Vic Citarella delves further into the significance of ‘purpose’ for service users and the workforce in the Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) projects.

Indications are emerging from evaluations that the ‘purpose’ of each Fulfilling Lives project is very important in generating value and ownership. For beneficiaries, engaging in meaningful activities appears to create a vital sense of purpose. Equally for the workforces involved feedback suggests that the ‘purposeful’ nature of job roles generates added value and personal motivation. In my last workforce blog, I suggested that the value stemmed from four sources:

  • Meaningful service user engagement
  • Concepts of open-endedness and persistence (turned into practice)
  • The ideas around psychologically informed environments (PIE) and the like
  • Systems Change

In focussing on workforce matters in this series of blogs I have therefore dug a bit deeper to address questions such as: what is the purpose of purpose? How is purpose agreed, described and refreshed? What is it about the four sources which users and workers value that drives them on to achieve their goals?

The purpose of purpose

For me, a sense of purpose is captured in mission statements and, among other things, is about the vision, values and principles that motivate and convince the workforce that they are doing the right thing. This is the stuff of leadership and governance, but here I will confine myself to a few thoughts about the possible drivers for the Fulfilling Lives workforces.

I have drawn an inverted pyramid to show what may be the sort of response from Fulfilling Lives workers to being questioned about why they do what they do. The inversion and size of the segments is indicative of what I feel would be the weight of the varying responses. I have arrived at this viewpoint from listening to people in the projects and more generally in the supporting and caring for people world over many years.




Few are in it purely for the money and many in the Fulfilling Lives projects are volunteers, apprentices or trainees.  I would suggest they would put things like team mates, camaraderie, a good boss and training opportunities ahead of actual pay and other financial benefits.

Not doing harm

I use this as short-hand for compliance with the policies and procedures of being a worker. Perhaps a negative motivator but a motivator nonetheless. Here, people’s behaviour at work is shaped by the rules around health and safety, safeguarding, recording, confidentiality, data protection, lone-working, whistle-blowing, discipline and grievance and the like. In short, all the things that emphasize that before we can do good we must ensure we ‘do no harm’.

I deliberately use this ‘not doing harm’ descriptor rather than the more positive ideas around prevention of harm to beneficiaries because of a common organisational preoccupation with risk as being something dangerous. In fact, the Fulfilling Lives projects are a conscious step to be not just motivated by doing things right (the procedures) but to do the right thing (take an asset-based approach to building on beneficiary’s strengths).

However, as it is the workforce and their practice managers who take actual risks to assist people escape harmful situations and behaviours it is important that the organisations provide clarity and support. The ‘do no harm’ principle offers clearness as it says the organisation does not rule out any action (or inaction) unless it is proscribed as harmful. The necessary support to the workforce dealing with stressful situations comes in many forms and will be the subject of future blogs – any thoughts on this drop me a note.

Recovery and/or occupation

I could have put excellence and/or improvement in this segment. These words were chosen with care as being of relevance to the workforce in Fulfilling Lives. Recovery is a goal for many in the projects – both workers and users. The projects are seeking ways to define and measure recovery with the ultimate goal of a fulfilling life. One measure is occupation – when what we do is valued it is fulfilling. Some workers in the projects are themselves ‘recovered’ or ‘recovering’ and this gives added value to the purpose.

Putting something back

To ‘put something back’ is important to all of us. We all want to be contributors as well as beneficiaries. We all have something to offer and are not just takers. It is core to realising everybody’s strengths as well as meeting needs. All people in the projects – users, workers, volunteers, friends – are assets with knowledge, skills and experience to share. This purpose is not just relevant to recovery it is central to the self-esteem of each individual member of the workforce as a professional.

Making a difference

In my experience, this is the first response given when people are asked why they work in projects like Fulfilling Lives. Being successful in achieving purpose is what it is all about. The evidence we want is to know that we have made a difference by supporting people as they seek to survive and accomplish. The critical factor is that we ‘do things with’ people rather than ‘for’ or even ‘to’ them. Self-direction is key to fulfilment and ‘support’ the essential activity. I did a word map of the purpose statements of the 12 Fulfilling Lives projects which showed this writ large.



How is purpose agreed, described and refreshed?

I am not sure that I know the answer to this about the Fulfilling Lives projects yet. In organisations, it is most usually a role and responsibility of leaders and governing bodies. It is likely that the leadership teams of the projects are charged with seeing that these tasks around purpose are undertaken. It is how they go about it, who they involve and the approach to communication which will be finding favour with both service users and workers alike. Readers wanting to develop their approach may find the co-production materials from Think Local Act Personal a helpful starting point

Drawing on the national and local evaluations to date, I would suggest the project’s purposes reveal the following:

  • An approach to leadership and management which has user-led attributes
  • Governance, or the way things are decided, involves users and workers.
  • There is continued aspiration to co-produce the design of the service offer, how things are done and checked. Training may be participative for practitioners. Research and evaluation is engaging of workers.
  • It is theory turned into practice which gives purpose to the workforce. An example is the ideas and theories around Psychologically Informed Environments (PIEs) or those of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) which can provide underpinning to the model of practice.
  • A realisation that systems leadership is a necessity to sustain change and recovery not just for individuals but for whole services and the way they are commissioned.

I will stop there – less is more when it comes to blogging – and invite readers to reflect on the following questions:

  • What motivates you in your work with Fulfilling Lives? What is your individual purpose?
  • How do you agree, describe and refresh the purpose of your project?
  • Which theoretical thinking have you found helpful in shaping your practice?

I’d be delighted to hear your responses, so please write to me with your thoughts.

Vic Citarella
Company Director CPEA Ltd. 07947 680 588|