Draft recommendations

These recommendations have been developed based on our emerging findings. They draw heavily on examples of successful collaboration across the sector.

We recognise the current environment can make some of these changes difficult, although not impossible. These recommendations are primarily aimed at senior leaders in and trustees of organisations. While we hope this work will be useful for staff who want to push for change, there is vital role for leaders in setting the tone and direction for organisational change.

Co-production and community focus

  • Calculate the impact on communities and beneficiaries. Organisations consider a range of factors when deciding whether to bid for a piece of work. This includes whether they have relevant expertise, whether the current provider delivers quality, and whether they can cover their costs. Organisations should also consider what the impact would be on the existing organisation and the local sector, such as closure, a reduction in their work or loss of key staff. Organisations should then consider the impact this would have on their beneficiaries, such as loss of community connection and stability.
  • Serve the community not the commissioner. There is a concern that some organisations are too focused on winning contracts and meeting the requirements of commissioners, even when that is at odds with achieving better outcomes for communities. However, there are also some organisations that are working in a different way to counteract contract culture. These organisations instruct their staff to serve the community, not their organisation. For these organisations the contract is not the job.
  • Co-produce services with people who will use them. Broadly, co-production is where professionals and people using services come together as equal partners to work towards shared goals. Working with beneficiaries and communities was rarely mentioned when participants explained how their organisation decides what work to do. Organisations should consider co-producing the design and delivery of services with people who have and will have direct experience of them. This will focus decision-making on impact, and ensure the service is what is wanted and needed by the people who use it. Organisations may want to consider working with other organisations to do this and working with user-led organisations and representative organisations who may have more experience of this approach.

System view

  • Recognise your power. There are organisations, whether they have an income of £5 million or £50 million, that recognise the relative power they have in the system to effect change. These organisations recognise the opportunities they have to influence commissioning and procurement practice. They also work in a way that is supportive of other organisations who share their mission. For some organisations this means policies such as:
    • refusing to submit loss-making bids
    • having a ‘no compete’ policy with smaller organisations
    • not binding smaller organisations to exclusivity clauses
    • not using smaller organisations as bid candy
    • ensuring collaboration is fair, by putting in place fair pricing and not operating unsustainable payment by results models.
  • Recognise the way other organisations contribute to your mission. Organisations that demonstrate a more collaborative approach recognise they will not be able to achieve their mission without other organisations. These organisations act as stewards rather than owners of funding. Organisations could map the system, where possible in partnership with beneficiaries, to understand how other organisations contribute to achieving change and identify organisations to work with.
  • Just because you can, does not mean you should. Organisations that take a more collaborative approach think differently about growth. Some refuse to set growth targets. Organisations should be thinking about becoming more sustainable and improving their impact, even if this might mean reducing their portfolio of work. Boards have a crucial role to play in changing an organisation’s approach to impact.
  • Consider all income generation. In addition to the intense competition for funding from commissioners there is also increasing competition for funding from trusts and foundations, as well as retail and fundraised income. Organisations, and trustee boards, should consider whether their whole income generation strategy makes it harder for other organisations to sustain good work.

Learning culture

  • Build self-awareness and critique. Our work has highlighted organisations often demonstrate collaborative practice in one aspect of their work but not another. Individuals and leaders are not always aware of perceived bad practice. Organisations that take a more collaborative approach reflect honestly on their behaviour as an organisation. They work to instil a culture of learning at all levels. They do this by developing more effective feedback loops from staff on the ground and in business development to senior leadership. They ensure each piece of work is linked to their governance structure. Organisations should consider whether their approach to measurement supports a learning culture.
  • Facilitate two-way learning. The most successful partnerships value mutual learning. Larger organisations may be able to offer more support in terms of capacity building around impact measurement, for example. Larger organisations can also learn from smaller organisations (depending on their expertise) about e.g. agile and responsive ways of delivering support, co-production, and community development and organising. All partners need to reflect on their performance and role in the partnership.
  • Learn from other leaders. Outward looking leadership is vital to spark and maintain a collaborative culture. Honest and respectful conversations between leaders are vital for the development of good partnerships. Leaders should model a positive attitude to learning and collaboration, as well as make time to network with leaders from other types and sizes of organisations.

Autonomy, flexibility and creativity

  • Make it easier for staff to initiate and support collaborative working. Some larger organisations which have adopted a more collaborative approach have built support for smaller organisations into the job descriptions of their staff, including requirements to support partner organisations. Some organisations have dedicated partnership leads who have prominence in the organisation. The organisations that have shifted most successfully towards a more collaborative way of working have reduced internal bureaucracy to enable staff to, for example, say no to a piece of work if they think it is beyond the scope of the organisation. These organisations ensure local staff have the time, pre-approval and freedom to develop partnerships and relationships with local organisations.
  • Take a flexible and proportionate approach to working with others. Smaller organisations often express frustration at larger organisations acting like a commissioner rather than a partner. This is often experienced as a lack of flexibility. When delivering a contract together, organisations should consider how they can deliver what is needed whilst also adapting the way they work to accommodate the smaller organisation. For example, this could range from providing additional capacity where needed, to taking a proportionate approach to due diligence.
  • Expand your idea of collaboration. Organisations often collaborate with each other by delivering a contract in partnership, mostly through a prime/sub relationship. Organisations can consider other mechanisms for delivery, such as joint ventures, consortium, and alliance contracts. Larger organisations could consider being the subcontractor to a smaller organisation or bringing a non-delivery agent (with the necessary understanding of the work) in to coordinate the collaboration. Organisations could also consider a range of ways to work in collaboration beyond co-delivery of a contract. This could include sharing infrastructure, taking on the risk to support a smaller organisation to access social finance, purchasing the services of smaller organisations, and sharing information. Collaboration does not always require the exchange of money.
  • Be more open to well-managed risks. Organisations that work in a more collaborative way require a board of trustees that is supportive of this approach, proactively consider collaborative working and have an appetite for well managed risks. These risks might include deciding to stop some areas of work, or working with an organisation that has a different way of working.

Communication and connection

  • Expand your networks. Organisations use various methods to find partners and understand the sector, including:
    • going back to past or existing partners
    • using personal relationships
    • online research
    • talking to local staff
    • taking recommendations from commissioners
    • using CVS organisations and sub sector networks
    • going to or hosting their own market engagement events.

Organisations looking for partners should not just engage with or replicate the commissioning cycles, because this may create barriers for some organisations. Rather they should work early on to make full use of local infrastructure support to understand the local context. Organisations should recognise the value of local infrastructure as an enabler of potential new partnerships.

  • Communicate your value and offer. Organisations should clearly communicate their intention and motivation to work in collaboration (to internal and external stakeholders). They should specifically articulate their approach to working in partnership and their offer of support to others. This would help address the perception that organisations are not open to working with or alongside others. Given the number of organisations that rely on online research to find potential partners, it is vital organisations of all sizes to build an effective digital presence to explain what they do and why.
  • Communicate frequently, and with honesty. Organisations that work well in collaboration prioritise regular communication and honesty to ensure the early resolution of any disagreements. These organisations emphasised the importance of having named contacts, visiting prospective and existing partners, conversations between CEOs, as well as all partners being included throughout the process – from bidding to delivery. Often smaller and larger organisations have very different structures and ways of working, and this can result in difficulty especially - where one party assumes their way is the only right way. Organisations should establish a shared ethos or purpose and use this to agree ways of working that is respectful of all parties and ensures quality. Organisations may want to consider when it would be helpful to involve external brokerage or facilitation.

Thinking ahead

  • Think about collaboration from the beginning. Several organisations have told us their most successful partnerships begin before a tender is released. Organisations should work proactively outside of tender process to develop opportunities for collaboration. This may make use of local infrastructure or could include working with local infrastructure to set up new forums if needed.
  • Set up the foundations. Organisations emphasised the importance of setting expectations and boundaries at the beginning of the work. Organisations that collaborate well achieve a balance between embracing the difference and independence brought by partners and ensuring fundamental things like values are aligned. In addition to having early, honest conversations, organisations should consider setting up an agreement to prevent conflict and resolve it when it does occur. Before entering a partnership, organisations should consider what they can and can’t compromise on. Organisations should commit to the partnership and work through obstacles but should ensure there is fundamental honesty and mutual respect there to begin with.

How to respond to these draft recommendations

We would like to hear your thoughts on whether these recommendations would help you to move towards working in a more collaborative way (especially in the context of competitive commissioning). We would also like to hear your views on what type of support, especially from infrastructure organisations, you would need in order to work in a different way. Please email a brief response to rebecca.young@ncvo.org.uk by midday 27 March 2020. It would be helpful if you could tell us the size of your organisation by income when you respond.

We’d be grateful if you were able to answer the following questions:

  1. What is your organisation’s income? Are you national or local?
  2. Do these findings reflect your experience?
  3. Would adopting recommendations help you to work better with and alongside other organisations?
  4. What barriers would you face when trying to implement these recommendations?
  5. What type of support would you need to adopt these recommendations? We are especially interested in what infrastructure bodies like ACEVO and NCVO, or local CVS organisations, could do.

Next steps

Your feedback on the emerging findings and the draft recommendations will inform the final recommendations. These recommendations will be published in the final report in the early summer, alongside a more detailed explanation of the research findings including case studies. Following the publication of the final report, we will consider what practical support organisations might need to put some of these recommendations into practice.

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 27 February 2020