The Big Picture: Social care means business

This year Toyota became the world’s largest car producer overtaking General Motors which has held the position since 1931. It is something social care service providers should be aware of.

Why? Because of the way it did it. Toyota has been described as succeeding because it tries new designs in the market sooner than its competitors which means “less reliance on long range ‘guesses’ about customer preferences”. More accurate information meant the car giant spent less time doing what customers didn’t want and more time doing what they did want.

When the government talks about the need for personalisation of public services, people in social care might point out that they can’t get much more personalised. Each customer is individually assessed and a care package is tailored to their needs. But this focus on the individual can divert attention from looking at the whole system and seeing where different ways of working might be better.

Public services are asked to find efficient and effective ways to provide services. Much can be learned from the commercial world. For example, the Commissioning Framework for Health and Wellbeing talks about the need for “segmentation”, a word taken from commercial marketing which means sub-dividing a group of people with different needs and preferences.

The starting point for any redesign is gathering intelligence. In social care terms this means population projections broken down by communities according to need, such as health status. It means having small area analyses that give commissioners a clear picture of numbers and types of service users. It means being able to analyse data rapidly to identity opportunities to provide a better services – what Toyota would call a “gap in the market”.

Five local authorities are working with us at Dr Foster to use joint strategic needs assessments to put in place the intelligence needed to support service redesign. This cannot be a one-off exercise. The success with which services are reformed will be proportional to the information that commissioners have from continually testing new propositions and new ideas against service user needs.

Dr Roger Taylor is research director of Dr Foster Intelligence

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