Collaboration – Are We Passing the Test?

The word ‘collaboration’ is once again doing the rounds in local government circles helping to drive transformation; well, to be honest did it ever go away? We have had Total Place, Whole Placed Budgets over the past decade to name but two high profile initiatives. Personally I thought Total Place in particular was a missed opportunity.

What do we mean by collaboration? My simplistic definition of collaborating is where publicly funded organisations, private sector agencies and third sector organisations are broadly working together with the same service users to deliver something of public value. They are working consistently together, rather than just consulting each other on an ad hoc basis. In this piece I’m focussing more on the organisational aspect and less on the changing relationship with the citizen – controversial I know 🙂

Image result for collaboration

The potential benefits of increased collaboration are numerous:

  • New or improved services
  • Wider geographical reach or access to new beneficiary groups
  • More integrated or co-ordinated approach to beneficiary needs
  • Financial savings and better use of existing resources
  • Knowledge, good practice and information sharing
  • Sharing the risk in new and untested projects
  • Capacity to replicate success
  • Stronger, united voice
  • Better co-ordination of organisations’ activities
  • Mutual support between organisations

Ultimately collaborative working should enable you better to meet your beneficiaries’ needs, in our context citizens and local communities.

There seem to be key components to successful collaboration, however do we pass the test in local government? Here are some themes and questions to see how we’re doing:

Appreciating the Service User’s Perspective

At the heart of successful collaboration has to be the service user’s perspective, if we agree:

  • How are you using outcome measures to trigger conversations about collaboration?
  • How much value do you give to the voices of service users in service design and policy design and in the way money flows?
  • Who have you invited to witness the collaborative working? Who holds a ‘whole system perspective’? How much power are you giving them?
  • What more could you do to promote consistent and regular service user participation in the system, at a local level, beyond holding elections?

Building services or new ways of working are essential, the degree to which we currently do this is eminently questionable to me.

Creating Common Purpose

Creating common purpose or ‘strategic vision’ is often dependent on a number of other activities – explaining what is important, and promoting collaborative working at the front line etc. So:

  • How often have you explained ‘why’ the collaboration is worth it recently?
  • How have you challenged and supported service professionals to adapt to working more collaboratively?
  • What more training might you offer to help people understand the need to work in this way?
  • How are professional competencies, professional development, and selection criteria geared to working collaboratively in order to improve services?

Creating a common purpose is in many ways the easy part, the key aspect is how it is inculcated into everyday business.

Insist on Whole System Approaches

In collaboration the use of power is very important. It includes the power of convening, of setting rules of engagement, of deadlines, goals and tight processes, even, occasionally, of imposing ideas. With this in mind:

  • What more could you do to insist on collaborative working?
  • Have you put in place enough people to work out the details so that organisations can join up and ‘stuff’ doesn’t get in the way?
  • Have you monitored your partners’ behaviours and challenged those who are not operating collaboratively?
  • What other sources of authority can you create for working collaboratively including financial sources?
  • Alternatively, to what extent are you over-emphasising this strand without giving attention to ‘creating common purpose’, ‘sharing power’, and ‘walking in the service user’s shoes’?

Sounds a bit ‘dictatorial’ no; I would put a more positive spin and say it is more about strong and effective leadership.

Sharing Power

Sharing power is surely about tolerating failures along the way and not blaming people for making mistakes. It should be about sharing risk on behalf of partners, ensuring there is local ownership, promoting inclusiveness even when you disagreed with partners, and promoting a sense of participation and agency. So then:

  • How could you share power more, to enable the complex system you lead, to adapt without you dictating the details?
  • In which domains do you need to be prescriptive and in which can you promote local autonomy? (e.g. process, recruitment, performance)
  • To what extent are you involving a community of practice in design and oversight, not just in implementation?
  • How are you handling not being ‘in control’?
  • How can you buy political space to give the time and authority to others in the system to change how the system is run, as opposed to limiting others’ room for manoeuvre?
  • How can you build on existing strong relationships?
  • In what ways are you supporting relationship building within the collaboration?

Tricky stuff, and one more thought – if the departure of key leaders is a significant risk to the collaboration, how can you use the citizen or service user’s perspective, ‘common purpose’, sources of authority for collaborative working, and power sharing to help the collaboration sustain?

To Conclude…

There have been and continue to be significant barriers to successful collaboration some of the main ones being: power struggles, institutional inertia, sharing resources, lack of passion and changes in leadership.

The ‘common purpose’ for collaboration can be significant, with financial gains to be had, alongside improved customer experience. The trouble is that collaboration is often fraught with challenges. Power struggles, systems that are not designed for collaboration, leadership instability, impatience for quick results, all threaten collaboration. Therefore, in the face of such challenges, the four central themes of appreciating the service user’s perspective, creating common purpose, insisting on whole system approaches and sharing power, become essential as an antidote to such barriers.

So, how do you and your organisation stack up?

Advertisements

Social Media Elections – Revolution or Integration?

As the ‘Pre-Election‘ period looms large and guidance for local government officers like myself is disseminated, noticeably the social media aspect of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” is front and centre! Does this mean we are moving, both locally and nationally, towards a truly Social Media based Election for 2015?

Being a heavy user of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. for work and pleasure it is clearly apparent that national and local political parties have upped their social media output. Undoubtedly the larger parties have their on-line strategies in place to help increase reach, engagement and persuade the electorate of their respective virtues.

It is well documented how President Obama used a Digital Strategy and particularly social media to help him win in 2008 and repeat the feet in 2012. A method of campaigning now adopted globally. The parties in the UK are gearing up and if you can get a copy of this research it’s interesting how certain parties get more traction on Twitter than Facebook and vice-versa.

Vote_Social-Media

On-line, Off-line or Both?

This is a lazily framed question really because right now it surely has to be, unlike my favourite whiskey, a blended approach! My educated guess is that social media is principally being utilised to attract the younger voter. Emerging research indicates that broadly speaking young people will be more influenced by social media, or at least more engaged by it, although it remains to be seen whether this will have much influence in terms of voting.

At the moment most people do not use social media to follow mainstream politics. Very astutely for now political parties are not using social media to engage directly with the electorate. They mainly seem to use platforms such as Twitter as a way of amplifying a message in traditional print or audio-visual media rather than asking people to actively participate in an issue that is of interest to them. Over time my feeling is this approach will change and more people will engage more directly via digital, however we are not there yet.

The foot soldiers will still be out leafleting, doorstepping, supporting local campaigns and so on. Just as they cannot afford to be absent from the digital world any more; it would equally be politically suicidal not to have a presence in traditional media and visibly doing the grass roots work – the off-line world at the moment remains the bread and butter of successful campaigning.

What Next Then?

Yes, the cliché is: “If I knew that…” Nonetheless, the move to digital campaigning is evidential merely by parties seeing the need to invest time and resources to this method of campaigning.

For me, the greatest traction being gained in local elections is through the growth of the ‘hyper-local’ campaigning and reporting: before, during and after whether we choose exercise our right to vote on 7th May – an argument succinctly articulated here.

So, for the time being I see Social Media approaches to elections as integrating into and augmenting established campaigning and media/reporting methods – the revolution, driven by the grass roots, is on it way but sometime in the not too distant future I feel!

Diversity + Inclusion = Productivity!

The title of this blog encapsulates the approach I am taking on helping to modernise the Diversity strategy in the council I work for, more of that in a moment. It’s just over a year since Government Digital Service published an good blog on a checklist around digital inclusion and there have been many others since.

inclusion

Still enthused by our #notwestminster event at the start of the month I’m genuinely excited by the future. My excitement is slightly tempered by the nagging thought that Digital has the potential, if we’re not careful, to perpetuate inequalities in society, for example:

  • who gets access
  • who is digitally literate
  • does everyone know the rules of engagement
  • are organisations prepared to be truly open

Many other aspects exist, however for me this is where the on-line and off-line worlds collide in respect of encouraging Diversity and tackling Inequality. Back to my current thinking on this ‘off-line’. In the Einstein-ish equation Diversity + Inclusion = Productivity, the final element vis-à-vis public service is not about profit but focusses on improved services.

Beyond tokenism

Diversity has traditionally been thought of in terms of the ‘visible’ differences between people, such as gender, race, disability etc. with a focus on eliminating discrimination based on these differences.

Diversity is about those differences, but this narrow definition ultimately short-changes what it really means. Diversity is about what makes each of us unique and includes our backgrounds, personality, life experiences and beliefs. In fact, all of the things that make us who we are. It is a combination of the visible and invisible differences that shape our view of the world, our perspective and our approach.

This broader view of diversity is encapsulated by the idea that diversity is really about diversity of ‘thought’[i] – where different perspectives and capabilities are the point of difference, rather than our visible characteristics. Whether it be off-line or on-line I believe we need innovative ideas from anywhere and anyone to transform services, however this must be open to all!

So what does this mean for the business case for diversity? A lot. It offers a more inclusive and engaging discussion than one focused on visible diversity, which is often duality and therefore divisive. And it creates a new line of inquiry about the nature of the business case, shifting the question from ‘How can increasing gender, racial, LGBT, disability, age diversity etc. help us improve business outcomes?’ to ‘How rich is our knowledge bank?’, ‘Do we have the variety of perspectives necessary to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions?’ and ‘Are we fully valuing and leveraging the potential of all our communities and employees?

These questions need to be answered in the ‘digital’ world as much as the ‘physical’ one.

Diversity is leveraged through inclusion

But more than just changing the business case conversation, focusing on diversity of thought enables us to see people as individuals rather than as representatives of a group and this helps us to find common ground when working together. It provides a focal point that is applicable across different cultural and national contexts. And while research on diversity and performance often focuses on visible diversity, the case connecting diversity of thought to engagement and innovation is growing and appears more solid than the causal link between gender, race, LGBT etc. and business success.

NB: recognition still needs to be given to the fact that certain groups have and continue to face greater discrimination than others in society.

Simply ‘having’ diversity is not enough

Diversity is leveraged through ‘inclusion’ – the extent to which individuals feel valued and included by an organisation, a process or way of working. This is achieved through inclusive leadership, namely by ensuring all communities and employees have the opportunity to fulfil their individual and combined potential. According to Miller and Katz (2002): “Inclusion increases the total human energy available to the organisation. People can bring far more of themselves to their jobs because they are required to suppress far less”[ii].

Diversity and inclusion are therefore related but different concepts. You can have a diverse workforce without inclusion; and inclusion without diversity[iii]. But one without the other is only half of the business performance equation. Again, put simply: diversity + inclusion = improved business outcomes.

It is therefore a reasonable inference to make that if organisations can see a more granular link between diversity and business outcomes through the lens of inclusion, and this link resonates with personal experiences, then the business case for diversity will be more tangible.

And this will help to close the perception gap between diversity and the bottom line.

Improved customer insight and service

Any organisation should be committed to providing high quality services through understanding and meeting individual customer needs and aspirations. We know that these differ from customer to customer, so we will adjust our services accordingly to ensure that they all have a fair and open chance to use and benefit from our services.

So, our commitment means understanding and meeting the needs of customers regardless of their diversity.

The diversity of a workforce can and should provide invaluable customer insight and lead to more effective and targeted services and/or provision to meet customer or the communities’ needs – again helping to deliver the ‘bottom line’.

To Conclude…

Whether it be internal to an organisation or external collaboration with communities we need to embrace Diversity as core to our business, whatever that may be. I believe if we adopt such an approach within public services via Digital greater creativity, ideas and solutions will emerge to address the challenges we face, resulting in benefits such as:

  • more citizen-led and shaped services
  • better informed and engaged communities
  • increased involvement, representation and engagement
  • greater involvement in the democratic process
  • community resilience and capacity building

The digital tools are out there and growing in numbers all the time, some good examples here in the Creating Digital Communities report by the Tinder Foundation and some excellent thoughts from John Popham’s in his recent piece ‘Making Digital Inclusion Mainstream’. It’s our responsibility to make digital tools and mechanisms accessible to all and maximise the assets/ideas that everyone possesses.

My enthusiasm has never been higher but we must avoid a ‘Digital Divide’; if not the potential of democracy and equity on-line will be undermined! Sentiments excellently outlined here in a presentation ‘Digital inclusion – by default or intervention?’ –

——————————————————

[i] 2010 USA State of Workplace Diversity Management Society for Human Resource Management.

[ii] Miller, F.A. & Katz, J.H. (2002) The Inclusion Breakthrough Berrett-Koehler Publishers, CA USA.

[iii] Kandola, B. (2009) The Value of Difference – Eliminating bias in organisations Pearn Kandola Publishing, Oxford UK.

It’s Up for Grabs Now!

“It’s up for grabs now,” hollered a disbelieving football commentator Brian Moore as Michael Thomas Michael-Thomas--001careered through the Liverpool defence in injury time of the final game of the season. Within seconds, the midfielder had bundled the ball over a bamboozled Bruce Grobbelaar and my beloved Arsenal had wrenched the title from the home side’s grasp. This sentiment is how I feel about society right now.

My two kids live in an unrecognisable society, in many ways, to the one I was born in – 1966, hence BundyBoy66! No Pythonesque “you were lucky…” here because to me it’s just different, yet common themes remain core in our narrative: inequality is rising, groups of people demonised, the World’s at war, disaffection all around, I could go on… This is my first quick foray into the ‘blogosphere’ and I want to inject some positivism into these austere and challenging times.

Being part of the fantastic team who coordinated Local Democracy for Everyone – We’re not in Westminster any more in Huddersfield 7th Feb 2015 reminded me what’s at stake and who’s up for it. The room was packed with young people, the experienced, Cllrs, reps from all sectors – all looking to make a difference. A number of great blogs have been written about the event, many key ones captured here – top job Spencer!

Wider than #notwestminter (which trust me will become a force for change!) is how collectivism/community and democracy can be enhanced by Digital. It is no panacea but I really see it as one of the key ways democracy can go back to grass roots and increase citizen engagement. Here’s a practical example from one the participants at #notwestminster voXup – check out this cracking idea! The point being that Digital has the potential to empower, democratise and equalise; however for me, whether you work for a PLC, charity, social enterprise, local council etc. it needs to be based on a public service ethos!

community

I’m lucky to have an incredibly varied job which involves projects such Social Value, Diversity and Equality, supporting the VCS, Community Cohesion. All of these areas have massive challenges, however whether it’s because or in-spite of our current adverse times I get the sense people not only need but want change.

Digital can and will help with the required transformation. The recent Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy report has some great recommendations; my favourite being having a secure on-line voting option by 2020. YEAH…why not! My focus though is local and no criticism intended but voting is an ‘output’ greater citizen engagement is an ‘outcome’.

I’ll sign off for now, suffice to say let’s ignore the shouts about apathy and disengagement; a massive part of the future is how all institutions/bodies go where the people are – not forgetting the dangers of exclusion, increasingly Digital is where it’s at. Change is coming…I love this TED Talk on Upgrading our Democracy.

Believe me, the future – “It’s Up for Grabs Now!”