Why we need to invest in scaling complex needs projects


Stephanie Woodrow


We know people rarely face single issues in their lives. Often our challenges are complex, interlinked and change over time. However, when it comes to the most marginalised people in UK society, we offer services that focus on single issues in isolation.

We send people to separate, siloed services to tackle issues like substance misuse, domestic violence, homelessness and mental health, even though we know these issues are often interrelated. Not only is this at best an ineffective approach to supporting people, we are often asking people to relive their trauma each time they access a new service and have to re-share their story.

There is a growing understanding of the scale of this issue in the UK. Each year 58,000 people face problems of homelessness, substance misuse and offending in England. While in Scotland, this number is 5,700. We know this group are also likely to have experienced domestic violence or suffer from mental ill health.

Across the social sector there are calls for a more systematic, person-led approach to support those on the extreme edges of society. There are some brilliant mission-driven ­­organisations across the UK that are pioneering new ways of working; supporting individuals holistically and designing services which factor in the complexity of their lives.

One such example is Mayday Trust, a charity supporting people to transition out of tough times, which took part in Spring Impact’s Scale Accelerator in 2017. This unique programme helps non-profits to gain vital support, skills and perspective to scale their impact.

Our work with Mayday provided insight into the unique challenges organisations like them face when it comes to scale. Mayday’s ultimate ambition is to grow a social movement, rather than simply share an intervention.

Ultimately, we kept coming up against the question of how to scale an innovation when the system isn’t geared up to support it?

Together we came to the realisation that Mayday needed a specialised replication model that enables grass roots delivery and influences key stakeholders about the need for systemic change. As a result we worked together to develop the first Accreditation for strengths-based working in the country.

As part of our mission to transform how the social sector scales impact we are partnering with the National Lottery Community Fund to pilot a new, issues led version of our Scale Accelerator, focusing on organisations that help people facing multiple disadvantages.

The programme will be an opportunity for us to support a cohort of like-minded organisations that share similar challenges around scale.

While this exercise is partly designed to grow our own understanding of these systemic barriers, there are certain scale challenges we expect to see.

1. How to scale a service that requires complex funding structures?
Organisations that take a holistic, individual-led approach to complex needs are incompatible with traditional funding structures that focus on specific outcomes. Research demonstrates that outcomes based funding fails to appreciate the complexity of the challenges faced by individuals and often produces narrow results. A key issue is how to develop strategies for increasing the availability of complex funding structures to support an organisation’s scale journey.

2. How to marry the principles of service user design with scale?
Meaningfully engaging individuals in service design and delivery is fundamental to effectively meeting their needs. When thinking about scale, organisations need to balance consistent service delivery to ensure impact, while building in flexibility to engage new service users in new locations.

3. How can scale support systems change?
Organisations working holistically to transform support for individuals facing multiple disadvantages usually share an ambition to disrupt the system. This, of course, is no easy feat. Developing a scale strategy that will support wider systems change ambitions presents unique challenges and opportunities.

Applications for Spring Impact’s next Scale Accelerator cohort are open until 9th October 2019. Visit its website to find out more and apply.

Stephanie Woodrow is Scale Accelerator Programme Manager at Spring Impact

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