According to Professor Sally Hardy and her academic team in the School of Health and Social Care at LSBU, the most important aspect of working with external partners is to remain flexible and responsive.

You might say that being flexible is a cliché and that the word gets bandied about a lot, almost to the point of being meaningless, so what makes Professor Hardy’s team different in how they work effectively?

For a start, they’re speaking from experience.

The team includes practitioners, therapists, artists and social workers, and works closely with the School’s People’s Academy, citizens of the NHS, and experts by experience. They work on around four collaborative partner projects a year, delivering bespoke transformational programmes. These organisation-wide transformational programmes aim to bring about change based on best evidence, best practice and sustainable stakeholder engagement.

A flexible approach is key to how the team remains motivated to push the boundaries.

So how do they work?

The team kicks off all their projects with a conversation. This gives them the opportunity to get to know the organisation’s vision and values, to jointly work out solutions to focus on what it is they really need.

“We work in an iterative way with clients, enabling them to refine their requirements,” says Sally. “We aim to provide real solutions to real life situations, which is one of the things that makes our approach stand out.”

The team draws from their own professional, academic and clinical experience, which provides essential understanding in how best to speed up commissioning and ultimately cement an inclusive collaboration process.

Getting the commissioning stage right

The team finds that the most common issue at the commissioning stage is the potential mismatch between what the organisation claim they want and what the workforce need or are expecting. Flexibility is absolutely key in bridging that gap.

Sally explains: “Often, by the time you get to meet the workforce they are expecting something very different to what the organisation has requested. There is a period of negotiation around what the organisation think they need. We often have to go back to the organisation and say we’ve come in to deliver [something], but your staff are actually asking for [something else], so we can deliver on both by doing this.”

Implementation and feedback

The iteration doesn’t stop once implementation is underway, as Sally points out: “We like to have a reciprocal dynamic process where we’re constantly offering up a supportive challenge and getting feedback from participants, who in turn feedback to their parent organisations. We constantly evaluate what we’re doing so that we can adapt and get the best results for everybody.”

Feedback is also vital for encouraging and maintaining staff engagement, which is critical to the success and sustainability of any project. This is particularly true for any long term schemes such as organisational change programmes, where a culture of change needs to become self-sustaining.

Achieving great things

The results speak for themselves. In the last year the team have worked with several large NHS organisations, developing policy and practice changes, as well as private organisations seeking workforce development opportunities, and smaller localised evaluation programmes.

Ultimately, the level of flexibility requires depends on the organisation’s budget and project deadlines, but the team have that covered by what they call the ‘Gold, Silver, Bronze’ offer. The Gold is the most complex multi-layered level of delivery, but all levels of approach are designed to get the best results.

“I think it’s that level of flexibility and responsiveness that is developing our reputation,” comments Sally. “LSBU is the partner to choose if you want to develop bespoke programmes of activity, based on the philosophies and values of your organisation, and pragmatically, achieved within your budget.”