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| 4 minutes read

'That’s what I do' - voluntary partnerships, complexity and an activity named system convening

It is always rewarding to find that your work is meaningful and useful to people. I was delighted when Carrie approached me after the Horizons presentation on spread, adoption and system convening at Expo 2019 and said how she recognised herself in the role and work I had just described. 

I'll hand over to Carrie to explain more:

"My name is Carrie McKenzie and I am a Voluntary Partnerships Senior Manager in NHS England and NHS Improvement Voluntary Partnerships Team. The team is responsible for developing and improving partnership working with the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector as well as raising the profile of and the number of people volunteering in health and care. The VCSE sector is an important partner for statutory health and social care agencies and plays a key role in improving health, wellbeing and care outcomes.

"As part of my role I lead the VCSE Leadership programme which supports the development of diverse and inclusive VCSE alliance/partnerships in Integrated Care Systems (ICS) and also demonstrates the value and the role of the VCSE in delivering or designing health and wellbeing services or priorities. NHSE/I provides funding to 18 health and care systems to support this work, alongside a wider consultancy and facilitation support offer delivered by National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to build partnerships and strengthen relationships and share learning between sites.

Image by Gerd Altmann

"I first came across the term 'system convening' at a seminar session at NHS Expo 2019. It was a packed room and as I sat back listening to the presenter, I immediately thought that’s what I do and that’s what the STP/ICS VCSE Leadership Programme aims to do.

So what is system convening?

"System convening is an enabling activity which matches the complexity of the spread and adoption approach taken to the situation. What can be more complex than bringing together lots of different organisations to develop partnerships/alliances and for them to then collaborate with health and care system partners and also demonstrate how this approach impacts on the health and wellbeing of communities??

"It can be used to apply the 7 spread and adoption principles [below]. These principles really resonated with me and the programme we are delivering

1.           Complexity – The health and care system is very complex as is the VCSE sector  (there can be hundreds if not thousands of VCSE organisations in a health and care system footprint). The range of partners that create an ICS further increase this complexity

2.           Innovation development – we want people to spread and adopt the learning and innovation in the VCSE Leadership programme

3.           Value –  how this approach could support the programme areas to solve/address their local priorities

4.           Individuals – this is especially important as participants in the VCSE Leadership programme tell us that changing behaviour is key to success

5.           Leadership – a shift from an inward-looking to an outward-looking mindset is key to the development of the VCSE alliances and the relationships with health and care partners

6.           Networks – create a “pull” for innovation across an ICS and build communities that support and enable this activity

7.           Learning – collating and sharing through networks is essential not just for those participating in the VCSE Leadership programme but for the wider spread and scale.

I also recognised the characteristics of “System Convenor” in myself (well most of them)

  • On a personal mission (yes but not just mine)
  • Passionate and strategic (yes)
  • Can’t help joining the dots (yes)
  • Mavericks on the edge (not sure….)
  • At home everywhere and nowhere (except this year)
  • Reflective (yes)

"These characteristics have supported me throughout my career. I have spent 15 years in the VCSE sector and five years in the NHS developing and delivering programmes and projects that have involved collaboration and spreading the adoption of ideas and innovations.  

"Feeling inspired, I approached Diane Ketley straight after the session and arranged a catch up to find out more. Excited at the opportunity we arranged a further catch up with the facilitation partners from NCVO (who support the delivery of the VCSE Leadership programme) to explore how we could potentially build this into the next phase of the VCSE Leadership programme.

"We agreed to have a session on System Convening at the VCSE Leadership programme two day learning event. This would take place in April 2020 and would bring Cohort 1 sites together with the new Cohort 2 sites to share learning and ideas and start their journey with the programme. Of course, the Covid pandemic was developing and unfortunately due to lockdown restrictions the session never went ahead.

So fast forward to now…

"The Covid pandemic obviously affected the delivery of the VCSE Leadership programme especially for Cohort 2 who were starting on the programme.  Some areas decided to put activity on hold, others felt that their relationships and partnerships were accelerated as partners across local government, health, housing, care and the VCSE sector have come together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There is a huge opportunity for the NHS to reflect and build on good practice that emerged from the response to Covid and the collaboration across and between system partners to best meet the needs of their communities. We need to lock in and embed the “beneficial changes” from Covid to better support the recovery and to enable the NHS and our partners across ICSs to “Build Back Better”. In light of this the system convening approach and model is even more relevant.

"We want to build and embed a system convening approach into the VCSE Leadership programme and will be working with Diane Ketley to test out the model and the approach with an ICS in the programme.

"You can find out more about our work and keep up to date in what is happening in the Voluntary Partnerships team by joining our recently launched “working in partnership with the VCSE sector” FutureNHS collaboration platform email england.voluntarypartnerships@nhs.net.

More information on system convening and the 7 spread and adoption principles is available on the NHS Horizons website.

If you're interested in how to enable the spread and adoption of innovations in healthcare, there are previous blogs and further blogs to follow. Please do subscribe to this blog and follow @DianeKetley @HorizonsNHS, #nhsspread.

I also recognised the characteristics of “System Convenor” in myself (well most of them)

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