Reflections on the usefulness of the Lankelly Chase System Behaviours

Lankelly Chase is a UK-based charity that works to support organisations that address ‘severe and multiple disadvantage’ though an approach that is deeply and explicitly systemic, reflecting the interlocking nature of social harms such as mental illness, offending, homelessness, abuse, drug misuse, and the poverty that generates them. Recently Lankelly Chase has released a set of 'core behaviours' that they argue help systems function better for people facing severe and multiple disadvantage. In this post, Toby Lowe reflects on the behaviors and their implications for the social sector, a reflection that is just as relevant to Australia as it is to the UK. This post originally appeared on Toby's blog.

The Lankelly Chase System Behaviours have been published online for less than a month. They describe the behaviours and relationships that we would expect to see from people and organisations who are working within healthy, well functioning systems (systems that achieve their purpose).  For example, the first of these behaviours is that:

“People view themselves as part of an interconnected whole: Everyone working towards positive change understands that their actions form part of a web of activity made up of the contribution of many others. Everyone wants the system as a whole to work, and knows they cannot control it.”

Another is:

“Power is shared, and equality of voice actively promoted: All people are able to play their fullest role in building an effective system. Unequal distribution of power, including structural inequality, is continually addressed.”

I have already found that these system behaviours have been useful in conversation with public sector bodies who are interested in system change. Twice within the last month, as part of the project which is exploring the implementation of a new, complexity-informed paradigm for funding and commissioning of social interventions,  I have had conversations with public sector commissioners who come to the realisation that their role is not to commission services which deliver outcomes. Instead, they understand that their role is to create the effective eco-systems from which good outcomes emerge.

This realisation comes with significant challenges for public sector bodies. Not least because it requires them to perform a role – creating healthy eco-systems – for which there is no manual or road map. They must abandon the apparent (but illusory) safety of specifying KPIs and target-based performance management, and move instead into a world which requires them to build both the network and information infrastructure which underpins good outcomes, and nurture the relationships of trust between the actors in the system which enable communication and collaboration to be authentic and honest.

This is where the System Behaviours have proved very useful. They provide examples of what those charged with creating healthy systems should be aspiring to. Also, if turned into questions that those performing this “eco-system engineer” role use to reflect on the state of the system,  they provide ways for those who are undertaking that role to reflect on whether they are doing that role well, and where they need to prioritise. For example, if they ask a range of people: “to what extent is power shared, and equality of voice actively promoted?” and they receive feedback that it is not well shared, then those responses give a clear sense of the work that is required.

It is important to stress that Lankelly Chase view these behaviours as part of the enquiry that they are pursuing into place-based system change. They are not saying that these are necessarily the right ones. They are keen to know whether these are the behaviours that indicate a healthy system, whether there are any missing ones, or whether they are different in different places. And as with all indicators, there is a danger that people use them as performance targets, rather than tools for learning. But, so far, they have provoked some very useful conversations for public sector bodies seeking to change the way they see their role.