Lessons from Collaboration NI
The Building Change Trust’s funding of Collaboration NI comes to an end this year. As they meet today (Thursday 19th May) to look at their impact and consider the future, there are a number of key issues the Trust and others need to consider as the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector look to work together.
Evaluation of the Collaboration NI programme has been carried out over the last number of years by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research.
At today’s conference, their Director Ben Cairns, presented a number of key findings and lessons the VCSE Sector here in Northern Ireland will need to take heed of if collaboration is to be both embedded and impactful.
Lesson 1: The Shortcomings of Top-Down Collaboration
Ben said: “Little good is likely to come from a top-down approach to collaboration that isn’t fully attuned to the practical difficulties of trying to work collaboratively with others.
“We might wonder why public policy hasn’t been more attuned. After all, we only have to look at governmental agencies and their ongoing struggles locally and nationally, to integrate and join up to appreciate that working across organisational or sectoral boundaries can be challenging.
“Policy assumptions about collaboration are not always matched by the reality on the ground.
“However much sense collaboration might make, however compelling the case, we’re talking here about independent organisations; organisations whose decision-making powers are their own; whose destinies are in their own hands.
“As one of our interviewees noted: 'The worry about a funder-driven collaboration is that it can look sensible and rational from a distance, but once you get into the detail, and exposed to the context and each organisation’s history and ways of working, it gets messier and harder to reconcile differences'”.
Lesson 2: The Importance and Value of Collaboration for Purpose
“If Lesson One is, in essence, about the importance of governmental bodies becoming more aware and sensitive to the practical realities of collaboration for voluntary organisations, and perhaps taking a less directive approach to how the sector organises itself, what about voluntary organisations themselves?”, Ben continued.
Adding: “CollaborationNI, supported by Building Change Trust, have been clear that, in an operating environment characterised by complexity and change, there is both a need and an opportunity to promote the benefits and opportunities of collaboration.
“Lesson Two is that the voluntary sector itself has a part to play in advancing collaborative working. Promoting, encouraging, unearthing, enabling collaboration for purpose - rather than requiring or stipulating or demanding it - is not only appropriate. It is important and necessary”.
Lesson 3: The Importance of Support for Collaboration
Ben concluded by saying: “Lesson Three from the evaluation of CollaborationNI us that the case for support for collaborative working is compelling.
“That case is strengthened by what is happening to the voluntary sector, where the pace and unpredictability of change is significant, including reforms to local government and heightened expectations around the integration of health and social care services.
“For voluntary organisations to flourish and thrive, and to make an active and meaningful contribution to civil society, we would suggest that the need for specialist and bespoke support with collaborative working (across both organisational and sectoral boundaries) won’t disappear in a hurry”.
Speaking at the Impact of Collaboration conference, Trust Director of Operations, Nigel McKinney, said: “The Trust, for its part, has invested a significant amount of our original £10million endowment into collaboration and we believe now, as we believed then, that more, and better, collaboration amongst Northern Ireland’s community and voluntary sector organisations, and with others in other sectors, is essential if the on-going needs of individuals and communities are to be better met now and into the future.
“As we have seen through the evaluation work of IVAR, Collaboration NI has been a huge success and we will follow closely as it goes into the next stage of its development”.