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.

Observations

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

Overview

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.


n=10

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.


n=5

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.