It is important to understand how current services are actually delivered ‘on the ground’. The services specified to meet users’ needs must be realistically capable of being delivered by providers and provide a sound basis for decommissioning decisions.
It is also important to have a good understanding of how services are actually being delivered, against the original specification. The reality of service delivery may be different to what commissioners may perceive it to be with services changing over time and no longer being in line with the original terms of the grant or contract. This may be due to users’ needs evolving, poor delivery management by the provider, and/or poor monitoring by the commissioner.
Assessing the current performance of providers and whether they are meeting the needs of users is an important part of this. Poor monitoring in the past can create a disjuncture between both what is happening and what is needed ‘on the ground’ and what is commissioned or decommissioned strategically. This leads to an ineffective and top down approach to decommissioning – ‘ivory tower decommissioning’ -especially when commissioners are dealing with hundreds of contracts at any one time. However, commissioners should be able to achieve a sufficient level of understanding, for example through contract monitoring data, user feedback, service review information and asking providers for their assessment of the impact of the service.
Understanding current services is also crucial to gain a picture of what works and what does not. Here providers may be able to add significant knowledge to the decommissioning process in relation to understanding needs, the quality and scope of services and the potential for innovation and improvement. It is important to focus on meeting needs and improving outcomes, as opposed to starting from the perspective of services. Providers can bring user needs to the fore and a good relationship with providers is an opportunity to draw on their knowledge and market intelligence.
Finally, a key part of this stage of decommissioning is to understand the provider market for the services being considered. If commissioners are considering re-commissioning a decommissioned service or significantly altering a specification, they must be sure that there is the capacity or expertise in the provider market to respond to this.