Negotiation in Social Services

Call a social services manager or team leader unannounced and the chances are you will receive the stock answer, "She/he's in a meeting." In other words she/he is engaged in negotiation - with other people in the agency, with other departments or professional groups, with other authorities or agencies, with councillors or civil servants. You won't need much convincing that a huge amount of staff time is spent in this way, but you may have reflected from time to time on how effective it all is.

As well you might. We all negotiate all the time and some people develop considerable skill simply from experience. Others never do: for a variety of reasons the learning which should come from the experience of success and failure is blocked. Indeed sometimes the behaviour which caused failure in the first place becomes more entrenched with every new experience. And the price of such failure can be very costly in human and financial terms. An inability to negotiate an effective partnership with health or with the voluntary sector is a high profile example. An inability to negotiate an good package of care for an individual client, though it may be less obvious, is every bit as damaging.

A systematic analysis of what is going on in a negotiation, how to prepare for it and how to evaluate its effectiveness can be equally helpful for both good and not so good "natural" negotiators and for the effectiveness of the agency. The trouble is that there is very little in the way of bespoke support of this kind for social services staff. There is (as far as we are aware) one book "Negotiation for Health and Social Services Professionals" by Keith Fletcher. And, though you can buy in generic negotiation training, it doesn't cover the specifics of the rather esoteric world of social services.

For that reason we have decided to update and re-introduce a programme of negotiation seminars which we used to run some years ago, before Best Value and Social Inclusion swept all before them. Not that demand for training, consultancy and facilitation in these two fields is reducing; quite the reverse. But they both depend heavily in practice on the stakeholders' ability to build effective partnerships so a skills development programme in this area is a natural adjunct to our existing portfolio.

The Training Provided by Social Services Strategic Planning

We pride ourselves that the training we provide, whether in negotiation or on various aspects of Best Value, is tailored specifically to the requirements of the client. At the same time each programme is built on a framework developed for the purpose so you benefit from our continual learning about what works best. The model of a bespoke package built on a general framework has the added benefit of producing economies of scale which we are able to pass on to you.

The seminars on negotiation take the form of two one day modules which can be run sequentially or stand alone.

The first module is for anyone who wants a basic grounding in the theory and practice of ethical and effective negotiation. It doesn't imply that participants are inexperienced or new to negotiation but it is most appropriate for those who have not studied the subject nor analysed the process very systematically. We aim to help participants develop a framework on which they can build and improve their future practice but the day is strongly participative and interactive.

The second module assumes not only experience but some systematic knowledge of negotiation (perhaps by participation in the first module). In essence it is a carefully constructed simulation closely modeled on a situation which the participants are likely to encounter in their work. It is important that participants come to this module armed with an analytical toolkit: the day begins with the simulation exercise with little more than a scene setting introduction. The learning is from the experience and the debriefing; an evaluation which takes place after the simulation.

Both courses are offered on contract to social services agencies or consortia. They cater for a maximum of sixteen people. Smaller voluntary and private organisations might wish to run them in concert with others in a similar field or jointly with a local authority. Let us know if you might need help in facilitating such an arrangement.

The facilitator

Keith Fletcher is the author of "Negotiation for Health and Social Services Professionals" (published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers; £15.95) and "Best Value Social Services" (published by SSSP Publications; £9.00). He writes a regular column on negotiation and related subjects for "Community Care" magazine. Until the end of 1992 he was Deputy Chief Inspector in the Social Services Inspectorate Wales (Welsh Office) when he resigned to form his own development agency. He is a qualified social worker and has a local government social services background.

Arranging a programme

If this appears to meet your needs let us know how you want to target the learning and we will work out a detailed programme with you. Get in touch immediately (even if you are looking ahead somewhat) and we can arrange tentative dates to guarantee availability when you need it and provide you with what further information you require. We look forward to hearing from you.

© SSSP Ltd., September 2003