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Regional Care Co-operatives Are Not The Future Of Children’s Commissioning

Regional Care Co-operatives are not the future of children’s commissioning

How do we understand Commissioning? How do we know when it is happening?  How do we assess its significance?

If children’s commissioning is not social engineering, then what is it? It is involved with changing children’s lives.

Albert Hirschman writes that meaningful change can and should come from partial limited and pragmatic responses to challenges and opportunities; and as a consequences of often disconnected, experimental, and inconsistent adjustments to institutions and policies. He directs attention to small scale experimental and evolutionary changes as meaningful and transformative. He values what he terms’ productive incoherence’

Hirschman sees as ‘parallel experimentation’ a single placement making, or local authority commissioning, or a regional framework.  These are viewed as a series of transformations, each of which amounts to a social experiment that permits learning and doing by others.

Critically important is problem solving in response to unforeseen or underestimated challenges, an everyday experience in children’s commissioning. The ‘hidden hand’ of uncertainty, not knowing, and error can be the driver of productive action by policy entrepreneurs (another way of seeing commissioning) who develop pragmatic responses to evolving challenges.

There is no standard playbook to be sought only a multitude of viable responses, small scale, messy, disparate innovations revealing what could be. Hirschman has a refusal to define ‘one best way’, there is always a multiplicity of unique trajectories. This ‘possibilism’ and ‘bias for hope’ is counterposed to the ‘futilism’ of grand projects.

Hirschman doesn’t declare prejudge the outcomes of interventions (as in the Care Review about Regional Care Co-operatives). Even experimental failures Hirschman would see as leaving linkages, side effects, networks, and knowledge that may be available for and enable subsequent endeavours.

Hirschman embraces uncertainty, and the limits of the intelligibility of a complex world. Any attempt to domesticate fundamentally uncertain, disorderly, contingent and complex matters would have troubling consequences, for example in a Strategic Supplier Resource Management approach, or large block contract.

The Hirschman concepts of exit, voice and loyalty are particularly pertinent to children’s commissioning. These refer to the circumstances in which someone will engage or disengage with institutions that don’t meet their needs. Usually this means they go off an develop parallel structures rather than work for change from within. This might be said to be what has happened with framework contracts and situation now where providers work from ‘spot purchase’. Hirschman would not seek a simple and self-contained system, often reductionist, rather a recognition of adaptive complex systems.

A Hirschman type approach is of ‘immersion in the particular’, of improvisation in pursuit of multiple development paths not the implementation of a blueprint. Complexity, messiness, specificity, and contingency in contrast to theoretically sanctioned paradigm-based uniform solutions.