Spruced up service

Curriculum Vitae   

Name: Chris Russell

Job: Project Manager

Qualification: Diploma in   Social Work

Last job: Probation officer

First job: Skills centre worker at a drugs
rehabilitation unit


  • Different perspectives are crucial so include a wide range of
  • Time taken over the preparation period is time well
  • Try to  keep people informed all the time.


  • Consult, consult, consult: swamp people into submission.
  • If it’s “always been done this way” it’s of no value.
  • Look busy and bury your head in systems and paper – forget
    about the people side of things.

Nowadays the much maligned phrase “We’ve always done it this
way” cuts little mustard as a justification for care practice.
Rather than imply that experience has taught a valuable lesson, it
implies that nobody has sought to question or review effectiveness;
thus permitting a distinctly old fashioned way of working to
continue way passed its shelf-life.

However, the reality is that while things can usually be improved,
not everything that has gone before is without merit. Sometimes it
is more a question of collecting up and better co-ordinating
pockets of good practice.

In essence, this was what project manager Chris Russell discovered
following a review of care-at-home services in Gloucestershire,
where the population aged 75 and over is expected to increase by as
much as 11 per cent in the next five years. “As 71 per cent of
people receiving care-at-home services are aged 75 or older this
indicates capacity to provide care must increase. We already have
2,700 people receiving a service,” he says.

For Russell, who arrived a year ago to head up the three-year
project management exercise “the most interesting thing was having
the time at the start: they said to me to go away for three months
and come back and tell us what is really going on out there”.

Adapting the council’s in-house project management “fit for
purpose” model, Russell and his colleague consulted 110
stakeholders, including eight service users, in a “scoping”
exercise. “We wanted as wide a qualitative survey as we could – we
knew we didn’t have time to launch anything massively quantitative
– but wanted to focus on the real stories and people’s experiences.
We managed to mine a tremendous amount of valuable and structured
information – the outcome of which raised six problem areas.”

Because of its geographical size and contrasting urban and rural
economies, the council had understandably encouraged locally
focused services. However, says Russell: “There was a lack of a
consistent core process. Everybody was looking to locally based
solutions, which is not a bad thing, but the trouble was they had
all become too scattered and inefficient.”

However, he didn’t want to lose the good local stuff: “On the
contrary, we want to promote that – but we need consistency at the
heart. What works, for example, in Gloucester with its ethnic
minority population won’t necessarily work in the Cotswolds. But
that said, certain elements should be the same and will work better
for being the same.”

The review unearthed some bureaucratic oddities including the
county having three primary care trusts but four contract areas –
“that was just bonkers” – and poor management information. “We did
not have good quality information on what we were doing – we were
reliant on paper-based systems that varied from office to office,
from desk to desk. We couldn’t really hold people to account in
terms of the services provided in-house or externally.” Russell is
commissioning an information system that can link in with
council-based systems to improve service planning.

On a more human side, a service user panel is being set up to
provide feedback on the changes, and this is something that Russell
is particularly excited about. “We will run the panel to make sure
that the information is coming in straight to an influential
level,” he says.

Similarly, independent providers of care are involved at all
levels, with one representative on the project management board to
which Russell reports. Only nine of the county’s 63 care-at-home
providers have contracts with the council. “We wanted to work with
much greater certainty, clarity and consistency; and to have
contractors work in partnership with each other as well as us – we
did not want them trying to compete.”

Even here Russell plays an indirect but crucial part. “It’s
important that the project manager sits above the direct
operational stuff to act as an honest broker, if you like. For
example, I will only be an observer at the new fee negotiations
because to be more involved would not be too good tactically. It’s
better to be one step removed,” he says.

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