How (and why) to lift the bonnet on your value proposition

The devil’s in the detail; if we want to master all elements of our care technology proposition we must roll up our sleeves, says Clare Morris of Rethink Partners

Change has long been in the wind in social care, but it’s fair to say the pandemic has lit a bonfire under our desire to evolve, particularly when it comes to investing in digital care technology.

Covid-19 is creating a perfect storm: with people less connected to each other and their usual support systems, need has only increased. Meanwhile councils are forking out for extra provision they couldn’t have anticipated under the shadow of a likely financial crunch.

The human case for investing in care technology has never been clearer or more urgent, but to secure that investment we must think holistically, weaving financial value in at every step.

So just how do we grasp that nettle? There are plenty of obstacles: it’s hard to make a compelling case for action that will appeal to your finance and commercial leads as much as to your care providers and the local people you serve.

It’s hard to meaningfully quantify the value of soft outcomes in a way that lets you weigh up financial impact and value creation. It’s hard to differentiate between cashable savings that will hit the bottom line, and more nebulous value you’ll never realise in financial form but will nonetheless impact on economic outcomes.

This stuff is all hard, but you owe it to your stakeholders and the public purse to engage with that complexity and unpick it as transparently as you can. Those of us immersed in this work daily, who instinctively understand how life changing it can be, need to step up now and make the case to decision makers.

Our thinking about the costs and benefits of any proposed care technology intervention must be rigorous and holistic, especially as we may need to persuade colleagues to think differently about investment. As health economist Jacque Mallender told our recent LGA masterclass on social care commissioning: “In health and care the complexity of the message increases as we move from relying on a simple message of ‘it’s cheaper than the alternative and in addition delivers benefits to service users’ and move to the more complex message of ‘it is more expensive than the alternative but it delivers more benefits to service users.'” Unpacking this – are the benefits realisable? What is the impact on the bottom line? How long will it take to realise the benefits? Where will the impact fall? – is at the heart of how we need to think and act differently.

 

Jacque also suggests we must be clear-eyed about the timetable to which interventions can start to deliver value; about the realities of our organisation’s budget; the intangible but real benefits for users; and on and on…There’s a lot to consider, and much of it departs from conventional wisdom about investment. However the LGA Care Technology Support programme is an impressive start to some of the work that lies ahead – bringing people together and encouraging them to self-organise. You can find an outcomes framework and more resources at www.rethinkpartners.co.uk.

A little hive thinking might be another essential aid in tackling this knotty topic; pooling our collective knowledge within and across councils empowers everyone who sets out on the path to solve social care challenges facing their community. Within your organisation that means not only tapping into all your department’s experience and knowledge – harnessing all the brain power and analytical skills you can muster – but also pulling in colleagues from finance, performance, procurement and beyond.

Hard evidence will be an important factor as you build your case to prove value, but here too we must be rigorous in our rejection of woolly logic. Frankly, we’re often too dependent on the market to tell us the value of their wares. With academic research bringing up the rear in evaluating this fast-moving picture I believe we have to use an untapped resource in assessing what works and doesn’t: each other.

Honest insight from other leaders going through the commissioning, procurement, roll-out and evaluation of new tech-enabled care services is gold dust. The good news is that councils are increasingly sharing both their plans and the economic arguments that allowed them to fly. The bad news: all too often we only hear about the successes, not the failures. That’s disappointing but perhaps not surprising; a granular evaluation of our actions can be painful enough to produce, let alone share.

There are plenty of incentives for a more collaborative spirit, but uppermost is that we arguably don’t have time to all make these mistakes on our own. Getting our value propositions right will be a huge win for our whole society, but if we’re to learn the lessons needed to get there it’s now time for true transparency.

Clare Morris is a former NHS leader and co-founder of Rethink Partners, working with health and care organisations to visualise and implement change for good.

clare@rethinkpartners.co.uk

This blog is part of our Digital Care Technology Support Programme commissioned by the LGA

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