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December 5, 2012

Don’t do it unless you have to

Partnership. Collaboration. Working Together. Multi-agency approaches.  These phrases have been part of the zeitgeist for so long it’s hard to remember when they weren’t.   The received wisdom is that partnership working is intrinsically a good thing. But running alongside this is the common knowledge and experience that it’s also very hard work and often results in failure. An interesting article suggesting we  need to reconsider our approach to collaboration.


Research for Real, September 27, 2012

We know that multi-agency partnership working is difficult.
“Collaboration is by nature inefficient.  It is only sensible to collaborate if real collaborative advantage can be envisaged.  The strongest piece of advice, therefore, is ‘don’t do it unless you have to’”. 
Here’s a new set of reports that document the lessons from the Fife Alcohol Partnership Project.  There are lots of lessons from the overall approach likely to be of interest to others facing similar challenges across Scotland and the wider UK. It is likely to be of particular interest to members of Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, Community Planning Partnerships and all those with an interest in the public service reform agenda.
The reports are available on the FASS website.

“The project has worked out, but oh boy, it has caused pain.” – senior health promotion officer, health promotion partnership
“Decisions are made by the Alliance Executive, but they keep procrastinating over big decisions … you can’t afford to procrastinate over spending a million pounds.”  – information manager, retail property development alliance
“Multi-agency work is very slow … trying to get people moving collectively rather than alone is difficult.”– project officer, young offender community organization
“I am under partnership attack from my colleagues.” – operations manager, engineering supply chain
“The long catalogue of failed JVs—lcatel/Sharp, Sony/Qualcomm, Lucent/Philips—demonstrates the enormous difficulties in pulling companies like these together.” – a Gartner analyst quoted in the Financial Times, 10 December 2002, p. 8
Not everyone who works daily in collaborative alliances, partnerships or networks reports such negative experiences as those quoted above. Indeed the Financial Times (24 June 2003, p. 14) reports a Nokia executive as saying that their linkages are paying off. Others talk similarly enthusiastically about their partnership experiences:
When it works well you feel inspired … you can feel the collaborative energy.
However, very many do express frustration. There has been much rhetoric about the value of strategic alliances, industry networks, public service delivery partnerships and many other collaborative forms, but reports of unmitigated success are not common. In this article we explore the nature of the practice of collaboration, focusing in particular on some of the reasons why collaborative initiatives tend to challenge those involved. Two concepts are central to this exploration. The first is collaborative advantage. This captures the synergy argument: to gain real advantage from collaboration, something has to be achieved that could not have been achieved by any one of the organizations acting alone. This concept provides a useful ‘guiding light’ for the purpose of collaboration. The second concept, collaborative inertia, captures what happens very frequently in practice: the output from a collaborative arrangement is negligible, the rate of output is extremely slow, or stories of pain and hard grind are integral to successes achieved.
Clearly there is a dilemma between advantage and inertia. The key question seems to be:
If achievement of collaborative advantage is the goal for those who initiate collaborative arrangements, why is collaborative inertia so often the outcome?
To read a copy of the full article click here