📖 Is there a role in reformed public services for ‘system navigators’?

I’ve been mulling a bit on what could be funded at the front line of local public service delivery, were we to save a bunch of cash at the back end by harmonising some bits of IT and digital spend.

The driving force, remember, for this drive for consolidation is not some techno-utopian centralised vision, but rather to make use of economies of scale around highly commoditised, non-local-value adding capabilities, that frees up cash to pay actual human beings to help other human beings with the complexities of their lives.

My family have a fair bit of experience of having to navigate the ‘system’ – social care, benefits, health, housing, and so on – and it genuinely is a nightmare. And we come at this from a very priveleged position: we’re pretty well educated, we have the time to deal with it, and at least one member of the family knows a bit about how councils operate.

We often wonder – if we are finding this so difficult, what must it be like for people without our advantages? Bewildering, maddening, and deeply traumatising, I would expect.

One thing that we agree would definitely help would be to have a consistent person to talk to. Social care case managers change so regularly, it is almost impossible to build relationships, with an understanding of the history, and so much time is wasted having to explain the same things over, and over again.

What’s more, even when there is a case worker to talk to, they often have little knowledge or influence over other parts of the same organisation they work for, let alone others within the system, such as other tiers of local government, or health, or the DWP to name just a few.

My brain fart today is this: if we saved enough money on boring IT gubbins, could we spend it on creating an attractive, well paid role for ‘systems navigators’, who are the single point of contact for families with complex needs, who understand the workings of the different public services involved, who knows who to talk to to find answers or to jolly things along, who can just keep the family informed and up to date about what is happening to them?

This is such a bloody obvious idea that it has surely been attempted before, and yet clearly in the places we have lived, it hasn’t quite worked. Maybe it wasn’t properly funded. Maybe the jobs weren’t attracting people of the right calibre to want to stick to them for a longish term. I don’t know.

To return to the usual theme of this blog, there’s no doubt that good digital services would help these people do their jobs a lot better; but the important thing would be that they would be actual human beings, embedded in a local area, who knows the context and grows to know the families and their needs, and how the system can help them.

This is, of course, very much a sticking plaster: the real answer would be to reform the system so it was less fragmented and confusing. But that is many years away, even if we started tomorrow, and in the meantime, this is something very simple that could happen relatively quickly, and works well as an example of the kind of highly local, high value service that could be funded out of the savings from shared back office digital capabilities.

It’s just an idea, one of many possibilities. I’m not even sure if it is a terribly good one! But it’s an example of what could be possible.