Building partnerships in local commissioning

Dr Philippa Simkiss is Head of Evidence and Service Impact at RNIB, the UK’s leading charity offering information, support and advice to those with and at risk of sight loss. Here she writes about the lessons RNIB has learned about successful charity partnerships in local commissioning.  

When the going gets tough, the purpose of commissioning is to deliver excellent services for those that need help.

What does this mean for people losing their sight? There are almost 2 million people with sight loss in the UK and each year around 28,000 are newly certified as blind or partially sighted. RNIB is committed to an ambitious strategy to end the isolation of sight loss. We have thought about delivery models which work best for us as we know that we can’t deliver our strategy on our own. It is essential that organisations work together to ensure blind and partially sighted people no longer slip through the gaps between different service providers.

RNIB has entered into relationships with other charities to further increase the impact we have on the lives of blind and partially sighted people. The RNIB Group comprises RNIB, Action for Blind People, Cardiff Vales and Valleys and National Talking Newspapers and Magazines. We also maintain close links and support the aims of other organisations, including local, national and international charities working with or for people with sight problems.

A practical example of partnership working at a local level is our Finding Your Feet programme, which helps people who have recently been diagnosed with a sight problem deal with both the practical and emotional challenges of sight loss. You can watch a short film about the project here.

We are currently using funding from the Department of Health to develop a sustainable delivery model for the project, commissioned locally and delivered by local community organisations for and of blind people. When we evaluated the model, we found a number of conditions need to be in place to support future local commissioning:

  • Local charities must have the skills, resources, desire and ambition to take on the model as a local franchise.
  • Commissioners must be open to joint commissioning and partnership working; have the desire and ability to take the approach forward; understand the benefits of the Finding Your Feet model for participants; and have confidence in the local charity’s ability to deliver it.
  • Both charities and commissioners must have a positive relationship with one another.

These conditions are not just specific to our Finding Your Feet programme—they offer wider learning for other charities looking to enter into local partnerships.

These findings have several implications for RNIB. We need to decide whether to target local partnerships with the most ‘conditions’ already in place, and think about how to identify and engage the right people in the right roles in commissioner organisations. We need to engage all relevant partners early on in discussions so we can get the buy-in we need from all stakeholders. And we need to tailor the Finding Your Feet approach to suit local needs and fit with the priorities of commissioner organisations, making it clear how our programme will support and add value to the local eye care pathway.

In this way we can begin to test a local franchise model that is flexible and adaptable to fit into local priorities and impact on other areas of care. This would leave RNIB to play a more strategic role helping to build these partnerships, particularly important in light of new commissioning arrangements.

RNIB is trying to develop the all-charity supply chains highlighted in NPC’s report. This will not happen overnight—partnership building to secure the trust required for joint working takes time. But for those who need help the going is getting increasingly tough and they need excellent services now.

Download When the going gets tough for free from NPC’s website. This is the third in a series of blogs focusing on the changing world of commissioning which run throughout this week.