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June 2024

Opening a tin of tuna ...

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

I am on a tight schedule, with just enough time for a quick lunchtime sandwich between online meetings.

But the fridge is pretty bare after our return from a weekend away, so I grab a tin of tuna from the cupboard and a can opener from the cutlery drawer. However, after several fruitless attempts, the can is pierced but still not open. Indeed, it was getting rather mangled in the process.

My wife joins me in the kitchen and some problem solving ensues. We switch between a knife and the can opener to prise off the lid.

We figure out the lid of the tin isn’t catching correctly between the two cutting wheels of the opener, so we adjust the angle slightly to give them more ‘bite’.

And after some further ‘attacking the tin’ … it opens …ta-da!

Problem solving is something all of us do, all of the time. Even since hunter-gathering societies developed basic skills to navigate the challenges of finding food, shelter, and to avoid being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers, problem solving has woven itself completely into the fabric of our existence.

As human societies became increasingly complex, the need to problem solve grew too. During the Renaissance, problem-solving took on new dimensions with the rise of scientific inquiry and the development of the scientific method. Galileo, Newton and Descartes formalised systematic approaches to understanding the natural world and solving complex problems through observation, experimentation and deduction. The Industrial Revolution marked another milestone in our problem-solving history.

More recently we have seen problem solving central to virtually every aspect of human endeavour, from successfully mapping the entire human genome to tackling global challenges such as COVID-19.

My small-scale tuna tin problem solving made me think more about this process as a step in a wider context of change.

With good timing, I happened to be re-reading a very interesting 2023 blog from the British Medical Journal which interviewed Helen Bevan (see In conversation with Dr Helen Bevan, OBE – The official blog of BMJ Leader).

Regular readers of this blog will recognise that I have referenced Helen Bevan before. Helen is a remarkable individual who has influenced large-scale change in the NHS over the last 20 years, as Chief Transformation Officer. In this interview she describes how in any change situation there are both formal and informal systems at work:

‘In the formal system, there are people with authority that can command or are held to account for change in a formal way. And then there is the informal system, those people who are the informal influencers, who very significantly influence other people.

There is a new branch of thinking and practice called Social Analytics that can help us identify the influencers. In a typical organization, social analytics tell us that around 3% of people drive 85% of the communication.’

Interesting … 3% of people driving 85% of the communication.

One of the aims of this monthly blog is to try and connect with the informal change makers and influencers in our safeguarding adults network. I like to think I might be reaching some of you (and I’m happy for you to share the blog with others you know who have an interest in safeguarding adults). I am looking for the ‘3%ers' Helen describes, to help us keep driving the change we need. And if change is about solving problems, I am on the lookout for a few more problem solvers, too.

Problem solving in any area of practice is always challenging. Problem solving to strengthen our safeguarding adult practice is just that.

In this context it requires bringing together lots of different perspectives to address complex and sensitive issues effectively. We have to contend with situations in which the adults who may be at risk of or suffering abuse and harm often face multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities such as physical disabilities, mental health issues and social isolation. This is coupled with the fact that abuse is often hidden (victims may be reluctant to disclose abuse due to fear, dependency on the abuser, or lack of awareness) or covert, making detection difficult. And so knowing and defining the problem and any solution is all the more challenging..

As Albert Einstein reminded us:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

At the recent Norfolk Safeguarding Adult Board (NSAB) development day there was discussion about how best we might tackle some of the ongoing issues we face as a partnership.

For problem solving previously we have used our Prevention, Managing and Responding and Learning Lessons & Improving Future Practice subgroup, or PML for short.

Although it has been some considerable time since a PML meeting was held, PML has helped the partnership tackle ‘thorny’ safeguarding adult problems. It brings together a wide range of colleagues from across the Norfolk safeguarding partnership to work in a problem solving way. In fact, for PML to be most effective, it absolutely needs a wide membership. The PML meetings have some distinctive features including:

  • Longer meetings (running for most of a day) to give us the time to really get stuck into the problem
  • Wherever possible, doing the work in the room, so people don’t have to take away actions
  • An iterative process, using a series of ‘trigger questions’ to ‘unpack’ a thorny issue and hopefully find solutions to support the partnership

While we did try to run PML sessions virtually, this is one meeting that needs to be done in the room, together. Going forward, whether we use PML or our existing Locality Safeguarding Adults Partnerships in a problem solving way is yet to be worked out.

Whatever the problem solving ‘space’ for safeguarding adults in Norfolk, two things are clear:

  1. We have two topics to work on: organisational abuse and looking at what is an effective countywide response to cuckooing / ‘exploitative friendships’ (this is linked to SAR S, to be published in June).

  2. We need a few more ‘problem solvers’ to boost this approach. A number of great colleagues have already signed up, or are working with our LSAPs, and I would like to add a few more. Just to be clear, this is not about making up the numbers. I am looking for active participants to jump into discussions, to get fully involved (this is not a meeting to sit quietly in with one eye on responding to emails). The rewards will be great, helping Norfolk find solutions to challenging, important areas of work.

So, if you fancy helping generate new thinking to solve problems, please get in touch and we can have a chat. Perhaps you are one of the informal influencers or 3%ers that Helen Bevan was talking about? I would love you to join us in finding solutions to big safeguarding adult topics AND then help drive change.

Thank you

Walter Lloyd-Smith
NSAB Board Manager

Email: [email protected]