Clarifying vision and direction for sensory services

Sensory Services by Sight for Surrey

“The service we received was really high quality. I wouldn’t hesitate to use Action Planning again and I would recommend them to others.”

Clare Burgess, CEO, Sensory Services by Sight for Surrey

Sensory Services by Sight for Surrey provides highly specialist support for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, partially sighted and deafblind. Its work is funded by voluntary donations and by the delivery of a number of contracts on behalf of the Local Authority.

Every year they have a Board awayday. With both the CEO and Chair new in post, they both agreed their next away day would benefit from some independent facilitation. In researching their options, they were recommended Action Planning and discovered that the organisation had worked with them before, about 10 years ago.

“I thought the website was very good, the breadth of knowledge and experience presented was good, and we could have picked any outcomes and Action Planning could have helped us to reach them,” said CEO Clare Burgess.

We were asked to facilitate a Board away day with the primary focus on strategy and the relationship and responsibility between trustees and the senior management team, to increase their effectiveness in serving their users and supporting their staff. They wanted to agree a clear sense of shared purpose between the SMT and the Board, to agree on where they were currently on their strategic journey and identify and agree the outcomes they needed to achieve, and to develop their Vision and our Values.

David Saint carried out the assignment, preparing for the awayday by interviewing delegates in person and online in advance. Some of these interviews required the help of an interpreter, and there was a team of interpreters and communications support at the Awayday itself.

“These were useful conversations,” said Clare. “Certainly my conversation with David got me thinking. He was challenging my assumptions; made me reassess but also reinforced, validated, reassured.”

The two main findings from David’s interviews were that the trustees had different levels of understanding of their roles and that the relationship between roles of trustees and the SMT was not sufficiently clear. So he began with a session on the duties of trustees, the role of senior management and the relationship between management and governance. He then challenged delegates with some decision-making scenarios, which they discussed in groups.

After lunch David moved on to strategic planning, working in groups again to draw out SMART objectives. He ended the day with a session on Vision and Values, drawing from delegates’ suggestions and SMART objectives to present a shortlist.

“David did a great job,” said Clare. “It could have been quite intimidating for him because our group included people who are blind or partially sighted, deaf, and those with combined sight and hearing loss, and a range of communication support to make the sessions accessible for all.  There was quite a crowd! He had thought about accessibility in advance, and on the whole it went smoothly and gave us some good ideas to make the next one even better.  Everybody had an opportunity to contribute.”

The trustees and SMT came away with a better understanding of each other and more clarity over their respective roles. They have since agreed a final list of Values from the shortlist and have continued to work on and finalise their Vision. “I feel like we’ve got a clear path,” said Clare.


Consultant’s insight
Sight for Surrey really models “service user involvement”, with several of its trustees being deaf, hard of hearing, blind, partially sighted or deafblind. This requires a high level of patience from all parties, each allowing time for colleagues to receive input and share thoughts, in their own ways. This makes for a very different and more polite kind of trustees meeting, and awayday, in which people are more usually jostling to get a word in!

The awayday could have been quite challenging to facilitate, with multiple forms of sign language interpretation going on, and the need to describe the contents of slides for the benefit of those who could not see them. But the interpreters were skilled and professional and it became relatively easy to forget their presence after a while.

Those aspects aside, it was an awayday like any other – a pleasant hotel meeting room; coffee and croissants; flip charts and Post-it notes, enthusiastic participants; far more to be covered than was possible in the available time; some really valuable outcomes; exhaustion at the end!

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