Tuesday, 22 December 2009

What did this work lead to?

The work to explore collaborative working experience within the FAN Club membership, placing that experience within the context of futures work, articulating the challenges and opportunities associated with collaborating in futures work and developing ideas to enhance and build collaboration across the network has led to the Collaboration Programme.

This new phase of work has picked up on the ideas to establish sub-groups of the FAN Club and develop new partnerships around a critical piece of futures analysis.

An introductions to this work and an occasional; blog to track progress is available now. CLICK HERE to view the new blog.

And if you have any questions or comments about this work or the new programme, feel free to contact me.

Steve Wells.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Final Report


This is the final phase of this initiative to explore collaborative working practice in futures work for the FAN Club and Horizon Scanning Centre.

In the first phase of the project – the Collaboration Health Check survey of FAN Club members’ experience in collaboration generally - feedback suggested familiarity with joint working, but that good practice in the collaboration process and collaborative working behaviours was less common.

Through the inquiry interviews in phase two, members articulated a number of factors that acted as motivators to working collaboratively in futures work and other factors that represented challenges to doing so. In addition, I sought to gain an understanding of members’ sense of how collaborative working could evolve and how FAN Club might support greater collaboration across the network. The FAN Club meeting held in February then provided an opportunity to address collaboration in the context of leadership, and provided an interesting insight to the part collaborative working can play in addressing public sector leadership challenges.

This final phase of the project represents a revision from my original proposal, based on client feedback and the ongoing HSC work to explore strategic options for the FAN Club. One issue raised by HSC concerned the number of stakeholders that have been involved in the inquiry process. My perspective on this issue is that (within reason) any number of views expressed and shared are valid as a means to start dialogue over (in this case) how we collaborate effectively in futures work; particularly when the volume and expectation of multi-agency working is increasing.

The objective of this final phase of the collaborative working initiative is to validate or challenge my observations of the feedback so far received from FAN Club members.

I have now engaged over 50 FAN Club members through the different activities employed throughout this process. The majority of members have been from the public sector but I have also spoken to a number of members from the private sector – mainly management consultants. Here are the numbers of people engaged, by project phase:

  • Collaboration Health Check (survey) = 17
  • Initial inquiry interviews = 6
  • Seminar = 25
  • Validation interviews = 5
  • Total involvement = 53


A second round of telephone interviews have been conducted with FAN Club members – recommended by HSC. The interviews sought to understand respondent’s perspective on the feedback received throughout the first two phases of the project and also to gain insight to their own ideas for the Fan Club. Interviews typically lasted for between 45 minutes and an hour and were based on a series of themed questions.

  • Firstly, respondents were asked to share their level of agreement / disagreement with the issues raised by FAN Club members in previous phases of the inquiry in respect of their thoughts on the motivating factors that encourage collaboration, and the challenges to collaborating.
  • Secondly, interviewees were asked to prioritise the potential risks and benefits of working collaboratively in futures work.
  • Finally, I sought to engage respondents in an exploratory conversation about the future of collaboration in the context of futures work, collaboration between FAN Club members and the ideas for future FAN Club events.

Having recorded the key points of the conversations I looked for indications of agreement with the findings of previous phases of the project as well as the challenges.


The validation interviews showed a significant level of agreement with the feedback on motivators and challenges, risks and benefits and ideas raised, gathered through the previous phases of this initiative.

Motivators and Challenges

Overall levels of disagreement with the motivational factors and challenges identified in the original inquiry interviews were very low. Areas of disagreement concerned control of collaboration and futures process and content. But there was strong agreement on the importance of relationships, resourcing and building on common ground.

Risks and Benefits

A number of potential benefits and risks were identified by respondents in the inquiry interviews and all but one benefit and one risk were prioritised by members participating in the validation interviews.

The future for collaboration in futures work

The majority view was that while there is a perceived need to collaborate more – respondents accept the increasing interconnectivity, complexity and uncertainties in the environment – attitudes need to change within organisations to make more collaborative working a reality. Feedback from the previous interviews suggested that members would increasingly differentiate who they worked with based on potential partners’ reputation in collaboration and futures work where they were able to do so.

In terms of FAN Club activities going forward, questions were raised about the balance between content and process, although most of the ideas focus on collaborative engagement. Here, facilitated sessions at FAN Club were suggested to match members with issues, suitable tools, approaches and experts to foster collaboration. Critical in the opinion of most validation interview respondents is for any ideas implemented to meet a clear stakeholder need and for FAN Club to remain in contact with the progress made.

Observations and Recommendations

Having undertaken a number of different activities throughout this initiative, I believe that there are clear consistencies between the inquiry interviews and the validation interviews and that a number of key messages have emerged, not least of which is the challenge that adopting a truly collaborative approach represents to many organisations; in the public (as well as the private sector).

I was encouraged by the sense that a more collaborative approach to FAN Club activities had engaged the respondents in a positive manner and yet significant cultural hurdles remain to encouraging a collaborative approach. Despite broad agreement that collaborative working would be beneficial in many circumstances, there remains a reluctance to genuinely seek true collaboration in many cases. My sense is that control (of the process and content) is a key issue as is the perception that organisational support for collaborative working can be fragile. Capability and competence are also doubtless playing a part.

My recommendations cover futures working, FAN Club events and HSC operations:

1. Use this work to inform FAN Club and HSC strategy and future activity
2. Implement selected ideas as pilots and exemplars of effective collaboration in futures work
3. Design collaborative working (not just networking) into FAN Club events
4. Develop a FAN Club – HSC charter
5. HSC provide collaborative working support to FAN Club members and other clients.

Further information

All the detail reports produced through this work are available at the STRATEGY EXCHANGE.

If you want more information about this initiative or collaborative working / partnership in general, email me.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Next Steps

Having completed two phases of the initiative, we paused as a number of other activities got underway at HSC that had a bearing on this work.

As you may recall, the last FAN Club meeting focussed on future leadership challenges in the public sector, a number of which had collaborative working connections. In addition, a meeting was held to as part of a process to complete a FAN Club Strategy review.

Given this work, we decided to look again at the final phase of the collaboration work and have decided to focus on validating the feedback we have so far received, to add weight to conclusions so far made.

My intention is to invite a number of FAN Club members to participate in an interview as part of the validation process. But in the meantime, if you would like to take part, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

At the FAN Club meeting on 20th May in London, I will be presenting the findings from the initiative and if all goes to plan in a hectic final phase, this will include the results of the validation phase. You will be able to find a summary of the presentation here on this blog within a couple of days of the FAN Club meeting.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Collaborative Working Seminar at 26th February FAN Club

For information about this seminar that took place at February's FAN Club meeting, click here.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Interim Assessment of Collaborative Working Practice in Futures Work

This is an interim summary of the inquiry interview phase of this project.

Experience of collaboration in futures work based on the interviews undertaken is described as mainly mixed or poor. There is some very good experience and at the opposite end of the spectrum no experience, but these examples are in the minority. There is also evidence of limited success in adopting the outputs of futures work, for example taking them into policy development.

As identified in other research into collaborative working, the success of collaboration is highly dependent upon the motivation and commitment of a very few individuals.

But none of this is to say that collaboration does not take place; but it is much more common in operational areas as a way to support implementation for example, than in futures work.

Motivators and Challenges

There are a number of reasons why people will engage in collaboration and a number of challenges in doing so. Being aware of the option to collaborate is important, particularly where supported by examples of successful collaboration. But making the work relevant, promoting the advantages of participation, building on complimentary skills and capabilities and ensuring the project is effectively resourced are all critical.

Major challenges to collaborative working include the fear of giving up control of the process and / or content. Strategy and particularly futures work are often given a low priority, particularly in organisations subject to significant operational short-term pressures.

A number of potential risks and benefits were identified by respondents including:

The future for collaboration in futures work

The trend across many businesses is for increasing collaboration and the FAN Club’ consensus is that futures work will also be subject to more collaborative working. In part, the trend is being driven by a simple necessity to collaborate as issues become bigger, more inter-connected, the stakeholder base becomes more dispersed all leading to increasing complexity and uncertainty.

Practitioners are likely to differentiate between potential partners based on their experience, capability and willingness to collaborate. The implication of this is that a lack of collaborative working capability could adversely impact an organisation’s reputation.

Colleagues suggest that there are four areas where collaborative futures work could be promoted to greatest effect. Capability development is arguably the key issue in building awareness and confidence in futures analysis and effective collaborative working. Establishing communities of practice to address issues of shared interest - including both content and process - and the development of a support structure were felt to be important enablers to increasing the chances of successful collaborative futures analysis. Demonstrating success is linked to both the above points but it was felt that considering how to communicate and share good practice within and beyond immediate networks was critical. It was also felt that increased government support – particularly for local authorities – could help drive up standards in strategic thinking; including futures analysis and collaboration.

Building collaboration between FAN Club events

The value that FAN Club members currently gain from participating at events is focused on information exchange; capability development; networking; futures content; and futures practice. These form the basis for a number of collaborative working ideas to consider between meetings, including:
  • Introducing a range of sub-groups to follow up on specific issues e.g. devolved governments, local government.
  • The establishment of a public sector only group.
  • The development of some academic or thought leadership pieces on futures work.
  • Establishing an operational charter between the Horizon Scanning Centre (HSC) and FAN Club.


From the interviews conducted it is clear that collaboration is common place for many colleagues, albeit in an operational situation, but that genuine collaboration remains rare in futures analysis. But it seems that there is broad agreement that collaboration in futures work is a good idea that would realise significant benefits. And yet there is a reluctance to “get stuck in and have a go” in part due to a perceived lack of organisational support, a desire to maintain control over process and content and perhaps limited capability in true collaboration – informal or formalised. At FAN Club meetings interaction is common, but this can be experienced as listening and telling and rarely dialogic, and not what I would describe as collaboration.

In my experience building effective collaboration requires due consideration of organisational culture, stakeholder engagement and effective contracting.

  • Organisational culture – how supportive is the organisation to collaboration and what does it expect?
  • Stakeholder engagement - how are relationships with stakeholders developed and nurtured and what are the supporting processes and behaviours?
  • Contracting – what do the collaborating parties want from and have to offer each other?
  • What do they want to deliver to their stakeholders and how will they work together to achieve their objectives?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Interim Assessment of Collaborative Working Practice


As well as looking at the information by collaborative working theme there are some interesting differences when the feedback is analysed by stakeholder group.

The aggregate scores attributed to the statements by colleagues working in the Private Sector (mainly consultancy) were approximately 15% higher than those attributed by Public Sector FAN Club members. Differences varied across the collaborative working themes; from 7% for Collaborative Behaviours to 24% for Relationship Development.

Despite these differences in the Collaboration Health Check aggregate scores, the profile outlines are similar for both sectors although the range of scores within theme is generally wider in the Public Sector feedback compared to the Private Sector.

Public Sector

Public Sector respondents gave their highest rating to Engagement and Relationship Development, based on their own collaborative working experience. Collaborative Working Process attracted the lowest rating, potentially indicating a capability development need.


Note: The numbers on the vertical axis refer to the statement number from the Collaboration Health Check (see below for a list of the statements in numerical order) and the colour coding indicates the level of agreement or disagreement respondents have shared in their feedback. Green / light green indicates strength of agreement, amber is neutral and red / pink indicates disagreement.

Private Sector

Private Sector respondents gave their highest rating to Relationship Development, based on their own collaborative working experience.

Like the Public Sector FAN Club members, Collaborative Working Process attracted the lowest rating albeit at 9% above the aggregate rating given by their Public Sector colleagues. Also like their Public Sector colleagues, the Private Sector feedback showed collaborative Behaviours ranked second lowest, perhaps suggesting there may be some common capability development needs.


Note: The numbers on the vertical axis refer to the statement number from the Collaboration health Check (see below for a list of the statements in numerical order) and the colour coding indicates the level of agreement or disagreement respondents have shared in their feedback. Green / light green indicates strength of agreement, amber is neutral and red / pink indicates disagreement.

Collaboration Health Check statements

The Collaboration Health Check asked respondents to indicate their level of agreement with 35 statements by entering: 0 - don't know / not applicable; 1 - disagree strongly; 2 - disagree; 3 - neither agree or disagree ; 4 - agree; or 5 - strongly agree.

[1] We are clear about the assumptions we hold and the facts we know about our potential partner(s).
[2] We regularly share the assumptions we hold about our partner(s), with our partner(s).
[3] We are clear about the value to us of forming relationships with other stakeholders.
[4] We tend to have a good existing relationship with our stakeholders before we collaborate on a particular initiative.
[5] When collaborating, we engage with our partner(s) at an early stage to ensure we incorporate their thoughts and ideas.
[6] In the early stages of engaging with potential partners, we share our "wants and offers" with them.
[7] We start a collaborative working initiative by paying particular attention to our relationship with our partner(s).
[8] When working with our partner(s) we are genuinely open to adopting ideas expressed by them.
[9] We are prepared to "give something up" in order to progress an opportunity to collaborate.
[10] When agreeing the activities and resourcing for a collaborative project, we also explicitly address "how" we will work together.
[11] When working collaboratively, we co-create the design of the initiative with our partner(s).
[12] When we collaborate we are clear about the level of investment required from our partner(s).
[13] When we collaborate we are clear about the level of investment we are required to make.
[14] When we collaborate we are clear about the benefit(s) that will accrue to our shared stakeholers as well as to our own stakeholders.
[15] When we collaborate, we are clear about the potential benefit(s) that will accrue to our partner(s).
[16] When we collaborate, we are clear about the potential benefit(s) that will accrue to us.
[17] We and our partners are jointly accountable for project governance.
[18] When we are working with our partner(s) it "feels" like an equitable relationship.
[19] We acknowledge and value "difference" as a source of creativity and innovation when working with other stakeholders.
[20] During collaborative work, we take collective responsibility - with our partner(s) - for maintaining our focus on achieving our mutually agreed goals.
[21] We always seek to review and where necessary revise our contract with our partner(s) during our collaboration.
[22] When we work collaboratively, we create new possibilities that would not have been created by working alone.
[23] We value and embrace the challenge presented by seeking an external stakeholder's input to and perspective on our work.
[24] Our relationship with our partner(s) continues to develop as we work together.
[25] We regularly share the insights gained from our own work with other interested stakeholders.
[26] We regularly engage colleagues from different departments in our own organisation to gain their perspective on our collaborative work.
[27] Colleagues across our organisation understand the value and challenges presented by working collaboratively.
[28] Avenues of communication are always open with our partner(s) ensuring we resolve issues that arise effectively and efficiently, while we collaborate.
[29] We always review the collaboration's performance against mutually agreed objectives.
[30] We formally close off a collaborative initiative with the full agreement of our partner(s).
[31] We are open to honest feedback from our partner(s).
[32] We are honest with our partners(s) in giving feedback.
[33] When we review a collaboration we seek to learn from the experience, rather than attributing blame for things that went wrong.
[34] In reviewing our experience of a collaborative initiative, we explore the possibility of future collaboration with our partner(s).
[35] Our relationships tend to be better with our partner(s) when we have collaborated on an initiative than they were before.

Full detail will be available in the final report (to be made available in time for the May FAN Club meeting) but if you have any questions in the meantime, please email me.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Slight change of plan for the February FAN Club meeting

By now you should have received your invitation to the FAN Club meeting on 25th February at the America Square Conference Centre. As you may recall our intention was to run a focus group on Collaboration in Futures Work at this meeting.

What we are now planning to do is offer a seminar discussion on collaborative working tools and how leaders can use them to develop strategic and futures skills, as one of four choices for part of the afternoon session.

I am very excited about leading this seminar and look forward to seeing you there.

If you want to contact me about this project then please do so.