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UK: We Need a Bit of structure
Source: http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=21195
Source Date: Monday, October 08, 2012
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Created: Oct 08, 2012

The financial imperatives of the 2010 Spending Review have seen an increase in public sector bodies pursuing partnership working – but we must be careful to recognise the risks as well as the benefits, says James Rolfe

Partnership activity has both benefits and risks, and the track record for the public sector has been mixed, leading to varying degrees of positive outcomes. Where partnerships haven't been successful, this is often put down to a lack of formal structure and clear and robust risk sharing arrangements.

While any collaboration will need to look at the individual risks that it faces, there are a number of common risks. These can include:

• Complex management arrangements which do not focus on the correct outcomes

• Partners being unable to agree joint objectives

• Suppliers can fail, leaving the public sector in limbo, as the recent example of G4S and Olympic security has demonstrated

• A disconnect between the resource available to provide a service and the objectives of the collaboration

• Poor performance impacting upon the reputation of all parties involved in the collaboration

• Quick wins are pursued and more challenging customer requirements are not effectively delivered.

The present government's policies, such as those relating to the Big Society and Open Public Services agendas, are encouraging public sector organisations to consider – more seriously than ever before – alternative forms of service delivery with other public sector bodies, the private sector and civil society organisations, including possible spin-offs from their own organisation.

At the same time, the financial imperatives of the 2010 Spending Review have seen an increase in public sector organisations pursuing greater levels of partnership working, such as shared service arrangements. Some parts of the sector, such as local government, have been developing models of shared management teams, shared CEOs, shared delivery and some are even considering constitutional mergers.

As a result, there is growing interest across the public sector in realising more effective collaborative working. For example, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has recently published a report on the role of collaboration in maximising efficiency in the police service.

The benefits of collaboration are many, and are generally well known. These can include enabling access to expertise, delivering services in a more joined-up way to improve customer experience, achieving efficiencies via economies of scale (such as via shared procurement arrangements), and realising culture change and broadening organisational thinking by working with and learning from another organisation.

Some of the interest in improved approaches to collaboration follows the release of the first national standards on collaboration (BS11000) that have been of particular interest to the defence and transport sectors. BS11000 advocates sharing visions and resources and has a particular focus on approaches and mechanisms that can create efficiency and effective delivery. For example:

• Changing behaviours, and improving trust, to make collaboration more efficient within and between organisations

• Introducing a common language to improve communication between organisations

• Aligning aspirations and capabilities between partners, and playing to organisations' strengths to improve productivity

• Providing greater continuity and flexibility of resource across organisations

• Enhancing governance across organisations, such as by the use of shared approaches to risk management

• Promoting innovation and continuous improvement.

At the London Borough of Enfield we recognise the importance of structured collaboration, and have developed and agreed a new Collaboration Strategy so that we are clear about the outcomes of entering new, or renewing, collaboration activity. It also provides a review mechanism for established collaborations.

While many organisations in the public sector have well-established procedures for assessing and developing technical, commercial, financial and other business skills, fewer organisations have processes that extend to an assessment of collaboration skills.

Recognising that there could be considerable benefits in learning how the concepts and tools set out in BS11000 can be applied to local government – to improve the effectiveness of our collaboration – I commissioned an independent review of our key strategic contractual and statutory collaborations.

Central to the review was the triangulation of stakeholder perspectives on key factors such as partnership strategy, objectives, delivery, measurement and outcomes, to provide an assessment of the health of collaboration activity, based on concepts relating to the standard's collaboration spectrum.

The review, which was undertaken by Grant Thornton and Pera, was really valued by our corporate management team for providing an independent assessment on how our partnerships compare to the spectrum of collaboration levels, and how the partnerships compared to each other.

It helped us identify areas of good practice and also areas where we need particular focus, and supports our corporate collaboration strategy, to ensure the council understands the costs and benefits, and maximises the outcomes, of all our current and future partnership working.
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