Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lessons in Personalisation from Sir Terry

Whatever you think of Tesco, they run their business around the things that matter to their customers: Full shelves, clear aisles, good value, helpful staff.

The whole thing, from top to bottom, is built around these four basic customer-pleasing ideas. But how many charities and social enterprises can claim to be run around customers or users? Can yours?

Mine can’t. Well not 100% anyway. The truth is that we, like most charities put a massive proportion of our efforts into pleasing not our end-customer but the Gods of Commissioning. Because that who provide the financial life-blood of our organisations' work.

The Gods of Commissioning are, of course, not real Gods. Typically they are very committed blokes and women in local government whose job is to `shop’ for services on behalf of thousands of disabled people.

Needless to say (and there are always exceptions) they aren’t that good at it. The state is a notoriously poor shopper. Things always go wrong, a bit like when you used to send your Dad out to Top Shop for a pair of skintight jeans - the chances were he’d return with a XL fleece from Matalan and a Carpenters CD.

For disabled people, however, the Gods of Commissioning are no joke. Their bad decision is your care home-from-hell.

But a quiet revolution is underway. `Personal Budgets’ are the brainchild of Simon Duffy, a social entrepreneur. His idea was to take the money from the Gods of Commissioning and put it straight into the pockets of disabled people. Because they know best what is right for them.

Simon’s ideas have swept across Government like a brushfire in recent years. And once Gordon Brown is out of the way I am pretty sure we’ll see personal budgets in education, healthcare and welfare services too.

What is wonderful about personal budgets is that the market is doing what years of exhortation about `listening to users’ never achieved. Going forward, providers will increasingly have to listen – or go bust.

And instead of looking upwards to the Gods of Commissioning provider will have to turn their loving gaze to the disabled customer and come up with our own versions of `clear aisles, full shelves, good value and helpful staff’.

All this will take years. There is a certain view that this will accelerate rapidly and all be over by the Olympics. I predict a slower path following the Early Adapter through to Mass Market cycle with a tipping point coming in about five to seven years time.

For while, certain Councils will blag that they have `personalised' services by pretending people have choice and control when none have been actually offered except the social care equivalent of a view through a shop window as you pass on the bus.

These councils will play a numbers game in the first few year to hit ambitious central targets while the real work will go on with smaller numbers that slowly build.

It is my belief that it will be people-power not council-power that will prove the most effective delivery method for personal budgets. The really smart councils know this and instead of just doing the numbers game are already building partnerships with community-connected organisations like ours. I sense these are a minority. But they won't be for long.

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