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Wednesday 25 February 2015

Why should the devil have all the best collaborations? The where and the when

Criminals go to where their potential partners in crime are likely to be and they go to these places at times when they are likely to meet them, however inconvenient, anti-social or even dangerous doing so may be.

Legitimate collaborations can certainly learn from this. They often suffer from the Carousel Syndrome, when the same old faces (the same old partners) turn up again and again and again whenever a new collaborative initiative is formed. This does not enhance a collaboration's ability to be innovative or to benefit from new perspectives and insights. It also limits the pool of potentially valuable knowledge, experience and expertise a collaboration can call upon.

Being prepared to go to where more 'hard-to-reach' potential partners are, at times and in ways that are convenient to them (however anti-social or even dangerous these may seem) can make all the difference to a partnership's ability to engage effectively with its target audience and gain the knowledge, expertise and resources it needs to achieve its aims:
  • A government agency in Northern Ireland needed to work in partnership with the local community to enhance their social, economic and environmental outcomes. It needed to engage with more than the 'usual subjects'. So its staff went out into the community and visited 'hard-to-reach' people in places and at times that suited them, however inconvenient and, more to the point given the political situation at the time, however potentially dangerous this was. The additional partners the agency gained provided it with the local knowledge and support it needed to move its projects forward.
  • An English Metropolitan Council decided to change the way it delivered its services. It wanted to give local people more say in what sort of services they had and how, when and by whom they were delivered. This meant they needed to work in partnership with not only the representatives of local communities but also the ordinary people within local neighbourhoods. Council officials, including some of the senior leadership, left their comfortable offices and moved into porta-cabins situated within the neighbourhoods due to benefit from the new way of delivering services. Staff working in these cabins forsook their nine-to-five routines and made themselves available at times that suited local people. The council formed close working relationships with the people of the neighbourhoods and, together, they were able to begin delivering local services tailored to local needs.
  • A collaborative initiative in California working to improve the health of children was able, through the efforts of a travelling Spanish speaking outreach officer, to make contact with a small and isolated support group of Spanish speaking families that were caring for seriously ill children. Once found and engaged with, these families eventually took a lead role in the initiative's work, reaching out towards and helping additional hard-to-reach communities.

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