In June 1976, the Sex Pistols played Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall. The concert turned out to be so important to music history that the usual comparisons are Woodstock and Live Aid. Under 40 people went that night, but the numbers subsequently claiming to ‘have been there when…’ are in the thousands.

‘I saw them before they were famous’ is a well-worn brag of music snobs. Yet this is our abiding feeling having facilitated AphA’s (the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts) recent strategy away day.

We found a small organisation facing a huge agenda; a relatively young organisation thrust into the Goldacre Review’s spotlight; and a resource constrained organisation facing the blessing and curse of ‘too much’ choice. It was a pleasure to support them through the day.

By any popular stereotype, ‘analyst away day’ should be a biscuit-dry, dull affair. (Certainly it shouldn’t be one that triggers comparisons with the Sex Pistols). People capable of detailed analytical work are not notorious for their ability to think broadly. People known for breaking things down apart aren’t renounced for creative synthesis. And people with mathematical ability are not famed for their enthusiastic participation in group exercises.

Yet this was an enjoyable day, with a buzz (and laughter) reflecting the growing position that AphA – and the analyst profession more broadly – finds itself in.

Our contribution was to structure and facilitate the conversation. We did so, guided by two simple questions from two unlikely luminaries of strategy:

  1. Marvin Gaye, and his essential starting point: ‘What’s going on’?

We began by asking people to reflect on AphA: to tell the organisation’s story from their perspective, before then considering its external environment. This revealed an organisation rooted in purpose, surrounded by an invigorating - if also sometimes bewildering - range of opportunities.

  1. Lenin, and his consequent and more practical question of ‘What is to be done?’

AphA is resource constrained. Addressing all the opportunities it faces would exhaust these resources many, many times over. So how to focus? Working through these exercises revealed four ‘Ps’ for AphA to plan against:

People – how can AphA expand and energise its membership?

Proposition – what value can AphA add to the different groups (analysts, employers, decision makers, etc) it works with?   

Profile – how can AphA help people to understand, and engage with its propositions?

Prosperity (or – urgh - ‘Phinance’) – how can AphA make the most of its existing resources, while generating more for future action?

So the conversation began open and exploratory, before focusing down on practicality. Time – and maybe next year’s away day – will tell how this cashes out into action.

Our hope is that this plays out well for AphA. Certainly they are advancing an agenda that the Strategy Unit supports. And – following the work of Goldacre and many others – there is a world of opportunity opening up for analysts in health and care settings. There is a lot to go at, and many changes that need making along the way.  

The profession and AphA could be at a pivotal moment. Maybe in a few years’ time, we will be able to say we saw them before they were famous…