Insights from the first of a series of conversations exploring the six foundations for effective collaboration

We recently launched our Guide to Collaboration, a short summary of what we’ve learned about how to create sustained, effective collaborations for social change. It distils our reports, frameworks, and projects into twenty informative pages introducing the six key foundations of effective collaboration.

We are now exploring each of the foundations in a series of public conversations. In the first of these, we discussed healthy, trusting relationships alongside friends from the Relationship Project and East Sussex County Council.

The starting point for our conversation is the recognition that complex social problems can’t be shifted by a single person or organisation – it’s systems that produce outcomes. To really make a difference and address problems (like loneliness, as we heard from ESCC) requires collaboration across the system. It is the job of all the people and organisations in that collaboration to value and invest in the quality of the relationships across the system.

Healthy, trusting relationships help collaborators understand each other and take action together. They enable us to surface and navigate different expectations; to work towards a common purpose even though we may hold different perspectives on the problem.

Having set the scene in this way, we heard from Immy Robinson, who shared what the Relationships Project has been learning about relationship centred practice. She started by making a helpful distinction between relationships and transactions, stating that neither is inherently better than the other. A good transaction follows a standard course, is efficient and fair, while a good relationship is unique, unscripted, organic and empathetic.

Understanding these differences gives clarity on where a good transaction will suffice and where we need to invest in building good relationships. As a general rule of thumb more complex situations and challenges require good relationships whereas in more simple situations a good transaction is appropriate.

Problems arise when we create protocols and cultural norms which inhibit relationship building in situations when relationships should be most valued-such as health and social care settings.

Immy then shared a model describing how relationship centred practice can be supported and institutionalised through embedding a set of conditions or enablers.

Immy wrapped up by issuing an invitation for people to imagine a world of good relationships in the place where they live and work – which took us neatly into discussing the work being done across East Sussex to develop a systems approach to mitigating the worst effects of loneliness.

Ben Brown, Consultant in Public Health and Paul Rideout, Third Sector Policy Manager at East Sussex County Council talked us through how they’ve been fostering trusting relationships across their county as a foundation stone for establishing system stewardship as the way to get to the future they collectively want.

They described how the pandemic had brought sectors together in unprecedented ways, catalysing a desire to work together differently across the county. As system partners they have convened a stewardship group, which aims to make best use of their collective resources, to make more decisions collectively and to share responsibility for creating a more connected county. Fundamental to this is that all partners work beyond the boundaries of their own organisation and their formal role to take collective responsibility for the quality of the relationships within the system and hold each other to account.

The county council has provided some funding for this collaboration, but has taken the brave decision to relinquish nearly all control over this money and invite the voluntary sector and stewardship group to decide how it will be used.

These presentations were followed by valuable contributions from varied participants and interesting discussions about everything from the ‘leap of faith’ required, to measurement and disrupting power.

Watch the video for more details

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