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Two cheers for SEN personalisation


So we are to see the arrival of personalisation in the SEN field. It could be argued it is long overdue, that maybe it should have been tried here first given the variety of different budgets that families access to obtain services and the diversity of different circumstances and solutions that are possible.

As we open a new chapter in the personalisation story we should at least be aware of what has gone before. Personalisation aimed to put people in control, to allow them to customise and source services that met their particular needs. At the outer limits of our imagination was the view that this could help to change the market, that new and innovative solutions would emerge in the service provider landscape, fuelled by personal budgets.

I haven’t seen any hugely detailed evaluation but my suspicion is the results to date might disappoint. Very senior figures in social care have intimated to me that personalisation has become a form of abandonment; “here’s your (reduced) budget and here is the list of providers.” The providers are not new and innovative but familiar and predictable. What we are up against here are market forces that do not currently favour the customer. It is of little use having money in your hand if there is nothing different to buy.

As the father of a child with mild learning difficulties I have experienced this at first hand. At first, being locked into a seemingly endless process of assessment and reassessment by different professionals over some years. A lot of work which amounted to very little. Eventually, through personal networks, we found what we were looking for in the private sector, and we used our position of relative privilege to purchase a service that would offer a inter-disciplinary assessment with our (and our child’s) involvement. The results changed his life. Our situation was very ordinary and the solution very obvious, yet over the years the professions in their silos had built a system that was impenetrable, and some would say deliberately so. In the end though, I suspect that the Council and partners spent more on this process than it would have done on the services it seemed hell bent on protecting.

What is missing from the whole personalisation debate is a positive role for an active Council that continues to listen to people and aggregates their views as the first step in co-production, so that together people can stimulate and shape new services and reform old ones. Disparate individuals with budgets will not a market make, but collectively with the backing of commissioners, this agenda has the potential to make a real difference.

16th May 2012

Max Wide is a Director at IMPOWER. To contact him to discuss this blog please e-mail or call 020 7017 8030.

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IMPOWER is an organisation driven by a social purpose. We are a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.



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