SDS Evidence Explorers set off

There is a great flurry of interest and activity around self-directed support (SDS) at the moment. That isn’t to say that everyone shares the same understanding of what it means, or that they know how to put whatever they understand it to mean into practice. Expectations of what SDS will deliver are in some cases very high. It could offer people who use services the promise of independent living  – of being able to live their lives with the same freedom, choice, dignity and control as other citizens. It could be a vehicle for promoting social inclusion and social justice. In stark contrast, there are fears that beneath the shiny surface lurks an agenda to cut services for people who very much need them – with quite the opposite results.

What are we to make of this? As ever, a good place to start is by reviewing the evidence that exists and, where there are gaps, finding ways to plug them.  This is the thinking behind IRISS’s new ‘Evidence Explorers’ project. Although there are obvious limits to what can be achieved within the few months of its duration, it aims to contribute towards strengthening the evidence-base to inform the development of SDS, so that all concerned are better equipped to make service user choice and control a reality.

There are potentially many parties with a role to play in bringing this about. Obviously social service practitioners and providers need to know how to respond.  They need to be supported by institutions with the right systems and culture to support user choice. Individuals who use SDS, or who would like to, might need support from user-led organisations or independent advocacy. But there are others too, including policy-makers, scrutiny bodies, academics and researchers. Most importantly, all of them need to be talking to each other, listening to each other and learning from each other. Their different perspectives are themselves a vital source of evidence.

With this in mind, IRISS brought together a range of key players to explore the evidence and generate more through co-production. We set off last week, when the ‘evidence explorers’ discussed the meaning of co-production (a project in itself!) and how we were going to work together. We considered the meaning of self-directed support. Obviously, the SDS strategy defines it in terms of choice over delivery options. Whichever is chosen, services need to be focused on the choices of the person using the service.  The group also began to identify key issues that we need to know more about. They will now go out to their networks to gather more evidence about evidence gaps.

Usually, ‘communities of practice’ are set up to facilitate debate and information exchange between members of one of the groups involved, such as practitioners or providers.  We hope that this blog might provide a focal point for dialogue between members of different groups, all of whom want to see SDS deliver user choice and control and all of whom collectively can therefore be thought of as one community of practice.

As we set off on our expedition, none of us know quite what we will discover. We know where we want to get to, but don’t yet have the evidence that tells us how to get there. To start with, it would be great to get wider views on what the key evidence gaps are.  If you have any thoughts about this, please do add them below. Comments (on this or any other aspect of the project) are very welcome at any point up until mid-July and can inform the final report. However, after Easter the ‘co-production partners’ will be selecting a few gaps for more in-depth exploration and evidence generation, so suggestions on evidence gaps received before then can be taken into account in developing the next stage.

Please join us on what we hope will be an exciting voyage of discovery!


2 thoughts on “SDS Evidence Explorers set off”

  1. Hi Sally,

    This sounds like a great project. I work for The Advocacy Project which provides independent advocacy for a wide range of service users. We also have an Engagement and Involvement service which uses advocacy principles to facilitate people having more of a say in the services they recieve using creative communication and engagement tools.
    While the principle behind SDS are very positive, as you can imagine, as independent advocates we are often involved in the cases where everything doesn’t run smoothly. This can be for a variety of reasons and often the barriers appear right at the beginning of the process. Quite often the people we work with are scared of this big change to their support. This may be because they have not had much information prior to the process of assessing their budget or they perceive that, as you mention in your blog, this is simply an attempt to cut the hours they receive. While there are often people in their lives encouraging them to be more independent, there are also times when there are others who wish to reinforce the need for support, for a variety of reasons. Another interesting situation that we see in the SDS journey is a person being told they are being offered all this choice and control but yet the choice that they want, for everything to remain the same, is seemingly denied to them – that can be confusing for people! I think it would be really interested to hear how the initial stages are being approached –while professionals may be all in favour for SDS and its person led principles, what’s being done to ensure the process suits the person rather than the professionals?

    Apologies for the long comment, I would also add that we would be really interested in being more involved in a project like this so please get in touch if there is scope for an advocacy organsiation to be involved.


  2. I am really pleased that IRISS are doing some work on co-production. I work for a Provider organisation and have been involved in helping people to Plan how they want to use their Individual Service Fund. I think that people will become more creative in how they use thier budget in the coming months and years – this is just the begining for lots of people as they have greater choice and control than they have previously experienced. I think that there is a challenge for all of us who believe that co-production of support and services is the right way forward. There is a challenge to our thinking, our power base and perceived risk in reshaping our role. I also think that this is the most worthwhile way of working with people and their families. It’s great to see someone getting a better life because they are having things happen in a way that makes absolute sense for them, that they’ve contributed to or directed and that me and my colleagues(and often many colleagues, across social work and health) have helped them make happen!

    I do think that how SDS is communicated to people, by local authorities implementing this approach and individuals taking the message forward, is critical. We can’t hide from the cuts to budgets- they’re factual- but we can adopt a principled approach to working with people and their families, which is what I think SDS is about.

    Advocacy services have a key role to play in supporting people to be heard where they need and want that support. Focussed as they are on expressing what the person wants to be expressed, or if the person is unable to communicate that, then what they are entitled to, co-production often can’t genuinely happen without them.

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