Collaborative futures: new insights from intra and inter-sectoral collaborations

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Management


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Description The Seminar Series prompted extensive discussion on the complex and multi-framed notion of collaboration. Whilst difficult to claim consensus, a number of key findings emerged:

• Collaboration is driven by several discourses:

o an efficiency discourse which endorses collaboration as a way of making the most efficient use of resources, through public- private partnerships and other forms of contracting out. This discourse sits within broader neo-liberal strategies, is evident in the practices of New Public Management, and is particularly prominent at a time of severe economic difficulties

o an effectiveness discourse that promotes collaboration as a way of dealing with complex policy challenges or 'wicked issues' facing society; this is reflected in attempts to eliminate duplication, secure better co-ordination between people and agencies, and a focus on network governance

o a responsiveness discourse that identifies collaboration as a way of improving interactions between citizens, service users and providers in the design and delivery of services; it is underpinned by notions of participatory democracy

o a cultural performance discourse which challenges the valorisation of collaboration as instrumental, and instead identifies collaboration as an expression of dominant cultural norms and mores; agents engage in performative acts as a way of confirming their allegiance to these prevailing norms

• These discourses are manifested in different ways across the sectors, and within institutions of inter-sectoral collaboration e.g. Public Private Partnerships, governance networks. Moreover, whilst efficiency is the dominant driving force, other, and sometimes competing discourses, might exist within the same collaboration. This presents difficulties in terms of governance, regulation and notions of what constitutes 'success'.

• Throughout the seminar series, contributors from different sectors used distinctive terminology and language. However, over time it became apparent this referred to similar phenomena, and issues which are relevant to the study and practice of collaboration are similar across sectors: such as trust, power, leadership, capacity, performance and regulation. In addition, theoretical frameworks advanced to explain collaboration are common across sectors, although contextual differentiation as expressed, for instance in terms of motivation and purpose, need to be taken into account.

• The seminars revealed significant potential for learning both within and between sectors, particularly in terms of the design, management and governance of collaborations. Approaches to leadership, alliance management, skills and competencies, performance management tools and techniques are all appropriate for shared learning across sectors. However, this is hampered by barriers such as communication, language, prejudice, motivation, absorptive capacity, and a perpetuation of exclusive and professionalised communities of interest.

• Demand for participation at the seminar series varied with some (e.g leadership and management, performance and evaluation) attracting slightly more interest than others, partly because these are key issues in broader inter-sectoral management. We found it harder to attract academics working on collaboration within the private sector than public or third sector participants. However, at each seminar we did manage to get cross sectoral representation from amongst academics and practitioners, as well as ensuring a Scottish, Welsh and English presence at all seminars.
Exploitation Route The seminar series was designed to involve policy makers and practitioners particularly from the public sector to secure links between theory and practice. Deliberations from the series helped to inform the Christie Commission on the Future of Public Services in Scotland and the University of Birmingham's Commission on Public Services in England.

The collaborative discourses provide a framework to enable policy makers and practitioners understand the implications of different courses of action for leadership, management, performance, learning and human resource management. The individually themed seminar sessions explores in more detail the effect of each discourse in practice allowing informed jugements to be made about the consequences of future strategies.

The seminar series highlighted the potential for inter-sectoral learning particuarly between the public and private sectors but also the 3rd sector. The direction of learning was primarily from the private to public sectors but it was appparent that, despite the use of different terms and language, the issues involved in collaboration were very similar. This seminar series offers a broad overview of the challenges and choices of collaboration into the future. In many ways it offers a comprehensive research agenda for academics and researchers involved in this area of study. Many research questions can be generated from the deliberations in different areas of policy, within different disciplinary areas, different sectors (public, private and 3rd) and using different research methodologies and approaches.

Future research can focus on specific themes - leadership, agency, risk and control, trust, innovation, learning, performance and scrutiny and others - or explore collaboration more broadly with an examination of different case studies in practice.

Research studies around inter-sectoral learning would be highly instructive.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description It is not possible to assess the extent to which the findings have been used
Description Same difference? : leading and managing collaborations and single organizations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact The article explores the extent to which leadership and management in single organizations and collaborations are different or similar.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010