Friday, 22 January 2010

The collaboration programme – an update

In my last post, I said that I would talk about one of the other work streams, but I’ve chosen to do something a little different.

The success (so far at least) of the Regional Policy Collaboration Pilot has encouraged me to think about the characteristics of this initiative and why some of the other work has been more challenging. Certainly the work to date has given rise to a template that we hope to test in future collaboration work later in the year.

Further reflections on the Regional Policy Collaboration Pilot

As I reflect on what has gone well, and we move towards the first workshop, I’m able to build on the issues I identified in the last post:
  • Building on planned and agreed FAN Club activity
  • Working with members interested in collaborating
  • Working on an issue of shared importance
  • Paying significant attention to how we engage
  • Regular contact across the team by email and telephone conference call and follow up notes
  • Providing space for stakeholders to express their views and opinions
  • Taking time to plan for the first workshop
  • Building stakeholder feedback into the workshop process without compromising the collaboration process
  • Designing the workshop around the collaboration cycle
  • Independent leadership / facilitation - while encouraging full participation - of the collaboration process

The Collaboration Cycle

The outstanding characteristic of this work compared to the other work streams, is where we started from. Put simply, we started from a more advanced place in terms of both an idea and existing relationships; albeit that the key stakeholders had yet to develop relationships with each other. Relationships existed between the stakeholders and the Horizon Scanning Centre which provided the opportunity to propose the initiative in the first place and link it to a FAN Club event – the Belfast meeting.

So what was more challenging about the other work?

On the other hand, it has become clear that starting exploratory conversations about a new approach to futures work – in this case collaboration; or about a new application – SouthBeach notation for example – without a critical issue that the stakeholders need to address, has been much more challenging and has yet to really bear fruit.

The strange thing about this is that in presentations to groups about collaboration and partnership, one of the points I make is that successful collaboration can only be built on existing relationships. This experience has certainly re-confirmed that!

Having said all that, the conversations that have taken place could still provide the basis for collaboration in the future.

A recent experience outside this work

I recently gave a presentation on partnership working to a network of consultants I’m connected with in Kent. To be honest, I was taking a somewhat challenging stance on what partnership is and how I have found that by thinking about my working definition of partnership, I have decided that I do not partner with clients. As a result, I have changed the way I promote my client services.

"Working in partnership with our clients” is a popular proposition made by many management consultants, but do they? I work at inquiring into my client’s issue to maximise the opportunity of developing a solution or materials that best meets their need. To me at least, this isn’t partnership, but it is part of good consulting practice.

Some of the people in the room agreed with what I was saying; others considered my comments and still felt that they did partner with their clients (although they seemed to me, to be describing Account Management), but one person particularly seemed to resist the notion that there could be any other approach to partnership working than the one she had put into place in an operational role in her last organisation.

For me, this experience highlighted the critical need to be clear about what we mean by partnership when working with other parties. We can then reconcile the different perspectives and satisfy ourselves that we are close enough to be able to work together effectively. Not going through this process in the early stages of a piece of work can give rise to significant problems in the relationship later.