I rang at 10am and the phone wasn’t answered until 10:20; on 7th I called at 2:30pm and had to hang up when no-one had answered after 30 minutes” – make the case much more clearly. We know that frontline workers don’t have the time to write up lots of evidence or long case studies, so I hope the Network helps provide a way to collate issues and direct them to the relevant people.
Make it easy for decision makers It can be really useful to collate feedback and evidence into a short paper that summarises the views of frontline workers, then as soon as that topic comes up for discussion with the local authority or another decision maker, you have a ready-made position/discussion paper/consultation submission. It’s great if a paper can include some recommendations or key things you would like to change, so that as well as demonstrating how a process might not be working, the paper details exactly how you think it can be improved.
Example - We collected the views of frontline workers about our local Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) process and thought about how to improve it. Suggestions included having a transparent policy of what would trigger SWEP and who owned that decision, along with more public visibility of SWEP. When the council convened a group to review SWEP, we were able to use our work to help inform those discussions, and that resulted in a document clarifying who had responsibility for SWEP, how and when it would be triggered and how we would communicate this across the city.
Be an active stakeholder Decision-makers usually consult on proposed changes. If you can make the time to submit your views, you could help shape what is included or how it’s delivered. Try not to be put off by how big a consultation is or the length of the online survey; you can usually choose which questions to answer or you might be able to submit a response in a free format via email. It’s better to reply to one or two important points than none at all. No-one can guarantee that decision makers will act on your suggestions if you submit them, but they definitely won’t if you don’t!
On a similar theme, Sirea’s blog explains some great ways of building relationships with decision makers. I found this really useful, with lots of food for thought about how we can build a wider audience for the views of frontline workers.