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Influence from the Frontline

Influence from the Frontline

Influence from the Frontline

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sarah Hughes, National PTS Manager at Mayday Trust, talks to us about influencing from the frontline. 

Within the Personal Transitions Service (PTS) partnership we have come to recognise how important it is to continually question and evaluate what we do when working with individuals going through tough times. We feel it is important to keep reflecting, as well as being open to learning and developing our thinking. Frontline workers are crucial at giving insight into the viewpoints of the people they work with as well as the challenges faced when delivering a service and operating within a system. 
Mayday feel that whilst this conversation is crucial for internal development, we also need to take it wider and start encouraging discussion at a local and national level. It’s vital for frontline workers to lead the way, allowing their voices and those of the people they work with to prompt critical reflection. We recently asked ourselves how we approach influencing externally and encourage organisations and systems to challenge themselves. Here is some of the learning:
The art of challenging positively 
Having the ability to challenge and be challenged has been a crucial element of developing and delivering the PTS. It often requires removing egos and a lot of courage to say the things that need to be said. This isn’t about attacking each other- it is about providing a necessary and useful critical eye. Are we able to sit uncomfortably and support each other as we give away our control? Are we able to adapt and change when things aren’t going to plan? Cultivating this culture internally is very important and finding the strength to carry this out to wider networks is crucial. This could be in local network meetings, on social media or with individual professionals. If you can build relationships based on respect, the ability to challenge each other will be invaluable in allowing us to innovate and create better services for people. 
Changing Lives PTS in Newcastle demonstrated this when a PTS coach was able to successfully challenge the safeguarding team who was working with an individual involved with PTS. In a previous meeting, the professionals in the safeguarding meeting had decided that the individual was too ‘difficult’ and ‘aggressive’ to attend their safeguarding meetings. However, when the coach discussed this with the individual, they were keen to come along. The coach challenged the safeguarding team and requested that the individual be allowed to attend. This wasn’t greeted well, and the coach was described as having a ‘bad attitude’. However, after the meeting, the coach was able to speak with the chair of the meeting and describe the PTS and its aims- improving their understanding of an asset-based approach. As a result, the Coach was then able to successfully challenge mandatory engagement with themselves as part of the safeguarding plan, as it contradicted the principles of PTS- which is based on voluntary engagement. This is a great example of the frontline influencing practice on a local level through questioning, building a relationship and explaining a different approach. 
Timing is everything 
Sometimes there is a right time to start asking difficult questions and sometimes it’s the wrong time. Mayday learnt this lesson when the team tried to strike up conversations about how organisations approach delivering support to individuals experiencing homelessness in the midst of tendering. It didn’t go down particularly well. An invaluable lesson was gained about how the system can often force organisations into ‘gaming for resources’ and this can often create a ‘protect your own’ culture which does not lend itself to innovation! Perhaps at times like this it is better to keep the door open for when organisations are ready rather than forcing something that won’t fly in the current environment. Other partner organisations delivering the PTS also noted the need to seize the moment as opportunities to bring enthusiastic organisations on board in order to instigate change didn’t always come at the most convenient of times but were golden opportunities! 
Network, network, network! 
It is important to build relationships with individuals and organisations. Getting to know the landscape, what other organisations are doing, how they are working together, and their agendas are all important. Mayday have also found it useful to consider networking outside of the ‘sector’ in order to build a wider network. Many people in the wider community have lots of useful connections and can support change within organisations supporting people going through tough times. Building relationships with key decision makers in the local area and nurturing them as advocates for change and learning can be invaluable.  
For example, in Oxford the coach team were able to build a good relationship with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). The RSA’s aim ‘is to enrich society through ideas and action’ . In Oxford they were a group of people from many different professional and personal backgrounds all seeking to further the city’s social and environmental issues. Having the presence of the PTS coach in this network allowed for a wider conversation with the public about perceptions of homelessness and how services were responding. They also had relationships with a number of statutory and voluntary organisations which allowed for wider networking and influence. Having the frontline as part of the wider community conversation about homelessness is crucial in order to shape the way councils respond to homelessness. 
Passion led us here
You can achieve a lot with a good dose of passion. I have met many people who have instigated change and broached challenging conversations. People listen to those who are passionate about what they are doing. Passion can drive commitment to looking beyond what we have now. It’s invaluable. As an organisation pushing for systems change and a human-led approach, passion has driven our work; courage to adopt a new approach to our work and take risks. It’s inspiring to see so many frontline workers ignited with the passion, drive and tenacity to push for systems change and our passion is driving us to inspire and influence others working with people going through tough times. 

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