So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.
In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:
- Pioneering pathfinders
- Masters of the paradox
- Challenging and disruptive
- Influential players
- Socially enterprising
- Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
- Purposefully transformative
Be purposefully transformative
Most partnerships exist to create transformational change, to solve complex problems that no one individual or organisation can do alone. To create this transformational change partnerships need to be transformational within themselves; they need to be able to mutate rapidly into shapes, systems, networks and layers that will best meet the challenges they face.
To do this effectively they need to do it purposefully, to have a clear guiding stimulus that will encourage them to transform both themselves and the areas they are focusing upon in ways that will ensure enhanced effectiveness and outcomes. They will also need to allow form to follow function, to allow their guiding stimulus and the demands of their context to dictate their partnership's architecture and shape.
Given the complex nature of the problems partnerships seek to solve this architecture will need to be multi-layered and multi-faceted; it will need to glitter like a diamond. It will also need to be modular and flexible, allowing it to splice, recombine and mutate easily according to the varying demands placed upon it.
Have a clear guiding stimulus
The Apache Software Foundation, which provides support for open source software projects, has a strong and straightforward mission that encourages both it and its collaborators to work continuously towards transforming and improving both its own activities and the quality of open source software available to people.
The following 'mission statements' are at the top of its home page:
- We consider ourselves not simply a group of projects sharing a server, but rather a community of developers and users.
- The Apache Software Foundation provides support for the Apache community of open-source software projects, which provide software for the public good.
- The Apache projects are defined by collaborative consensus and a desire to create high quality software that leads the way in its field.
These statements make the purpose and aspirations of Apache clear. Additionally, by using phrases such as 'community of developers and users' and 'collaborative consensus' they make it clear how they expect those collaborating with them to behave. This concise mix of purpose, aspirations and behavioural values provides the guiding stimulus for Apache's probably perpetual transformation into an ever more effective global collaboration that produces publicly accessible software of ever increasing quality.
Allow form to follow function
UK health, housing and social services have begun forming partnerships of service providers around people's key life events and the outcomes they require, so putting function before form and allowing structures to grow out of the mix and types of services people need. Similarly, UK community planning has begun to form itself around communities and populations rather than according to organisational boundaries.
Be multi-layered and multi-faceted
A Community Planning Partnership in Fife, Scotland, added a local layer of evaluation to its processes that encouraged local people to contribute their comments and ideas. It then created a process for ensuring that these local contributions could be fed into its strategic decision making, adding an anecdotal 'evidence based' facet to its policy making.
A Community Health Partnership added a valuable facet to its activity by placing a broad mix of key public services in one place and within easy reach of those that needed them. This enabled the partnership to engage more effectively with those who were 'hard to reach', more easily identify crossovers in responsibilities and eliminate duplications in support and services. Additionally, the multi-faceted nature of the services available (for example a library was housed in the centre) enabled the partnership to engage with non-users of health and social services who would probably need to access them in the future.
A partnership between youth services and police added a mobile facet to its approach. It made use of a mobile youth and information centre that could reach out to hard to reach young people, so enhancing the flexibility and depth of its engagement work.
Be modular and flexible
Aberdeen City Alliance created a series of Challenge Forums to focus on specific problems and needs. The list of teams could be lengthened, shortened, 'spliced and recombined' according to need, allowing the alliance to respond flexibly to the varying challenges and changing priorities presented to it.
A regeneration company/partnership in Liverpool, adopted a flexible 'patch partnering' approach to its work, selecting the most suitable team of partners for specific projects from the pool of available partner organisations.
A flexible approach to the leadership structure of a collaboration was demonstrated by an initiative tasked with procuring digital hearing aids for the NHS. When a more effective and affordable approach to procuring the aids was required those with the most relevant expertise, passion, motivation and credibility were given the appropriate leadership responsibilities, regardless of their organisational status.
The NHS has a wide variety of relationships and bilateral partnerships with local and national organisations that have specialist knowledge and/or specific interests. This approach, although complex, does give the NHS multiple options and flexibility with regard to how it goes about its work. (It also adds additional facets and layers to the structural network through which it engages with people and patients.)
A North of England Regional Improvement Partnership demonstrated flexibility of approach by encouraging the formation of 'self-initiated and directed networks'. These would form in response to some shared interest or problem and consist of people with the relevant knowledge, experience or simply motivation to explore and/or address it. For example, a group of drainage engineers formed and facilitated their own network to discuss, explore and address the serious problems associated with heavy flooding within their region.