“Too often it feels as if the systems we work in have been designed to inhibit us from really helping people to help themselves. I don’t think this is intentional, but it is becoming harder to provide the kind of help people really need. We need to learn lessons from the front line and our communities to make this better.” explained Venu Dhupa from Community Links when we met in Kings Cross on 26th June.

This is a view I’ve heard repeated time and again over the last few months, as I’ve travelled across the country (see below) talking to people about what we can do to encourage ‘good help’.

In February we launched the Good and Bad Help report which argued that too many of our services and social programmes offer people ‘bad help’ which undermines their ability to take action for themselves. This has significant human and financial costs.

Since then I’ve met over 200 people who design, fund or deliver services, to better understand how to support ‘good help’; help which supports people to take action. This is a very brief summary of what they told me.

To support ‘good help’ we should prioritise, in the following order:

  1. Changing and influencing systems, culture and public debate
  2. Gathering better evidence on what works
  3. Learning ourselves (as a ‘good help’ community) how to change mainstream systems
  4. Building a ‘good help’ community where we can support each other to make ‘good help’ a reality for more people.

At each event we spent a lot of time talking about the fourth priority – how we can work better together – because changing mainstream services isn’t going to happen over night. It depends on many different people working in different parts of the system changing how they work. There are also strategic barriers such as targets which make ‘good help’ more difficult. An obvious example of this is how JobCentre staff are encouraged to focus on reducing benefits claims as opposed to helping people find meaningful, better paid work. Additionally, much-needed simple training of front line staff in techniques such as enabling language are already being taken up by many health professionals but haven’t become mainstream.

To build a community capable of changing mainstream services, people thought it should offer them:

  • Inspiration for how to practically change services
  • Support to improve (a shared learning network)
  • Demonstration of usefulness (‘seeing the impact and purpose of community’)
  • The ‘ear of local and national government’.

They would like to give to a community:

  • Commitment to putting ‘good help’ into practice
  • Resources and opportunities to make ‘good help’ happen (e.g. visits, meeting space, funding)
  • Development and sharing of tools to make ‘the system’ more ‘good help’ friendly
  • Promotion of the ‘good help’ mission
  • Sharing of experiences and expertise of what works.

Finally, they wanted the community to:

  • Embody ‘good help’ values, by building its members’ purpose and confidence
  • Support community members to become visible advocates of ‘good help’
  • Be effective advocates e.g. make the case for ‘good help’ to different influential audiences, such as economists, in their language rather than ours
  • Support listening and doing; be a reflective inquiry
  • Involve service users while recognising that we are all service users
  • Support networking (locally, regionally, nationally) both virtual and face to face.

Many thanks to the following organisations for supporting and hosting ‘good help’ co-design events: BetterWay (London), Carnegie (Edinburgh), CoLab Dudley, CoLab Exeter, Good Things Foundation (Sheffield), NCVO (London)



Image by Hugo Hercer from Pixabay

Rich Wilson