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An Arts Professional Feature in partnership with the Cultural Commissioning Programme

Linden Rowley interviews Christian Markandu about the priorities for his commissioning service and the opportunities for arts and cultural organisations of all sizes.

Photo of a session of the Dance for Parkinson’s project
English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s project
Belinda Lawley

First, what is your role?

I have been a commissioner since April 2012 for adults across the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council (called Tri-borough). My portfolio includes home care and assistive technology.

What is your broad approach to commissioning services?

We use an outcomes-based model as we want to understand the outcomes that service providers can deliver for our communities, and not just the specific activities that they deliver.

What are your commissioning priorities?

As a team responsible for adult social care, we want to keep people at home for longer and to prevent the need for social or medical interventions. And so our commissioning reflects our aim to minimise referrals to residential and nursing homes. We try to secure better services for less, and therefore services that make the most of community-based assets are important. We also try to make the process of making direct payment for services via personal budgets held by users easier, so that individuals and their carers have more choice and control.

What kind of services are you looking for providers to deliver?

We have produced a market position statement setting out our commissioning intentions. This is important in helping us strengthen relationships with service providers. Some of the things we would like to see are services that help people to be self-reliant, provide a positive experience, provide support for carers, early intervention and reablement, and support dignity and compassion.

What are the opportunities for arts and cultural organisations?

arts and cultural activities can have a positive impact since they bring people together and help break down isolation

They have to think about the outcomes we are looking for as commissioners and the approaches and expertise they bring that make them unique. If you take home care as an example, arts and cultural activities can have a positive impact since they bring people together and help break down isolation. We are open to opportunities to commission pilots to explore new approaches and that may include using innovative measures of impact. Our market position statement mentions our interest in encouraging innovation and sharing best practice. Use of personal budgets is increasing to give individuals more choice over their services. If an organisation is registered on our portal, then people with personal budgets or their carers will see what is on offer. The Care Act, coming into force this April, places a duty on local authorities to provide information on the range of services and providers in their localities. We are currently thinking about whether a brokerage service would help with this.

Do you welcome input from providers and users on the sort of services you commission?

We do not start off with a fully developed model of what services will look like. We want providers to have the freedom to interpret how best to deliver. Ideas and solutions from service providers and users are welcome because they are the ones with the experience of what works well on the ground. The principle of co-production is important, but we know that we need to start our commissioning processes earlier to allow enough time. We are really keen for a dialogue with providers before we get to the procurement stage so that their skills and experience can inform particular commissions.

How can arts & cultural providers build a relationship with commissioners and find out about contracts?

They can read market position statements, then go along to market engagement and consultation events, which bring together commissioners, providers and users. They provide a great way of getting to know commissioners and it’s also a good way for us to get to know about arts organisations and their work. At Tri-borough, we use capitalEsourcing to advertise our tenders, as do a number of other London boroughs. If you register you receive email updates of new contract opportunities that match your capabilities. Other local authorities have similar sites where they advertise tenders. We also have a portal, People First, where potential service providers can register, and many local authorities have similar portals.

How do you identify the needs of the communities you provide for?

We use our joint strategic needs assessment which brings together local data. It is used as the basis for needs analysis and enables us as the local authority to work with health and other partners to agree priorities. We also draw on performance information from other services as that can help us understand what our communities need. Providers of services can help as well by providing data on the communities they work with.

How do you measure improvement against the outcomes you want to see?

It is difficult to measure outcomes for wellbeing. We sometimes find that large organisations have a standard way of doing this, and we are open to innovative proposals to show how services deliver wellbeing outcomes. We are also happy for providers to draw on evidence produced by others where they have similar approaches to delivery.

How can small organisations complete with large service providers?

We are aiming to develop the role we play in helping small providers connect with larger providers, to open up more opportunities for partnering and sub-contracting. The CompeteFor service is one such way. Some of our contracts have also been broken up into smaller lots.

What future trends do you foresee?

Changes in the population, particularly the growing number of older people, mean that we need to find ways to manage long-term illnesses. In my borough we also have an increasing need to support people with learning disabilities. These changes are reflected in the Care Act which emphasises the importance of preventative work. By this, we mean services which prevent, reduce and delay care needs. The Care Act is also leading to a shift in our focus as a local authority on promoting the wellbeing of service users and their carers. Wellbeing involves all aspects – from physical and mental health through to opportunities to participate in work, education and recreation.

Linden Rowley is the provider of phase 1 of the Cultural Commissioning Learning Programme. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three-year programme funded by Arts Council England which supports the arts and cultural sector to engage with public service commissioning, and also works with commissioners to raise their awareness and understanding of how the arts and cultural sector can help deliver their outcomes. It is delivered by a partnership of National Council for Voluntary Organisations (lead partner), NPC and nef.

This article, sponsored and contributed by the Cultural Commissioning Programme, is in a series exploring opportunities for arts organisations, museums and library services to engage in public service commissioning.

Some useful additional links:

Photo of Christian Markandu