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?