Better cross-sector collaboration is about people not just structures

Our report calls for more fluid movement of people between the public, private and social sectors. Every sector has to have a hand in developing creative solutions to the challenges facing public services.

What do the cost of living crisis, scandals in outsourcing and debates over jobs, growth and inequality have in common? Perhaps your answer fits your politics. But at root, they are bound together by a set of dysfunctional relationships between parts of the public, private and social sectors. Finding solutions will require more open, honest and constructive ways of working together.

Public services face profound long term challenges that will re-shape their role and purpose. An ageing society, a changing social makeup, persistent inequality and – as Alan Milburn argues – a worrying lack of upward social mobility will further change the nature of social and economic risks that have already shifted profoundly since William Beveridge designed our original welfare blueprint.

These are complex challenges that do not respect traditional service models or sector boundaries. In a climate of rising demand and constrained public spending, we need to ask how we share the responsibility for supporting communities, fostering resilience and creating a more inclusive climate for growth. It cannot lie solely with the embattled public sector; it cannot be unthinkingly devolved to an under-funded voluntary sector; and it cannot be shirked by a private sector hungry for growth at any cost.

So how do we collaborate to improve outcomes for the public?

Competitive pressures, policy frameworks and financial structures make working together difficult to achieve. Contractual relationships to deliver services can mask deep differences in values, incentives and accountability.

But there are other equally strong factors pulling towards collaboration. Practitioners in local government, the NHS and beyond know they must find new and innovative ways to reduce demand and broaden the resource base. Civil society organisations know they must work together more effectively in the face of harsh funding pressures. Smarter businesses increasingly acknowledge that the economic viability of communities is fundamental to their future bottom line.

Working together requires trust, communication, humility and a shared understanding of purpose and outcomes. Getting the whole mix remains the exception, not the rule. Why?

Because these are human characteristics, and we too often forget that it is people – working within a fragmented set of structures – that must create the conditions for better collaboration for the public good.

On 21 November Collaborate, with the Clore Social Leadership Programme, published new research on how to support better collaboration through cross-sector career paths. We ask how growing calls for ‘tri-sector leaders’, ‘public entrepreneurs’ and ‘social innovators’ can be answered through encouraging more fluid movement of individuals between the sectors. We explore some of the pay, culture and recruitment practices that prevent this; the benefits of overcoming barriers; and practical ways to unlock new career paths for individuals seeking to lead social change.

Six principles should frame a new approach

1. We need better incentives for individuals to look beyond their own spheres and networks.

2. We need to actively challenge a host of damaging sector stereotypes.

3. We need to embrace – and leverage – cultural difference.

4. We need to challenge the recruitment and HR industries to innovate.

5. We need a better – and more transparent – balance between risk and reward.

6. We need to go beyond recruitment to properly support transition within new roles.

Dysfunctional relationships between the public, private and social sectors emerge, in part, because of a lack of empathy and understanding, which drives misalignment of incentives and misunderstanding of values. When this happens in the delivery of public services – creating some of the malign practice we have seen this year – it is citizens and taxpayers who lose out.


This article was written by Henry Kippin, Director of Collaborate, and was originally published in the Guardian on the 21 November 2013. Click here to read the original article.

Henry Kippin

About Henry Kippin

Dr Henry Kippin is executive director of Collaborate. He is a visiting fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London, and at the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence. Henry was previously a founding partner of the RSA 2020 Public Services Hub, an advisor to Accenture’s global Public Services for the Future programme, and head of research at an international development agency. He has a PhD from the University of Sheffield and is co-editor of ‘Public Services: a new reform agenda’, published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Press.

Coalition of Collaborators

Sign up to become part of a community of thousands looking to develop better ways of working together.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.