Over the years I’ve heard many organisations talk about the desire to move away from commissioning services based on need and move to asset based commissioning. Whilst it’s something I’ve heard discussed many times in many places it’s not something I’ve often seen practically applied.
The main barrier to applying any sort of asset based approach to something like commissioning or engagement seems to be the incorrect belief that there is a technical issue that must be first resolved. This is because many organisations fixate on the mapping element of identifying assets to the exclusion of the simpler, and more useful, part that involves just talking to people.
As a result, organisations that talk about asset models or mapping will frequently begin with the cry, that seems to permeate the public sector, “let’s build an app”.
You don’t need to build an app.
The starting point of any asset model is being aware of how flexible your understanding of assets needs to be. In many areas I’ve seen assets strictly identified as those Voluntary and Community organisations that can provide services. Although many of these are likely to be assets, to any given community, all you’re really doing is creating a directory.
Directories are useful for finding people but they’re not a list of community assets and they’re not a great deal of use in true asset based commissioning.
The starting point is to recognise that assets are anything that the community you are mapping values as a resource. This could be as varied as the local shop with a useful noticeboard, to the local fishing club, church or school. Identifying assets is as simple as sitting down with a community and asking them what they value. You don’t need an app for that.
So how do we use these assets in commissioning services?
Because many organisations have ended up with a directory of service providers they tend to interpret asset based commissioning as purely commissioning those assets to provide services.
Whilst I’m a big fan of local commissioning I’m not sure this really makes best use of the many assets that exist in a community. In any community there will be many resources that are valued by the people that know them, but have no interest in entering into contractual arrangements with the public sector.
In true asset based commissioning it’s about how you use those assets at all stages of the commissioning process. So you use them to:-
- Sense check your understanding of the level of need in an area
- Use them to help you design potential services
- Use them to test services (Do people ever test services?)
- See them as a resource to promote your service
- Provide a communication route to feedback service failure
- Validate the outcomes you believe your service has achieved
As a practical example of how I would suggest this works; I wouldn’t even consider trying to commission mental health or substance misuse services in my local area without getting my local newsagent involved. From 6am to 6pm every day of the week his family engages with the people that you would anticipate using services. He’s an asset, but he’s not a service provider.
All of this involves a lot of talking to people and building relationships. It’s not a case of building an App and then having a load of handy email addresses to send tenders to.
If you want to know about how easy the technical aspect of mapping assets is you really should talk to Alliance of Scotland who have built an excellent open source tool for asset mapping. Yes, it’s open source, it’s free. You can spend the rest of the money on talking to people.