What happens if your client wants systemic change but does not have buy-in from others or the authority to implement change from above?

This was the situation we encountered when we started working with the head of the NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) strategy group and the head of vulnerable families at a local council. We supported the two of them to take on the core Systemic Modelling philosophy and to alter their behaviours when managing meetings and one-to-one interactions with other service provisions. We also enabled them to design a more systemic approach to working with the most disengaged young people and to create a small pilot to test the effectiveness of this approach in practice. The view was that once they had evidence of the efficacy of this way of working they’d be in a better position to engage the disengaged colleagues in co-designing a new and more collaborative approach. The philosophy is to ensure that all service providers are engaged in helping vulnerable families and young people to develop the skills that they need to support one another to resolve conflicts at source, to develop outcome thinking and to advocate for their needs and take responsibility for their actions.

We set up and ran the pilot, engaging with the most vulnerable young people and their families through door-knocking, referrals from supportive services such as the youth offending and looked-after children teams. We then invited the young people to take part in peer-coaching training, trained them in our core philosophy and peer coaching skills and then engaged them to coach one another to resolve conflict and create outcomes they are motivated to achieve. The young people were then encouraged to either support one another to take up places in education, training or employment or to volunteer for the next course and to recruit, engage and coach their peers through the next wave.

Of the young people we recruit, on average 70% of them engage in the course (stay for 3 or more days), and 80% of those complete the course (all six days). Of those completers, 5 to 6 have progressed to education, employment or training at the time of writing. We don’t close a case, so there may be some young people who haven’t progressed in terms of the contract but they are still volunteering with us and still engaged. Some have been referred to alternative service provisions and we can pick them up after they have had other needs taken care of.

We have been able to take on two young people as paid assistants and one as a full time facilitator. Our aim is to have the young people taking over the majority of the delivery of the contract next year, with adult supervision.

As a result of our success in engaging young people and their families, and sustaining that engagement over time, other service providers now want to be aligned with the project and with the approach. They want to send their workers out to present to our young people. We get the young people to give them feedback and coaching on their engagement and on the services that they are offering. This way the young people develop a collective expert voice and become enablers within their communities. Service providers now come together as a collaborative group and we are invited to use Systemic Modelling facilitation to enable them to find a more systemic holistic approach to work with rather than for the young people.

Essentially our approach to change management is to ask:

What would you like to have happen?

What would need to have happened before what you’d like to have happen is simply the way you do things around here?

What needs to happen now for you to be an example of the change you want to see in your service and in your community?

How can you test the tangible benefit of putting this philosophy into practice?

We then develop a reflective journey in which the whole system becomes a series of overlapping learning groups, each respecting the intelligence and expertise of the other.

Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.

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This Post is posted by Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.

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