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Collaboration – the bigger reward

Source: Public Sector Executive June/July 2014

Matt Humphrey and Sarita Adams from Baker Tilly Consulting explore some practical issues when considering collaborative working.

The benefits of hindsight

uring the last few years, in virtually every local authority, tables were cleared whilst management teams gathered around to manipulate and examine service reconfiguration scenarios that would ensure local authorities could weather the financial storms ahead.

Collaboration and the sharing of services have always been relied upon as a method for achieving longer term sustainability and efficiency savings. In our previous Public Sector Executive article, a year ago, we suggested that this would continue to be the case – though we recognised that there were various models involving soft to hard approaches, depending on the level of investment and organisational transformation appetite.

One year on, with many local authority transformation programmes en route and collaboration efforts tried and tested, we are helping a number of public sector organisations tackle collaboration challenges.

Are the collaboration rewards being achieved?

One thing for certain is that collaboration is never entirely pain-free – but to realise the benefits without prolonging any process or incurring avoidable expense, organisations have to be crystal clear on their individual expectations on what they want out of collaboration.

If organisations want to achieve more with less, then the collaborative method selected will be different than if they want to deliver internal efficiencies that are impacted by external forces. However, collaboration does not intrinsically mean ‘hard integration’ and neither does integration necessarily mean financial investment and major structural reorganisation.

The collaboration currency

Local authorities, emergency services, CCGs and health providers who learn to ‘trade’ with more than money, but with systems, co-location, sharing personnel, estate and intelligence are examples of true collaboration with the end-user experience being the prime focus. Whilst hard integration may also be preferred, and indeed may (as a business case) seem the most attractive and sustainable option, external forces around national policy changes and IT solutions can pose greater risks than originally assessed.

For example, whilst preparing an integrated model for a Victim Bureau for a Police and Crime Commissioner, and working with the police, local authorities, courts, CPS and regional bodies, it was noted that there were three core IT systems that were likely to change over the course of the next two years. This, if not adequately factored in, would potentially absorb the overall benefits of the integration.

Getting the collaboration model right first time

Selecting the right collaborative model remains core to achieving the benefits ‘sold’ under the ‘collaboration’ heading.

Questions need to be asked and answers clarified:

- Short/medium/longer-term organisational and policy changes; for example, changes to statutory responsibilities, and national reporting requirements

- Contract periods in place, and periods for re-tendering

- Commissioner service specifications and performance requirements/penalties

- Non-negotiable areas, i.e. areas of demarcation through legal powers and statute (as an example, police and social care powers under the Mental Health Act 1983)

- Ownership of estate/lease, other assets and liabilities

- Changes in governance

- What does each ‘stakeholder’ expect to see out of the collaboration – immediately, in one year, in five years?

All need to be asked and discussed. Collaboration, to be successful, requires candid, structured discussion at the outset to determine the method to be used and (most importantly) to manage stakeholder expectations.

What is certain is that sharing of services and collaboration will remain high on the agenda. What is also becoming clearer is that where organisations have really got to grips with what collaboration means then the beneficial outcomes for all stakeholders can far exceed those initially anticipated via a standard cost reduction objective.

About the authors

Matt Humphrey, partner at Baker Tilly, leads the firm’s Governance & Risk consulting team and is national sector lead for Local Government. He has over 25 years of public sector risk advisory experience, mostly working with or in local government, health and emergency services.

Sarita Adams, associate director at the company, has over 25 years’ experience working in the public sector, including over ten years advising on the design, development and implementation of outcome frameworks, as well as overseeing and managing the actual process for clients. 

Our top tips

• Diagnose in detail the current operational issues: ‘Tabletop process map’ the system with operational staff to identify issues and opportunities before embarking on strategic plans.

• Test the ‘currency’ of trade between stakeholders, through discussion of individual stakeholder performance pressures.

• Quantify the current collective resource and areas open for ‘trade’.

• Map short/medium/long term predicted stakeholder changes/shifts in focus.

• Take advice on the impact of integration, duration of implementation and investment required, and match this against anticipated outcomes.

• Apply rigorous testing of risk throughout.

• Create a governance structure that doesn’t impede efficiency whilst still upholding the values of openness and integrity.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


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