Taking collaboration from ambition to delivery

In local public services there is no transformation without collaboration.  Want to improve health outcomes?  The answer goes way beyond NHS and social care services, and way beyond the public sector.

Need to transform educational performance?  The school system is but one part of a broader human capital strategy.  Want to drive economic performance?  Solving the productivity puzzle in the public sector and communities is as much a part of the solution as private sector-led growth.

This feels self-evident.  So it is puzzling that the art of collaboration still feels undervalued, and the connections between these agendas are often underplayed.  Part of the problem is connectivity: between system leaders, entrepreneurial managers and front-line staff that ‘get it’, and silo-based organisational constraints that don’t.

But this is a cheap shot.  The flip side is a language and a practice around collaboration that is far too comfortable, forgetting that collaboration for better outcomes is often less about generating consensus than holding the creative tension that comes with meaningful change.

The power of collaboration is almost always in the outcome and the rationale.  Why are we doing this?  Can we articulate the problem, and the shared goal that we want to achieve?  What are we prepared to offer or give up in order to get there?  And how will we account for the public value added when we do?   Where these questions are asked up front, radical things feel more possible.

In Suffolk for example, a nascent collaboration between the Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and the Department of Work and Pensions has created a shared space in which joined-up assessment and delivery of disability-related benefits is now being pursued.

Those with experience of multi-tier collaboration might say this is an unlikely alliance.  But the benefit to citizens could be profound, and our experience has been of supporting creative professionals looking for a way to bend system and process to make it work together.

Initiatives like this will not transform local services in one go, but they build trust and are vital ‘proof of concept’ for the broader strategic collaboration that will be needed.  The devolution agenda  – which will become just as relevant to places like Suffolk and Essex as it is currently to our cities – will increase this need further.

Indeed, practitioners within Greater Manchester are working out how it could all work in realtime as the policy landscape rapidly evolves around them.

Turning this collaborative ambition into delivery is the core challenge for future services to the public, and one that Collaborate was set up to support.  This week we launch our own strategic collaboration in response: a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, with whom we have developed a Collaborative Service Delivery Framework to support local practice.  ‘No transformation without collaboration’ is its starting point.  The delivery challenge is set.

This article was written by Henry Kippin, director of Collaborate. It was published in The MJ on 12 June.

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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.

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