Delivery that responds to needs: Safety, Security and Belonging

How does public policy satisfy human needs?  This may at first seem like a straightforward question, but are we sure we know the answer?

On a day to day to basis services are delivered which provide support to people in numerous practical ways attending to many direct physical and resource needs. Health provision is an example. Despite the current financial difficulties, this will clearly continue to main form of delivery. However, when it comes to some of the difficult challenges public bodies face, a weak point in delivery can often be around the issue of responding to emotional and psychological needs. Often this is seen as something only to be targeted to respond to a small number of people, rather than an issue that should be considered when developing public policy.

We think this is important across the board as our values are derived from our unconscious motivation to satisfy a range of needs as we navigate our way through day to day life. A need is something that is necessary for us to meet if we want to live a physically and emotionally healthy life. Needs can be objective and physical, such as food and water, or they can be subjective and psychological, such as the need for security or self-esteem. In very broad terms, from the values based research we have conducted, we believe that there are three primary needs, which – as we strive as individuals to satisfy them – drive the choices we make:

  • For some the dominant need is the first need we all have – the desire to be (and to feel) safe and secure
  • For others the dominant need is our secondary need – the desire for the esteem of others
  • For others the dominant need is our ultimate need – to seek self-fulfilment and pursue our own personal goals

The key thing to understand is that it is from our ‘dominant need’ that our values – what is most important to us to satisfy our current needs – are derived. And when faced with a decision it is these values that provide the unconscious ‘frame’ that kicks in and sets the context before we actually take action.

Once we understand values, we understand what makes people tick. And we can start to understand how they might perceive services, how to deliver them in an empathetic way that matches their values and, crucially, how to motivate them to do things.

UK based values segmentation data is based on 37 years of data collected via the British Values Survey of 8,500 nationally representative respondents – augmented by over 20.000 interviews per year.

Lets look at a recent study into needs of a specific group based on wider UK data and local insight conducted by TCC for a North of England PCT on the issue of teenage sexual pregnancy.I am grateful to Pat Dade of Cultural Dynamics, who work closely with TCC on many projects, for the following example:

Example Needs Set – Teenage Sexual Health – Research Notes based on material provided by Pat Dade

  • These young people are not the same as adults. They are confused young teenage girls caught up with emotions and needs they are ill-equipped to deal with. However we also must remember the equally confused and vulnerable teenage boys as the other half of this equation. We cannot deal with one without dealing with the other.
  • This is about a need for belonging. It’s not about the morals of bad behaviour, even if some outside their world believe it is a story of a ruined life and a future without hope.
  • These young people perceive themselves to be desperate for that belonging in a world that is leaving them behind. We may think they have all the time to make decisions, but that is not what concerns them at this point in time. The have not satisfied their fundamental needs for belonging or even for safety and security
  • First we need to tackle issues around safety and security. This is not just the provision of benefits, but also the emotional support that might need to substitute for weak parental support. Life for these young people is episodic and short-term, rather than future oriented and continuous if those early needs were satisfied and they were in a positive process of satisfying their belonging needs.
  • We also must recognise that when one seeks to satisfy these basic needs, there is little or no desire to be motivated to change things. At this stage of their life they are likely to be non-reflective. They do not want to be told their good or bad points. They are also highly likely to be on a “be satisfied with what you have got” outlook. The family role models (mother, sisters and cousins for example) are likely to lead to a sense of fatalism that leads to the non-safe behaviours you will be concerned about.
  • Without family role models the need for group role models becomes more important. Word of mouth engagement through appropriately trained and supported local people is key to connecting with this group. Reading/analytical skills are likely to be low, so leaflets and the Internet just will not suit their way of receiving and absorbing information. The role of the informal social network is absolutely key here. We need to be able to infiltrate their networks with the messages that come from relevant and trusted sources. Messages from outsiders will simply be seen as telling them they are wrong and will be just added to the list of people (teachers, adults etc) who already do that to them, often to little effect
  • Even those young people who have more security and safety in their home life are still vulnerable if their needs for belonging are not satisfied as this could lead them to undertake risky behaviours to achieve acceptance. What we find is the desire for inclusion is less strong than the fear of exclusion from their existing social networks. As a result we find the fear of exclusion from a marginalised group they already belong to is far more likely to drive behaviour than the desire to be accepted by more mainstream young people within their community. Sex in this context is much less about hedonism than a way to cement a place within their social network. Thus an appeal to abstinence as a result of the risk is a non-starter if the result is its leads to less belonging.
  • In order to create a solution, we need detailed local research into these motivators as well as how people them rationalise and justify their behaviour after. It also requires talking to the teenage boys as well as the teenage girls. The boys are likely to have similar needs of safety, security and then perhaps belonging they wish to satisfy within their own social networks.
  • Whilst schools can be providers of some information, they may not be seen as providers of security and safety to the target audience. Indeed through issues such as bullying and peer group pressure they might be seen exactly in the opposite light, leading to exclusions and involuntary absence, which may itself provide the opportunities for more risky sexual activity – eg parents out of home during the day?
  • The role of others in the process also needs to be looked at. The role of social workers working with children at risk. Often they are not trained to understand the young people’s current needs to be able to suggest alternative behaviours that can seek to satisfy the need in a safe way and thus reduce the risks. They are also not trained in the language needed to converse at the level of those needs. One of the problems is that those staff, will, like us, have satisfied those more basic needs and thus hold a set of values that is often totally not in tune with the target groups of young people. We found this when we worked in a number of communities in the North of England and East London, so our work was not just about finding and supporting positive people in the community who could convey word of mouth messages, but also ensuring the professional staff talked in the same language that addressed the psychological needs of the people in question. If they get to that level of conversation, interventions will be so much more effective.


What this tells us is that a target group may have a range of needs that need to be addressed at various points. Also satisfying one set of needs may lead to another set of needs arising, so there is no single magic bullet, more the need to recognise that people can change and insight and ongoing engagement needs to be able to dynamically change to reflect any changing values that may arise from new needs. Building a clearer evidence base to really understand needs in some communities is likely to be increasingly important for when local government takes the lead in future on tackling public health challenges .

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company.


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