The Unusual Suspects

A contribution about the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) event at the recent Unusual Suspects Festival.

Last week I took part in a session at the Unusual Suspects Festival, an event which brought together individuals and organisations that are delivering social change with the aim of exploring how collaboration and social innovation can work in sync to help address some of society’s most pressing challenges.  A group of us from the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) coalition looked at the issues of collaboration that have been thrown up by working together on multiple and complex needs.

MEAM is a coalition of the membership bodies for service organisations across homelessness (Homeless Link), drugs (DrugScope), mental health (Mind), and criminal justice (Clinks) which came together in 2009 to improve practice and policy for those with multiple and complex needs and who struggle to stay engaged with services.

Without running through all of the contributions that were made at our session – I’ve collected together the Tweets that I and others sent out if you’re interested and the slides we presented are below – there were a number of themes that came up across the presentations.

Collaboration is messy and trust is key We talked about how frustrating collaboration can be and that sometimes it may feel that it would be easier if we did things by ourselves; but that doing so would mean that we’re less likely to achieve all that we could.  We explored how within MEAM we have learnt to accept that collaboration can be a messy business, but that this mirrors the complexities of the issues we’re trying to address, and leads to better outcomes.

It is through developing trust in each other and a deeper understanding of each other’s expertise that we have achieved outcomes that are truly shared.  And remembering and exploring the focus of the MEAM coalition has been an important loadstone for the work we’ve done together.

Being able to have open conversations, both with partners and with our funders, has also been critical to deepening the relationships. We know that sometimes MEAM will be at the front of some of the partner’s work and at other times it may not be a priority, but that this doesn’t mean that we’re not equal partners.  We know that sometimes we aren’t as visible on issues as we would be if we were to speak as individual organisations, but we believe that we are stronger by standing together.

We also know that trust is important in the direct work that the MEAM coalition has facilitated. Those working to support individuals with multiple needs in local areas explained how building towards mutually agreed outcomes and at a pace set by individual beneficiaries seems to have borne more fruit than working in silos. We heard about one case where small steps towards a trusting relationship with a client started with buying a bike lock and ended with the client engaging with drug treatment and taking steps towards recovery.

Resources are at the heart of getting it right

Across MEAM there has never been a desire to build the coalition as a separate organisation, and that has determined how resources have been allocated.

Most of the posts that are focused on delivering our shared MEAM agenda are ‘embedded’ in the organisations that make up the coalition – so my colleague Sam, who is managing the Voices from the Frontline project, sits at the desk next to me, but works with a team that sits in Homeless Link, Clinks and Mind.

But we also reflected that having a small ‘core’ MEAM team that focusses solely on how to progress the coalition’s aims has been at the heart of the progress we’ve made.

Similarly, in the direct work that localities have undertaken using the MEAM Approach, bringing shared resources to bear on the issues that service users have identified as their priority has been crucial.

Give it away

At a period of time where many organisations (including DrugScope) are thinking about how we create new forms of income MEAM is taking a slightly different tack.

MEAM has chosen to ‘give away’ the approach that we’ve developed to working with people with multiple and complex needs – providing information and advice via the MEAM Approach website.

It isn’t that MEAM partners don’t want to be paid for what we do but our view has been that it is more important to share with others how we’ve worked and to see if that leads to new contacts and subsequently new opportunities that are mutually beneficial to us and to people with multiple needs.

Anyone can see the detail of how we’ve worked and this has helped (we think) develop a sense that with patience and a person-centred approach, things do turn round for the people we’ve been trying to support.

So where next?

We concluded by reflecting that we need to make sure that we’re listening to and reflecting on the stories and priorities of the people who find themselves with multiple needs.  Thinking we know all of those stories and that we’ve nothing left to learn would be a terrible mistake.

My sense of the discussion we had at the festival was that the partners involved in MEAM retain a strong commitment to the aims that brought us together in the first place.  We see both the continuing failures in society to reduce the most extreme harms that this group suffer and the potential to make a step-change, should our and others’ efforts in this area bear fruit.


This article was contributed by Andrew Brown to the Comment & Opinion section on Drugscope’s website on the 8 September. Click here to read the full piece.

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.