Are we truly working together?

Government wants to work smarter with citizens and deliver high quality end-user services that provide transparency to the end user through omni-channel and cross-organisational working.

A key word to aid this, is ‘collaboration’:

  • Collaboration between service providers and users (through user research, user testing, product increments, etc)
  • Collaboration between organisations (sharing of data, joint decisions on process development, sharing human and technical resources)

Or at least that’s what we think it means. Considering the two main definitions perhaps we can understand why there is confusion on what collaboration actually means:

1. work jointly on an activity or project
2. cooperate traitorously with an enemy

Working on cross organisation projects to improve the sharing of information I’ve seen issues with this in practice. Collaboration should be 1, but sometimes appears more as 2. Why is this?

In my experience people are willing to ‘work jointly’ as long as their own organisation’s agenda isn’t put at risk. Consider from my previous blog post ‘Lead by listening’  when I suggested that it’s “important not to be too protective of your domain. If a decision elsewhere could greatly affect your area of the business, but is better for the positive growth of the organisation, then perhaps embracing the change is the better option?”

Surely this must be true for effective cross-organisation collaboration. What I see in reality is programmes of work that stall with the realisation that one organisation’s vision or current way of working may suffer distruption even if it’s for the common, overall good. Often we arrive at this junction where one organisation must invest for another to save.

perhaps we need to re-define what collaboration means.

Perhaps we need to include empathy in how we collaborate. By stepping into the shoes of our partner organisations and seeing how proposed changes affect them directly could help us understand how to genuinely work together to make the positive change we seek. If we can’t manage this then we’ll find we need to re-invent the definition of collaborate:

Collaberate : verb. (collaborate merged with berate) – being happy to work together, right up until the point you feel your domain is threatened by those you were collaborating with, and then turning on them.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Improving outcomes with multi agency partners

I was recently speaking to a senior local government officer about her experiences of the difficulties in creating shared services and multi-agency arrangements with local organisations. We agreed that the logic of collaboration to improve performance and generate efficiencies is compelling, but in practice achieving such arrangements has proved to be more complicated. We concluded that although the business logic is often sound one of the biggest hurdles to climb is the practical issues that often have to be overcome to create collaboration.

These difficulties may surface because of differing priorities, differing funding methods, complexity or just simply due to timing.

Recently Sopra Steria has been considering how our experience in developing IT and digital solutions can support the development of the multi-agency arrangements that are becoming more and more important in improving outcomes in some of our most crucial public services. Increasingly, agencies are coming together to ensure that by working more closely together they can improve outcomes to particularly vulnerable sections of the community. We see many excellent examples of partner organisations coming together to break down traditional barriers to put the service to the customer to the fore- front.

However, as in my recent conversation, we often hear how difficult it is to achieve and also how difficult it is to achieve the desired outcomes even when arrangements are developed. It has become clear that whilst multi agency approaches are now being seen primarily to support safeguarding and protection agendas. There is also further opportunity to embed the approach across the public sector to improve wider outcomes and to perhaps support more efficient ways to deliver diverse services.

We have considered how we can best support multi agency arrangements through initiatives such as improved use of shared data to support strong business intelligence and analytics that can help to predict and understand service demand. But, in a recent thought leadership paper, we have also considered seven key steps to consider when planning and implementing a multi-agency initiative. We believe that these steps will help put multi-agency programmes on the right footing from the outset, and create an environment where the specific challenges can be openly and constructively addressed.

  1. Challenge the way things are done culturally – treat it as a cultural and business process change programme for all, rather than imposing any one approach
  2. Contain multi-agency initiatives within relatively small localities – use data analysis to agree an operational boundary based on common need, not organisational simplicity
  3. Build services around the individual – involve service users in the design process
  4. Understand stakeholder needs – build a vision that can be shared by all
  5. Think collaboratively as part of your stakeholder awareness – agree which services are best delivered together – from a strategic and operational perspective
  6. Develop data sharing protocols – agree how data about an individual will be shared securely to deliver the best results
  7. Include cross-sector partners from the public, private and third sectors – consider innovative contractual arrangements that share risk or reward outcomes

Read more in my thought leadership paper “Embedding the Multi-Agency approach” and I welcome feedback on the seven step approach and your view on whether this is useful or if we can improve it from your own experiences. Leave  a reply below or contact me by email.