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!