© rawpixel4 / iStock
© rawpixel4 / iStock

In the past few months I’ve talked a lot about ‘Access’ and why it is becoming so important.

But how do you use the concept of Access in designing your services and interventions?

Most of our work is driven by wanting to solve a problem for a particular group: creating livelihood opportunities for disabled people, reducing the stigma of HIV and AIDS to improve adherence to treatment, empowering young people to engage with leaders about improvements to their education, etc. We like to think that we’re creating these interventions based on evidence, consultation with stakeholders and advice from donors and policy makers. But, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, sometimes we’re just trying to solve the wrong problem.

Access is a fundamental issue that affects everything and understanding how to apply it will tell you both why your intervention is needed and how to deliver that intervention.

Let’s work through an example:
Let’s say that your organisation provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation support, specifically for out of work young men, some of whom are homeless. Your aim is to see them back in full time work and off the streets. You provide recovery programmes, employability training and support and housing and debt advice. You have clear referral pathways into and from other organisations that you partner with and you have a great relationship with the local authority, which also provides a large chunk of funding for you to do this work. While you are supporting a growing number of beneficiaries and seeing considerable throughput in your services, you’re just not seeing that impact: few of the young men that you’re supporting do end up in full time work and of the homeless, most end up back on the streets for a time before being referred back to you. In fact you’ve ended up with a core group you know very well. So what’s going wrong? 

Well, think about the following two questions:

  1. Who is this service really designed for: a) the local authority; b) the young men; c) your organisation?
  2. Although your mission is about full time employment and homelessness, what are you really delivering and how are you delivering it?

I would suggest that:

  1. This service is actually designed for the local authority and your organisation
  2. You’re really delivering training courses wrapped in a dependency rehabilitation service

What’s missing for young men in this example is access to services that really make a difference. If you asked the young men what they needed or wanted that would help, they are unlikely to list any of these services (even though these are all important steps on their pathway). This service misses the fact that these young men might be dealing with core issues affecting their mental health, stability of their home life, lower education achievements, etc which this service does nothing to address.

Using an Access lens to re-design this service, you’d start by putting the young men in the centre of the service provision. Start with understanding what influences them and what they have influence over and how important your service is to them. As a stakeholder group, understand what their ‘stake’ is in participating in the service. Then design the service from the ground up again. You will probably find that while the work you did before is still there in some shape, you’re doing more mental health support, providing a family reconciliation service, literacy and numeracy services, etc.

So Access means fully understanding the needs, drivers and motivations of the people you’re trying to help, and then enabling them to fully design and participate in the intervention that you design, in as holistic a way as possible.

But you have to be very brave when working through an Access lens: if you find at the end of this process that your service is just not that important to your stakeholders, perhaps it shouldn’t exist.

How brave are you?


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