Monday, 19 March 2012

The Impact of Munro

The Guardian takes a look at how the Munro recommendations are being implemented. 

There is a lot in this article about new management structures and new posts but not too much about changed practices. I know it is still early days but I think the implications of the Munro Review run very deep. It is not just about designating someone ‘principal social worker’ or even reorganising your services to resemble what they do in Hackney.

My view is that the real message of Munro is that effective child protection services can only be delivered by organisations that are willing and able to learn. Learning is inhibited by centralised policies, rules and regulations and, of course, by the dead hand of bureaucracy. But it is also inhibited by ‘expertise’.

Let me explain….

There is no shortage of reports, books and articles that set out new ways in which we can protect children. They are usually written by impressively qualified experts and are very good at saying what is wrong with the child protection system. However, when it comes to saying what must change, a hint of arbitrariness usually creeps in. We are counselled that such and such a reform is necessary, but the argument is invariably tenuous and the evidence is often obscure.

Meanwhile the people who actually do the work, and recognise and understand what is happening at the front line, are effectively sidelined and marginalised by the emphasis on the contribution of experts. A small, select group knows best and the majority of practitioners are there solely to implement the reforms, not to influence them.

However, the truth of the matter is that effective child protection is too complicated - and too important - to be invented by individuals or small ‘expert’ groups – whether they be groups of senior managers, inspectors or academics. Munro’s emphasis on organisational learning and professionalism implies that it is those doing the work who need to be the learners and the changers. Why? Because they are best placed to gather the evidence and to develop improvements.

What is not so clear in Munro’s approach, but which is very clear in my own mind, is that the learning and improvement needs to be small scale and continuous, not large scale and sporadic.

The history of quality management is littered with examples of organisations that have implemented huge one-off improvements, only to find that as time goes by the impact rapidly dissipates as the organisation reverts to traditional ways of working. On the other hand, where organisations empower their members to take charge of quality issues, and embed the expectation that each and every employee will strive to make small-scale improvements on a daily basis, the cumulative effect can be breathtaking.

So my hope is that the impact of Munro will be to encourage child protection organisations to devise ways of engaging each and every member of staff in discovering how they can learn more about mistakes and successes; and in coming up with ways of empowering those members of staff to translate their learning into concrete suggestions for achieving a perpetual stream of small-scale, achievable improvements.