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Solace blog

21st September 2018

Transforming Services- A Commissioning Mindset

Bracknell Forest Council, like most other Councils, has been on a transformation journey over the past 3 years and as we have certainly learned a lot along the way!

When designing the transformation programme in the autumn of 2015 we questioned how we could ensure that our approach would fundamentally review our services particularly given the interconnected nature of the programme.

We knew there was a need for a core, standardised approach to be taken to the design and delivery of the individual programmes and projects so that their delivery was challenging and could generate the level of innovation needed to meet the objectives of the transformation programme. As well as this we wanted to ensure that the programme was a collective endeavour and that services would work together across organisational boundaries underpinned by the core methodology.

We were also an organisation that was culturally pre-disposed to move quickly to action with a strong record of delivery. So we needed to make sure that time was built in to do sufficient analysis and thinking to ensure that we did not transform our services and ways of working based on preconceived ideas, hunches or traditional approaches but instead took an evidence-based approach to improving outcomes and making savings.

With advice from Activist we decided to adopt a commissioning mindset to ensure that all our programmes and projects were designed with the following principles in mind:

– Thinking big

– Encouraging innovation

– Engaging early and often

– Keeping an open mind

– Using evidence

– Collaborating for results

The commissioning mindset led us to take a phased, questioning and open-minded approach to strategic planning as summarised in the table below:


1. Analyse: exploring what’s needed and why and what you want to achieve.
2. Plan: working out how best to achieve the results that are needed.
3. Do: putting your plans into effect.
4. Review: making sure the plans are working and checking that the results are being delivered.

The key questions

– Why does it matter and how do you know what’s needed?
– What outcomes or end results are required?
– How will those outcomes be best delivered?
– Who will best be able to deliver them?
– When will they be delivered?
– How much will it cost and/or save?

Both underpinned by an interest in evidence.

In the analyse phase of each project we completed an analysis of need, of capacity, assets, and resources,
researched alternative approaches, including the capability of the market; baselined current arrangements and costs; agreed on priority needs and defined the outcomes to meet those needs. This included a review of all sourcing options from in-house transformation to shared services, outsourcing and divesting to the community.

At the end of the Analyse and Plan phases of each review the Overview and Scrutiny Commission led a member gateway review to challenge the findings of that stage, share any member’s questions and concerns with the options that were being proposed for transforming the services and to endorse a direction of travel for the next phase of the programme. These worked well in engaging non-executive members and ensuring that they shaped and had ownership of the way in which services were being transformed.

What were the benefits of the approach? One of our directors who sponsored the libraries transformation review summed it up well in saying that the approach led to some unexpectedly positive results and numerous examples of where we have been able to achieve savings while at the same time improving customer experience and outcomes for people. The approach flatly challenged his ideas of what we may need to do to transform library services and make savings. Bracknell Forest covers 109 sq km of central Berkshire and has 9 libraries; it was thought that we may have few options other than to make some library closures to achieve the level of savings required of £400,000 from a budget of £1.5m. But having taken time in the analyse phase for extensive community consultation and analysing a range of options to deliver on a new vision and updated set of outcomes for the service, we are achieving the savings while keeping all libraries open. Not only that, we are extending and harmonising opening hours through the library network, installing new technology, developing closer working between the service and other parts of the council to support delivering on adults and children’s service outcomes and increasing community involvement in the service through hugely increased levels of volunteering.

However, we have also learned that you need to take a proportionate approach; one or two of the reviews took too long on the analyse phase when there was really only one viable sourcing option for the outcomes and level of savings we were targeting in our leisure review. There is no doubt though that the key benefit of the approach has been ensuring that transformation plans and the savings attached have a firm basis in evidence which has provided confidence and enabled us to successfully deliver.

The approach has systematically helped us close our budget gap; the programme has this month achieved its savings target of £11m six months ahead of schedule. Though there is no doubt we still have a significant financial challenge ahead!

By Abby Thomas, Head of Transformation and Engagement, Bracknell Forest Council