Luke Bevir argues that Violence Reduction Units are uniquely positioned as ‘place leaders’ to coordinate an effective multi-agency approach to addressing serious violence, and outlines four priorities for embedding change.
Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) are specialist units funded by the Home Office to lead a preventative, whole-system approach to violence reduction in local areas. They have been tasked with coordinating multi-agency working, engaging communities, sharing data, and delivering evidence-based interventions.
Through this unique role, VRUs are ideally positioned as ‘place leaders’.
‘Place leadership’ describes an approach to leadership that strengthens links between people, their communities, and the public services that are there to serve them. This works by breaking down silos and seeing places, communities, and neighbourhoods as a whole. It understands that challenges are complex and require solutions that are joined-up and involving a range of partners working together.
Operating across wide geographical footprints, VRUs transcend traditional local organisational boundaries. They can engage with a wide range of health and education services, local government, the police, and charities.
In addition, VRUs are able to take a long-term view and focus on the root causes of violence. In a context, where many public services are experiencing acute pressures, VRUs have an ability to stay above the crisis of day-to-day operations. Too often these pressures push other public services away from long-term thinking and collaboration to an inward focus on their own immediate problem.
The recently published evaluation of VRUs praises them for their success in coordinating planning and strategy between partners and providing focus and additional resource to the challenge of reducing systemic violence. The evaluation shows that VRUs are making good progress towards embedding an effective multi-agency approach. It states that VRUs have shown progress in their ability to engage with a wide range of partners, utilise partner’s expertise and resources, and coordinate a united response.
However, the evaluation is clear that there is still work to be done. Securing meaningful engagement from all partners, particularly from health and education sectors, is a challenge. VRUs are sometimes too focused on partners in the police.
Priorities for embedding change
Long-term transformational change of a system involving multiple partners requires a strong coalition of willing participants, new ways of working, new processes, new relationships. At Mutual Ventures, through our experience of delivering whole system change programmes, we know how hard this can be, but also that there is a lot that can be learnt from past successes.
In order to strengthen their multi-agency approach and ways of working, I think VRUs should focus on four key priorities:
Having a clear vision is key to securing buy-in from key operational and strategic partners. The vision must present a clear picture of how things could be and provide a clear route to achieving this. It needs to be developed organically and be specific to its context and the communities of people it serves.
Strong leadership is a key enabler. Leaders from across the partnership must be actively engaged in strategic planning and decision making, they have to own the change and push it through. Without this, it is unlikely to happen.
A people-centred approach focused on relationship building is needed to break out of silos and build commonality between partners. Having the right people in the right roles who share united values for this work is fundamental to embedding change.
Good governance structures, which include clear roles and responsibilities for different partners and inbuilt structures and personnel responsible for overseeing and delivering the change, is crucial. Across the 20 VRUs in England there are different governance models. Lots are working well but there is opportunity to share good practice so that every VRU is set up to succeed.
There has been a significant reduction in hospital admissions for any violent injury in areas with a VRU. Since funding began in 2019, an estimated 3,220 total (or 8 per 100,000 persons) hospital admissions for any violent injury have been prevented in funded areas.
The success of the first five years and a growing evidence based should galvanise policy-makers and public service leaders to continue the hard fight to addressing serious violence in our communities.