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Personalisation is exactly as it says on the tin – making sure that services are designed for, or adjusted to suit, an individual.

Personalisation involves a transformation in thinking about individuals and services. In particular, it means:

  • Personal budgets for people entitled to state-funded care;

  • Access to independent information and choice of service providers;

  • Co-production of services to best meet personal and social outcomes.

In UK adult social care personalisation began with the signing of the concordat Putting people first: A shared vision and commitment to the transformation of adult social care in 2007. This established collaboration between central and local government, the professional leadership in the sector, providers and the regulators in taking an asset-based approach to service users. It resulted in half a billion pounds worth of investment to local authorities to reform their adult social care offer to better meet the needs and wants of its users. Putting People First has now been replaced by the Think Local, Act Personal Partnership which is continuing the drive to personalise services across all sectors and professional groups.

The ethos of personalisation as tailoring services to individual needs, and in giving service users control and choice over the services they use has now spread beyond adult social care. Indeed, in 2007 the Prime Minister’s Strategy Report on public services highlighted personalisation as a central process for tailoring public services to he needs and preferences of citizens, so the state can empower citizens ‘to shape their own lives and services they receive’.  There are now personalisation initiatives in children’s services, in health and in education to build on the experience and voice of the service user and to pass power and control over services to them. There is also developing activity in the criminal justice and benefits system to try to deliver more tailor-made support, although the nature of these services necessarily means that the state remains firmly in control of the degree to which the service becomes personalised.

Like co-production, personalisation explicitly recognises the voice and expertise of the service user. However, co-production goes beyond personalisation by recognising that every individual is part of a community which can provide support that public services cannot provide.

There is another potential downside to personalisation which has so far been insufficiently recognised – not all the purposes of social care are about bringing individual private benefits to people. The public sector seeks to bring about behaviour change in some of the people who use its services (or ought to be using its services) – e.g. it wishes some people to stop overusing alcohol or tobacco or fatty foods or sitting in front of their TVs like couch potatoes. Again, some social care interventions are to stop people reducing the welfare of other people, e.g. by neglecting their children, behaving in anti-social ways to the people they live with or their neighbours, etc. We therefore need to recognise that some social care programmes and interventions will deliberately NOT do what their recipients want – and will seek to CHANGE, not simply to make more pleasant, the lifestyles they have chosen. Currently in the UK there are very few mechanisms for weighing up the relative importance of these two very different types of social care intervention.   

If you are interested in learning more about how to make personalisation happen, Governance International recommends the Whose Shoes? Putting People First game from Nutshell Communications. This innovative game brings together the perspectives of a range of different stakeholders in personalisation (service users, carers, and managers and staff from providers and commissioners). It helps all these players visualise how they can contribute to personalisation in a way which improves outcomes for the service user. By getting all players to step into each other's shoes, it encourages them all to think outside of the box, so they can come up with imaginative ways to deliver better services. Click here to read a case study on how the Whose Shoes? tool has been utilised by Leicestershire County Council.

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