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Collaboration is the answer: but what was the question?

Source: Public Sector Executive June/July 2014

David E Hawkins, operations director at the Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW), looks back on a busy year – and ahead to the future.

What a difference a year makes. Since our article in PSE in July 2013, the term ‘collaboration’ seems to be included in most (if not all) government statements.

In many cases, collaboration seems to be the preferred option, yet one has to ask if the right questions are being asked and if practice is following the rhetoric.

Whether this is as a result of policy focused on short-term targets or if implementation is hampered by traditional thinking is still not clear. Empirical evidence would suggest a little of both. But from our perspective, a number of complex programmes in certain government departments do seem to be drawing on industry experience, seeking better ways of delivering performance and taxpayer value.

A third factor may also be that some high-profile cases have tainted industry’s reputation, which is tempering the appetite for public-private engagement.

What would appear to be lacking is both the structure and skills to provide a more robust approach and build confidence to evaluate and adopt collaboration. It was this challenge that was behind the development of BS 11000, the world’s first standard for collaborative business relationships. Certainly its value has been recognised on the international stage, as it now starts its journey to become an International Standard, as ISO 11000.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), NHS, and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have taken it on for selected programmes. One hopes that over the coming months we shall these departments reaping the benefits and following the trend set by Network Rail in harnessing collaboration and that other departments will follow.

This does raise the spectre of the skill base in the public sector and ensuring that industry is equally ready to think differently. Which prompts the question: are we ready to acknowledge the value of collaborative skills and to invest in training to support organisations that could harness collaboration to bring innovative approaches to the public sector?

The experience of ICW over the past years has led to a number of new initiatives aligned with our ‘Collaborative Capability Pathway’. From our perspective, for collaboration to be effectively implemented there are two key strands: the development of organisational policies to support a cultural for collaboration; and integrating skills development to underpin the individual’s behaviours and competencies.

Looking beyond the standard

Whilst ICW recognised that fostering adoption of BS 11000 plays a significant part, its transition to an International Standard (ISO 11000) is yet another important milestone – but only part of the story. Often standards they are seen as a goal in themselves, but we see certification as an output that externally validates good practice. We want to look beyond the standard to encourage organisations and individuals to see a broader future, realising the value from collaborative working value.

Organisations are good at developing processes and systems, rules and regulations and management structures. These work only because the people operating them want them to work. Most individuals accept that collaboration makes sense. Transitioning this into a corporate culture that drives the right behaviours is more of a challenge.

We can address behaviours, but unless the infrastructure is conducive to collaboration, they will conflict and dilute (if not damage) a collaborative strategy and its outcomes. Executive sponsorship is critical, but the message they send and the actions they display are not always consistent. If we want people to act differently then they need to know they have a mandate to collaborate.

Therefore along the one strand we are focusing on the organisational structure. As such, the pathway starts with self-assessment against the principles of good practice with options for external validation, which in some cases may lead to adoption of BS 11000 or ISO 11000 in the future.

We undertook to look beyond the prime contractor relationships and engage the SME community, where much of the value and contribution to GDP resides. Our online self-assessment programme (, announced in March 2014, recognised the challenge for some SMEs, providing a low-cost entry point. It opens up the principles of good practice.

This approach has been adopted by some major organisations to enhance their supply chain, which offers the public sector a similar reach. A pilot in Wales with Cardiff Business School offers a collaborative skills programme.

Next generation

In parallel, there is a need for enhancing individual skills to support collaborative models to equip the next generation of business managers, so organisations can identify the right people to lead these ventures. Earlier this year we launched our ‘Collaborative Leaders Course’, a foundation for recognition of collaborative capabilities. In December 2012 we started our collaboration with WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at Warwick University to establish a full ‘Collaborative Leadership’ elective MSc module.

Our most important initiative for promoting collaborative capability is our individual membership scheme. The scheme recognises a variety experience and skills development approaches validating individual capability through Membership of the Institute (MICW).

There is still a long way to go, but if the public sector wants to exploit the potential of collaboration, it needs to support those in its ranks who today can (and in the future will) need the capabilities and judgement to deliver.

BS 11000: a year on

They say if you are not moving forward then you must be going backwards, and that could not be further from the truth for the Institute, its members and our core team, not to forget the team at British Standards.

Clearly the decision by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) to support the move from BS 11000 to ISO has been a significant milestone this year. Working with BSI (the British Standards Institution) on this has been challenging for both BSI and ICW but to get the agreement, assignment of ISO 11000 and have collaborative working recognised independently is great. The first committee meeting was held in February, hosted by BSI, and a working draft of the new standard has been tabled. This gives us the opportunity to consider many of the lessons we have learned over the past three years and enhance the standard. A lot of work has to follow over the next three years, but with the support that is already coming forward, it will be a major achievement from those initial aims of PSL (Partnership Sourcing Limited, the previous name for the ICW) back in 1990.

However we should not let this achievement overshadow what has been an exciting year of developments around BS 11000.

The number of organisations achieving certification continues to grow month by month across a wide spectrum of industry sectors and public sector organisations. Those starting out on the journey increases too, with some 100 in the UK already focused on certification this year.

On the march

The defence and rail sectors still lead the way, with Network Rail expanding its portfolio of programmes under BS 11000 and the MoD having several projects achieving certification, most recently with Microsoft.

We are now supporting developments through several government departments, including the MoJ, the Home Office and English Heritage. Our activities with SMEs support the aims of both of our sponsors, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Welsh government. On a broader front, the transport, energy, water, ICT and financial sectors are now also joining the march to BS 11000.

Perhaps equally significant is that during this year we saw the first two companies from mainland Europe achieve certification – Babcock GmbH and General Dynamics European Land Systems – with others well on the road, heralding the next wave of adoption. We expect that the progression towards ISO 11000 will further stimulate activity. Certainly the announcement of the move to ISO has heightened global interest from wider Europe, Asia, Australasia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas.

Our activities in the USA remain on target and working with the Department of Defense, the Aerospace Industries Association and the Joint Strike Fighter Team will reinforce the value of our work on collaboration.

On the home front, our relationship with the Business Continuity Institute is a burgeoning new arena for blending collaborative working into other crucial activities. More recently we have opened discussions with the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM) looking at the impacts of collaborative contracting and the role of BS 11000.

Growing demand

The ICW team has been growing and is increasingly in demand to support a wider range of implementation programmes. Neill Carruthers joined us after heading up Network Rail’s Collaboration programme and brings a wealth of experience.

Similarly, BSI has been building up its team of assessors to meet growing demand and we have been supporting its introduction to the standard. It has been recognised that this standard is different to most.

ICW has been supporting many events where collaborative working is a hot topic, together with supporting a range of events in conjunction with BSI. The links to other associations are growing too which reflects the focus on collaboration and more joint events are planned through this year. Certainly the Chartered Quality Institute deciding that 2013’s World Quality Day would focus on collaboration provided many opportunities for us directly and in conjunction to spread the message. World Quality Day 2014 (13 November) is on the theme of ‘Building a Quality World Together’.

Whilst the certification programme expands, so does the demand for training. The joint implementation course we established with the BSI training team continues to prove popular. From the Institute’s perspective, the addition of John Osborne to our team has enabled ICW to expand our support capability and thus we launched, in association with our training partner Pera, a range of awareness and auditing courses this year.

We continued to work closely with BSI and very much appreciate its valuable support for our aims and objectives, both in relation to the development of the standard and its next evolution, but equally its management systems group, who are engaged in both their programmes and ours.

Sadly there is a partial downside to the growing adoption, which is in way a compliment to the efforts of the Institute and BSI: a number of third party organisations are climbing on the train, with some exploiting the opportunity.

The Institute, BSI and its executive network members have raised concerns that the aims and value of the standard could be devalued, so we are working to raise the bar.

On a personal front, this year saw the publication of my latest book by BSI, ‘Raising the Standard for Collaboration’, which has been well received and I hope will help organisations to better understand the opportunities and challenges of harnessing collaborative working.

All in all, this has been yet another great year of progress for the Institute and for the fostering of collaboration through BS 11000. We would take this opportunity to thank the efforts of our members, the BSI team in all its different aspects, and the ICW core team of associates that have supported us.

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