Defining strong relationships
It is easy to confuse the creation of strong relationships in service delivery with other initiatives such "relational services" or the "relational state", "personalisation", "co-production" or "person-centred care", which are often designed to give people a voice in tailoring the services (or goods) they receive to meet their needs. The RSA’s 2020 commission on public services argued instead that:
“Rather than viewing public services as though they were goods – complete ‘things’ that are presented to service users – services might better be seen as ‘value propositions’ where actual value is co-created in the relationship between provider and user.”
Community Links' Deep Value literature review defines the key elements of effective relationships between service providers and those supported as follows:
Understanding – the service provider seeks to understand the needs and circumstances (economic, personal, emotional, cultural) of the person using services and treats people with dignity and respect demonstrating that they are ‘on their side.’ In return, people using services acknowledge the pressures on service providers and their need to make judgements about good use of public funds.
Collaboration – there is trust, founded in part on demonstrable competence of the professional, both sides have confidence in each other, both are honest and achieve a position where agenda setting and decision making are shared.
Commitment – where both sides demonstrate dynamism and commitment and are thorough and well prepared for meetings.
Communication – where the service provider listens and opens new lines of questioning to draw out relevant deeper issues.
Empowerment – where relevant, an aim of services should be to support people to change thinking and behaviour so as to cope differently with challenges in the future. This may involve challenge and confrontation but if the other elements of effective relationships are in place, the result can be powerful for the individual and cost effective for the public purse.
- Time – having the time is important, but this is not open-ended. With the right skills and systems in place people can quickly put these elements of effective relationships in place.
Deep Value found that these elements ensured that:
Information is gathered accurately ensuring that the problem or issue is correctly identified. Needlessly expensive responses are avoided and correct responses are implemented more swiftly.
A fuller understanding is achieved of the issue being tackled and wider problems that may be contributing to it.
The correct action is identified and unnecessary action is avoided.
Both sides are more committed and motivated to achieving the outcome, taking responsibility and sticking to decisions and action plans.
The person using the service is more likely to accept the outcome, even if it is not the one they wanted.
Immediate problems are addressed and prevented from escalating, helping to reduce future demand and save future costs.
Deep Value also concluded that there was is some evidence that clients experienced a range of psychological benefits from a positive relationship in addition to the positive service outcome.
Love is a difficult quality to define and deploy in a professional context but it can be vital and transformational in certain relationships, for example, between care givers and those cared for. David Robinson, in his Better Way blog, argues that it should be put at the heart of services.