Better ethical commissioning through peer learning

Published on 4 Aug 2022

Josie Vallely, Service Designer at Iriss, shares her reflections on supporting people to embed ethical principles in practice. 


Together with my colleague, Louise Bowen, I have been supporting people to use our ethical commissioning course, launched in May of this year.  The course is an online learning resource, and while we know people often work independently, and perhaps more so now in a post-Covid world, we recognised the importance of connecting people up.

To get people engaged, we set up a number of learning cohorts or groups. These cohorts would bring people together to work through the course content in a way that would encourage discussion and reflection, and help them to imagine a future where ethical commissioning is the norm. We’re now coming to the end of our first cohort, and so, here’s some of the learning from it.

A peer learning environment

We envisaged that the cohorts would be a kind of step-by-step process through the course. However, it quickly became apparent that the first group was able to offer much more and to each other – that it wasn’t a simple ‘paint by numbers’ type approach. 

The cohort became a peer learning environment where everyone could bring their own perspective and leverage as ‘system stewards’ in their particular settings. By system stewards we mean those who are responsible for, and manage, commissioning processes in their work context. The systems and processes in each setting, whether that be a local authority or organisation, can be complex and so learning about other people's experiences, seeing the similarities and differences and potential, was helpful to the group. 

People really clarified their thinking and processes. Conversations revolved around embedding ethical principles in practice and moving towards partnership working. One thing I took away from the process was that the most interesting case studies and workable examples are those that don't offer a picture-perfect ethical commissioning setup. Often they include principles or parts of an ethical commissioning approach and make a start in changing the system. This is inspiring as it gives impetus to begin to make change without waiting for the perfect conditions.

The group discussed creating a network, but decided more clarity and thought would be needed around its purpose. For now we will link up with partners in this area to deliver more focused conversation events – spaces for systems stewards to come together and share their experiences, frustrations, and of course wins, big or small.

You’re invited to join these conversations if you’re involved in commissioning. If you’re not already on our news list, join now to keep up to date with events and developments.

It's a pleasure to work with people who are endeavouring to make positive change in their settings. As a service designer with an interest in systems and learning, it can be easy to feel a little disconnected from what's happening on the ground. I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to our first cohort. I would also encourage anyone who has an interest in ethical commissioning to jump into the online course. You can complete it in your own time and at your own pace. 

Get in touch if you have any questions or want to chat about this work.