The latest Coram Innovation Incubator (CII) webinar explored the ingredients for succcesful collaboration. Sylvie Travers the CII’s Assistant Project Manager reflects on how, in a time of unprecedented need, our sector can succesfully work together to achieve the best outcomes for children and young people.
The challenges faced by children’s services in trying to keep children and young people safe predate the pandemic, but in its wake they have grown more complex and seemingly intractable. With the lives of vulnerable children increasingly multi-faceted, children need the agencies and professionals involved with them to work together effectively in order to protect them and improve their lives.
Collaboration is a central element of the Coram Innovation Incubator (CII) model. The CII seeks to drive radical innovation to address grand challenges affecting children and young people by providing resources, expertise and insight across geographical and sectoral boundaries enabling insight and innovation to flourish. .
But how can we ensure that the collaborative relationships we strive for are always conducive to favourable outcomes for children and young people?
The Coram Innovation Incubator recently brought together an expert panel to discuss this in an attempt to uncover the key ingredients for successful collaboration. We heard from Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, Kevin Yong, the managing director of Coram-i, Neil Sartorio, Lead Partner for Local Public Services at EY and Chris Wright, Chief Executive of Catch 22.
A recording of the discussion is available here. Our panel identified a number of key factors that can help foster positive and productive collaboration to deliver successful innovation in children’s services:
- Pool our expertise across sectors: We were reminded by Chris Wright that: ‘The public sector does not have a monopoly on integrity, the private sector doesn’t have a monopoly on efficiency, and the charity sector doesn’t have a monopoly on compassion’. We need to acknowledge, celebrate and exploit the distinctive and wide-ranging capabilities that exist in each sector, accepting that combining our cross-sector expertise and envisaging our collective capacity can result in better outcomes for those we are trying to help. We do not exist in mutually exclusive spheres.
- Support each other: The scale of the challenges children face means that we must accept that we can’t do it alone. We must be willing to recognise where we might need support, due to a deficit in the resources and expertise needed to pursue something new. This requires one to discard any ego, sense of competition or master/servant dynamic and embrace a spirit of openness, accepting that successful collaboration heeds the message that innovation requires input from multiple parts to create a coherent whole.
- Involve the whole organisation: Bring colleagues across your organisation on board and clearly present to them the rationale for what you are doing, so that they can support you to remove and negate any bureaucratic barriers that may exist to wider collaborative working.
- Embrace the new: A willingness of leaders to help to facilitate and catalyse new enterprises and support the ‘incubation’ of new ideas is fundamental. Leaders should try to carve out space for those (including perhaps staff, colleagues or peers in other organisations) wanting to trial new things: be it by providing the physical space, offering up resources, consenting to new technologies or accepting the degree of risk that comes with allowing your staff the freedom to experiment and deviate from business as usual and ingrained orthodoxies.
- Adopt best practice: Good collaborative behaviour involves a joint problem solving approach to find resolutions, rather than looking to place blame when things do not pan out as hoped. As long as we are united in keeping the child at the forefront and we always strive to meet their best interest, we must be reasonable, flexible and supportive as we work with others.
- Remember our shared goal: A commitment to the shared goal and an unwavering focus on the ultimate ambition to improve the life chances of vulnerable children, at both a broad and an individual level, regardless of any obstacles that may arise. Innovation is a process of trial and error and requires flexibility and adaptability to facilitate more radical change, especially in the complex climate that children’s services operate in. We must accept this process as an integral part of reaching our shared goal.
The CII commitment to collaboration and innovation
The CII is committed to stimulating radical innovation and a crucial part of this will always be collaboration, not least as it moderates the risk to individual organisations by sharing the load. Developing a formula which enables effective collaboration does not stop at a single project: it should spur further positive change and support scalability and sustainability of promising projects so their impact can be broader. A combination of good people, good behaviour and good intentions is fundamental. Another type of collaboration involves taking stock of what has already been trialled across the sector and reviewing what we can take forward. The CII therefore offers learning sets to its partners to disseminate good practice from elsewhere and stimulate peer learning in the hope that it can be scaled up and replicated.
The trajectory is undoubtedly positive. While the challenges the sector faces are great, so too is the shared commitment to work together to improve the lives of children and young people. The pandemic has accelerated innovation to some degree and we must capitalise on this. Children’s services are stretched and finding time to explore new things is challenging amid growing pressures and demands, but the payoff from leaders empowering their staff to pursue broader innovation in partnership with others can be considerable for vulnerable children and young people. By pooling our resources and expertise, we can amplify our impact: the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.