Meet the judges of the Excellence Network awards

Amid continued upheaval and tightening budgets in the social care sector, finding ground-breaking ways to meet people’s needs is as vital as ever.

That’s why Community Care’s honours programme the Excellence Network is here to showcase your innovative work in five fields and ensure that news of good practice is shared as widely as possible.

A leading figure from each field will decide on the winners. Here, the five judges spell out what they will be looking for in the categories: user involvement partnership working self-directed care early intervention and training and development.

The deadline for entries is 4 February. To find out more and how to enter read the categories and criteria box below or visit

Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children – judging children and families teams

User involvement has to be meaningful. Agencies must be prepared to adapt to participants’ needs, and to take into consideration what is needed to ensure people participate fully. What are the characteristics of the people you are helping? Do you need to provide environmental or physical support, or that most precious of commodities, time? What will you do with the information you receive? There’s nothing worse than saying you will involve someone and then failing to do so.

Self-directed care works when there are the necessary safeguards and a service user has been given sufficient information and help in making complex choices that have their well-being at the forefront.

With children it is more complex but the principles of continuity, ensuring you have something that looks safe, and that it is responsive to their needs, are crucial.

Partnership working can have many problems or be very enriching. The experience from children and young people is that as many as 14 agencies can be involved in their lives. The more partners there are, the greater their responsibility to ensure they are talking together, so the person on the receiving end is clear about who is saying what. That’s a principle not of simplicity, but of clarity.

Simon Heng, associate lecturer (service user issues) at Worcester university – judging disability teams

In partnership working, I’d certainly be looking for an agreement on management structure.

I used to work for a voluntary agency and one of the major difficulties was making sure everyone was clear about what the line of command was and who was responsible for supervising frontline workers.

With user involvement, it’s important to make sure the involvement isn’t tokenistic, and I’d be looking for it from the planning stage all the way through to the monitoring of delivery. There should be some user involvement in overall management – probably not day-to-day management, although that could be possible.

What’s important is to make sure that the kind of involvement is apt and accessible for the client group. As with children – it’s all to easy for parents to think they know what’s best for their kids, and sometimes that means their voice is drowned out.

I would also like to see some user involvement, even with children, in training and development. That would be an interesting advance – using them to train staff in how to deliver and communicate.

One of the things I’ve looked at with adult users is training them to talk to service providers about how they like services to be delivered and the kind of language that’s used, an interesting area.

Annie Stevenson, head of older peoples’ services for Scie – judging older people teams

Every council department should have a plan for early intervention – if they are designed to stop people becoming dependent, then they won’t need to access further funding. But for this agenda to work it requires change to a whole different mindset, and I’d be interested in any service that’s doing intergenerational work. There are huge discriminations in services so I’d love to see ones that work against that.

In the self-directed care category, if you look at the individual budget pilot findings, it was the concerns of older people and mental health users that needed addressing most. Therefore I’d like to see work with those groups – particularly those with dementia or who have had strokes or who can’t even speak. Think about people with long-term conditions – where are they going to be put in the personalisation agenda?

Good leadership is crucial to training and development. If the head of an agency does not have a plan about how the service should develop then having the best trainer in the world won’t work – it’s about the vision being right. Training relates to the whole need to improve the status of social care.

I’m looking for innovative solutions, with approaches that have a clear idea of how to motivate staff. Training has to develop staff, humanise the system and remember that the work is about human beings.

Su Sayer, chief executive, United Response

We know that early intervention works and can be cost effective in the long term. The problem lies in getting people on board, including budget holders. So it will be very interesting to see projects which make the case for early intervention powerfully, and that also make exceptional efforts to identify the people who might benefit and engage with them.

Partnership working can be challenging, but it can also lead to services which are more effective than those undertaken alone. What matters most is communication and management. How did organisations reach an understanding of their partner’s objectives? Were there areas of disagreement and, if so, how were they resolved? Perhaps most importantly, why did you work with this particular partner and how did this ultimately benefit service users?

I would expect to see a creative approach with self-directed care, as well as evidence of how support became more tailored to people’s needs as a result. I’m also interested in the lessons learned along the way. What worked and what didn’t? How do you see your organisation adapting to the challenges presented by self-directed support in delivering truly personalised services?

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink – judging mental health and substance misuse teams

The closer that user involvement is to the heart of decision-making, and the further away it is from the tokenistic end, the better. That’s especially true of groups of people who are not often engaged, such as young people or those who have been in the criminal justice system. The real test is about how much power is ceded to service users in designing a new service or in their organisation.

The focus of early intervention should be on the opportunities to engage people before they have explicit problems. That focus could be on exploring stigma – a lot of young people developing a mental health issue are reluctant to seek help because they fear being put on medication. It would therefore be interesting to see work with people who won’t otherwise seek help, such as with black and ethnic minority groups.

In training and development I would like to see examples where service users and carers have played a role in developing activities. It is early days and there are implications to consider – it is a different dialogue with service users if someone is an adviser rather than the decider of what happens.

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