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As the Leadership Centre approaches the end of its third year of support for Systems Leadership Local Vision projects, we took the time to write to all the places we are working with, asking them to take part in a survey reflecting on their work.

The Local Vision projects seek to establish systems leadership approaches in places up and down the country, this is the idea that organisations can lead together to tackle the challenges they face as a system, sharing both expertise and resources with one another. Local Vision projects seek to achieve real change around difficult issues each place faces, to both support integration of services and improve local health and wellbeing.

Each of the Local Vision projects is supported by a Systems Leadership Enabler, people with experience of systems leadership who seek to bring local leaders together to help them bring about this change.

The work undertaken by the places and enablers is constantly shaped by the challenges and successes that they see, so continual evaluation of the work is key in making sure that the approach is still relevant and effective.

One of the major challenges in places identified in the survey was trust within the system, and how this can be a barrier to obtaining real change. We were told that there is a fear in some systems amongst partners who have a need to maintain control and may be unwilling to cede responsibility to the system, and that “There is a real need for frank conversations across systems around what has worked and what has not as we address our shared challenges.”

It is clearly evident that trust has been a major factor in achieving real system change. This is something that has been identified by our Systems Leadership enablers in numerous places.

Approaches to overcome this have been curated in the Leadership Centre’s ‘Art of Change Making’ publication. The publication sets out over 70 of the approaches enablers have taken in different places to establish systems leadership thinking, as well as the barriers that have had to be overcome to bring this about.

Developed by Peter Block, Trust and Agreement has been an approach used in Doncaster by enabler John Deffenbaugh. The tool looks at the people involved in the system, how much trust they have for the organisations involved and whether they believe in the work or not. Speaking of his work in Doncaster, John said “Rather than adopting an adversarial relationship we used the model to focus on building trust, so that they became fellow travellers in working through the differences.”

Some Local Vision places also identified the key challenge of involving board level decision makers in the system, ensuring that the system was a real catalyst for change.

We received encouraging feedback from one place who stated that their local Council had taken on a leadership role, despite not being the main beneficiary of the work, in this we can see that the thinking around the system has change, so that all parts of the system are working to the collective benefit of the others. This is similar thinking to other places who told us that the most important advice they would share is that “The sum of your system will always be greater than the parts, so never try to fix issues alone.”

In ‘The Art of Change Making’, Systems Leadership enabler Jill Barrow explains how she used the Grow Model, working with leaders to clarify goals and help them build relationships to allow them to review their purpose and the complexity of the work. The model was developed by Sir John Whitmore to encourage open and honest communication, helping the person to listen to both themselves and others by asking questions around 4 stages of thought:

Goal – What is the desired outcome?

Reality – What is happening now?

Options – What could you do?

Will – What will you do?

The model can be entered at any stage, and this type of approach has been used effectively in places to facilitate discussions and bring a clarity to the system that may seem complex and difficult.

The kind of feedback we have seen from the Local Vision Survey is backed up by a recent evaluation of the place based work conducted by the University of the West of England (UWE).

In line with some of the findings of the survey, the evaluation highlighted shared leadership as one of the major conclusions in the Local Vision work, that it led to a sense of ownership and empowerment regarding the system and enabled stakeholders to take responsibility for the project. We can also see in the evaluation that those within systems leadership projects now feel they have a much bigger influence in the strategy of the place, which has come about through the Local Vision enablers work in energising the system from top to bottom.

We realise that the work undertaken in Local Vision places is constantly evolving to combat new and different challenges, and that the initial approach to a ‘wicked’ issue may not be as effective in dealing with future issues. It is therefore vital to continue to share learning across the Local Vision Network and constantly re-evaluate the work taking place.

To find out more about the approaches used in the Local Vision projects you can read ‘The Art of Change Making’ here.

You can also read the full UWE evaluation here, looking more widely at the effectiveness of place based work projects.