2 of 9 Leadership – go big or go home

“Leaders who are interested and believe in the PTS show up and make efforts to change their organisation and the system.”

Developing a new culture by listening to the open and honest grassroots experience and using this listening to inform strategy and challenge externally certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted! Leading transformative change is never easy, especially when organisational survival is always a struggle and when so much existing work is tied to rigid contracts and funding commitments.

What was clear across the partnership was that at the heart of everything it takes strong, committed, and brave leaders who are supported by full buy-in from everyone – practitioners through to Trustees. Such leadership needs to be driven autonomously, with the will and passion to take change forward and learning from their own unique experiences as they do so.

Throughout the three years working with the partnership there were changes to leadership, restructures and movements within teams which saw the PTS either remain a strong focus with the people involved, sitting at the core of organisational strategy, or it became more of a ‘side project’ in the case of new leaders being less invested in the PTS principles.

The PTS works best in the hands of passionate enthusiasts, social activists and systems changers that have a burning belief in the principles and a healthy appetite for risk, a commitment to learning uncomfortable lessons, the acceptance that you will not always be popular and the ability to make tough decisions for the greater mission of whole systems change.

Balancing the PTS with old systems and taking everyone on the same journey was a leadership challenge which highlighted that strength-based work is so hard to do within deficit-based structures and systems.

1 of 9 Listening to the grassroots

“The further decision making is from people, the less likely it is that organisations can identify the right problem and find the right solutions.”

The grassroots-led nature of the PTS aims to level the power balance within organisations and presents an opportunity to listen to the experiences and nuances of person-led practice. This is done through the Wisdoms methodology which is a ‘psychology informed’ way of listening to people’s experiences without othering or steering the agenda. This deep listening and reflection ensures that the systemic barriers identified inform organisational thinking and the right problem definition.

Carrying out specific local Wisdoms enquiries with people before starting the PTS Response would bring the voices of people into the heart of the organisational understanding and instil the grassroots learning culture.

Experience has shown that we need to be strategically led by the collective voice of people and not by the latest sector backed innovation. Only through listening at a grassroots level and reflecting on the current system can we find solutions for those trapped/damaged within the social care, homelessness, mental health and criminal justice systems. We can only radically change the system when we see and feel what the problems are.

Coaches, where they are encouraged to be politicised, have the freedom to be social activists so that people we work with are less likely to blame themselves and internalise symptoms as pathology when they understand the wider context of their situations and therefore can heal from their trauma.

An Introduction to Wisdom from the PTS Partnership

By 2016 Mayday Trust had been prototyping a new Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based (PTS) Response to working with people experiencing tough times for over four years and had started to see positive and statistically significant results.

People working with the PTS, formerly known as the Personal Transitions Service, reported an improved, more respectful experience; they were developing new networks, feeling more stable in their accommodation, and getting into work and training that built on their strengths and personal motivations. Early indications were that people weren’t coming back into services as they were finally able to get on with their lives.

Mayday fully adopted the PTS as the sole response across all areas. This meant undergoing a complete organisational transformation to shift the culture, internal systems and structures toward being fully person-led, and implementing a unique way to measure impact based on assets instead of deficits. But, being a small organisation, evidencing the approach and modeling systemic change would require other like-minded organisations to join together to model a new system as a collective. It required PTS Partners. Together it was hoped that real and sustained change could be created by exposing the deficit system and the barriers it creates for people experiencing tough times.

Two national events were held in London and Manchester to share the evidence, the ‘warts and all’ learning and the potential of the approach with providers, funders and commissioners. Where this resonated, participants were invited to join Mayday to form the first PTS Partnership.

This required brave, passionate, mission-driven, and like-minded mavericks to take on the challenge with the aim of offering the PTS to 2000 people over an initial three year period. This was more than modelling a new approach; it required a commitment to listen and learn from the grassroots and the real, raw experiences of people in order to challenge and change internal culture and externally disrupt and influence the norm.

Seventy organisations expressed interest, and after a year of travelling up and down the country, the original PTS Partnership was formed. First to join was Changing Lives in the North East, followed by The Brick, Wigan; Derventio Housing Trust, Derby; Nomad Opening Doors in Sheffield; Cherry Tree also in Sheffield; SHYPP (now Citizen) in Herefordshire; 999 Club in Deptford and South Northamptonshire Council. Investment was provided by our trusted learning partners, Tudor Trust and Comic Relief.

Over the three years, the PTS Partnership and Mayday came together to test, learn and clarify what systems change meant, as well as uncover the ‘why and the how’ things needed to change. The PTS Response continued to evolve, highlighting the need for systems change, recognising systems failure and its causes, and finally uncovering the ‘system damage’ experienced by people.

The Partnership has achieved a huge amount over the years. This includes an evidenced strength-based data set, a robust PTS Response, a university-level PTS qualification for practitioners, new ways of attracting social investment through Social Impact Bonds, a PTS Accreditation and a strong Wisdoms methodology for exposing systemic barriers through deeply listening to people at the grassroots.

The following Wisdoms have been captured as a ‘psychology informed’ way of listening. They have derived from conversations, reflections, challenges and changes in many different organisations and contexts. These Wisdoms will be used to uncover what we need to consider and act upon if we are to achieve the mission of a full paradigm shift in the systems encountered by people experiencing tough times – leading to systems that work.