The ingredients for successful place-based digital transformation

Attain were recently commissioned to work with health, social care and third sector organisations, on the planning of a large place-based digital transformation programme.  Their work has helped to refine the scope of the programme, develop the benefits case and establish the mechanisms for programme funding. Matthew Fassihi, Senior Manager at Attain, led on stakeholder engagement across the project and provides us with his insights below:

  • Having a place-wide digital strategy is essential – Prior to Attain’s engagement with this customer, all partner organisations within the Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) had contributed to the development of the Digital Strategy. The strategy clearly set out their digital ambitions and how digital, as an enabler, will help to drive transformation in locally defined priority areas, such as urgent care and mental health.  When it came to agreeing the programme scope , I was able to use the strategy as a helpful steer when working with stakeholders to refine a short-list of projects for inclusion.  For many areas, collaborating on the development of a digital strategy can be that first step towards removing organisational barriers and building local relationships.
  • Commit to the strategy wholeheartedly – In the (often conflicting) world of contracts, organisational priorities and emerging national policy, we see that many place-wide strategies are written with the best intentions, but struggle to be delivered in practice. The lack of an organisational ego was refreshing to see.  I’m not naïve enough to think that organisational priorities don’t take precedence on occasion, but my genuine experience of facilitating multiple place-wide meetings, was that stakeholders left their organisational badge at the door and committed to delivering digital transformation for all citizens.  This is only possible if there is commitment to the digital strategy at the very top of each partner organisation, such that their employees feel empowered to embrace their opposite numbers.
  • Creating a local digital eco-system accelerates learning and collaboration – With senior leaders committed to the Digital Strategy, digital leaders from within those organisations are entrusted and tasked with delivering on its ambitions. The ICP Digital Group is notably well attended, and with organisational badges left at the door, discussions focus on progressing localised priorities.  This led to some exemplary behaviours being exhibited during our programme planning meetings. For example, where partner organisations were willing to share their allocation of central funding with another organisation, in order to benefit place-wide digital maturity.  All partners could see that sharing funds in this way would help to improve information flow and transfers of care across the entire patient journey – ultimately benefitting all stakeholders.  Whilst this sounds like common sense prevailing (and it is!), I would challenge other systems to question whether they have yet developed a common sense of purpose that would allow mature conversations like this to take place.
  • Develop clear lines of governance and question them often – In the absence of top-down steer or legislation, developing clear place-wide governance can be fraught with political power-play. I have no doubt that partners have been through their fair share of forming and storming conversations, but my experience as an outsider is that they have moved beyond these and are now norming and performing, certainly in the area of digital transformation.  My point about questioning the lines of reporting and accountability is this – there is no blueprint for setting up your local system, you will not have it right first time and however best you try, not everyone will have the same understanding of the governance framework you have established.  Collaborating on delivery is the best way to test and work through the realities of organisational vs place-based requirements around finances, benefits realisation, risk management etc.  So, allow space for your emerging governance to be put into practice and remain open to change.
  • Take the plunge – you probably already have! One of the most important aspects of any partnership working is trust – can you trust in another organisation to pull their weight and share in both the highs and lows of digital transformation?I walked into a partnership where trust is already established thanks to collaboration on long standing projects. But all places, to a greater or lesser extent, now have their own examples of digital collaboration following the monumental strides taken to harness the power of digital technology in their response to COVID-19.  These examples, no matter how small, should be celebrated within case studies and other medium, and used to develop the appetite among local partners for exploring digital transformation further.

Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list for successful partnership working, other considerations matter too, but in getting the foundations right, this provides a useful case study for any emerging partnerships looking to build meaningful and sustainable digital transformation between local organisations.