Building strategic partnerships through a Partnership Board to improve place-based collaboration in Barnet

The Backdrop

Barnet Council knew why place-based working was the answer for them and what they wanted to achieve. This was already being captured in a new place-based Barnet Plan. But the question of how to work in a more place-based way needed further consideration.

Following work in 2019 that supported the Council to become more purpose-driven, collaborative and empowering of residents, Collaborate was recommissioned in 2020 to work with Barnet to realise the potential of place-based working. Our collective goal was to shift to a more systemic view, and support the Council to inhabit its role as a convener of local partners.

The newly established Partnership Board was a prime opportunity to explore this thinking. This diverse group of organisations, convened by the Council, had a shared interest in shaping Barnet’s future. Members of the Board acknowledged it lacked a clear role and purpose, as well as effective processes. But, there was great potential, energy and commitment that could be harnessed to support better partnership working and ultimately system-level change.

What we did

We worked to rejuvenate the Partnership Board as a vehicle for mobilising partners in the shift towards place-based working.

A rapid diagnostic identified the key issues the Board wanted to work on, and we quickly moved to addressing these by co-designing ways to strengthen the Board. We facilitated meetings, created a task and finish group and consulted individual members to co-produce a range of useful tools including principles for collaborative working (which were included in the Barnet Plan); a clear statement of purpose; decision-making criteria and a pipeline of agreed Board priorities. 

Through our facilitation of Board meetings, we were able to role-model behaviours and tools for collaborative discussion, and, using the example of economic recovery, demonstrate a model of how the Board could structure its place-based work. Following feedback, this iterated into a four-step methodology: discovery, mapping, action at the level of the borough institutions/system (‘Barnet the place’) and action at the local level (‘the places of Barnet’). 

These tools were useful in themselves, and the process of creating them was just as powerful. By doing real work together, we built new collaborative capacity and strengthened relationships, leaving the Board in a position to work better together in the future.

Impact and Learning

Over the course of four months, the project shifted the perception and operation of the Partnership Board to a well functioning, energetic and legitimate forum for mobilising place-based working in Barnet. The Council was left with a clear set of recommendations to maintain the progress made and a willing group of fellow travellers to journey with.

“A fairly simple shift from the Partnership Board being the place to ‘discuss’ to being a place to ‘do’ with others really unlocked momentum in this work”, said Jeff Masters, project lead for Collaborate. “It was great to see the changing dynamics in the meetings as partners began to co-create and lead the work, rather than just responding to the agenda the Council set.”

Through making tangible progress on practical things, relationships were strengthened, shared expectations developed and mutual accountability grew—crucial foundations for sustained partnership working. With a clear role and set of priorities to tackle, Barnet’s Partnership Board was equipped to deliver on the ambitions for the community set out in the Barnet Plan.

Collaborate provided invaluable support to Barnet Council in understanding our organisational culture and how this could be reset to become more collaborative and outward looking. They engaged widely with staff and stakeholders, listening and responding to local context and working collaboratively with us while providing the right amount of challenge. Their findings and ideas were shared throughout the process, and they generated support from those they spoke to. We would not hesitate in recommending them to other councils

John Hooton
Chief Executive, Barnet Council