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.
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.