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More Lessons from Practice for Partnerships

V – any news on the mental health work and lessons for partnership working?

A – not much to report really.  The new, independent chair is running the meetings well, focussing on the priority actions that have been agreed.

M – something going well?  Surely not!  Don’t tell me you finally got the perfect meeting?

A – Not perfect – we’re still overrunning on some items, but then a balance is always needed between moving through the business and ensuring everyone feel’s they’ve had a chance to have their say.

M – Thought so.  Nothing’s ever right is it.

A – I’m not saying that.  It’s perfectly professionally managed, but inevitably you can’t always have a perfect result.

V – So, is there anything you think should be happening but isn’t?

A – Well, I was thinking: how might things have gone in an ideal world.  I’m not criticising anyone involved, but you could still imagine a bigger, better result, produced more quickly.

V – and what would that look like?

A – more would be done between meetings, so there’d be more progress to report.  To be fair, that does seem to be the method but perhaps the focus of activity is too narrow.

V – could you explain what you mean exactly?

A – Well, for instance, one of the aims is to have a community digital resource – a list of voluntary organisations and maybe more.  There are already some existing lists of voluntary organisations, and the focus seems to have been applied to just one, the council’s, which is being updated.

M – fair enough.  Why reinvent the wheel?

A – absolutely, but the risk is that that’s seized on as ‘the answer’ rather than considering other options.  That list needs to be considered alongside the other databases.  Could one do the job for all, or do you need to keep them all, but maybe join them up in some way?  And what other information and functionality might you want from a website.  Ideally you might have had a little working group considering all that and bringing proposals back to the main group.

V – and why do you think that didn’t happen?

A – maybe it’s partly resources – people don’t have much time available nowadays.  But also maybe it’s about what the person leading that area of work was asked to do.  Perhaps there should have been more discussion at the main group and then guidance from it.  There’s also something about shared accountability – this isn’t down to any one organisation or individual so everyone feels less responsible than if it was just down to them.

V – so what are the main lessons for partnership working?

A – Hard to say.  You can’t magic resources from nowhere.  Perhaps a driving vision would enthuse people and get them doing a bit more.  There are opportunities to make more use of volunteer time; though that’s certainly not the whole answer.  Small working groups (maybe 3 or 4 people) might encourage a broader view of the tasks.  We could also make better use of working virtually – online platforms or even by email – between meetings.

V – that still sounds quite specific.  Are there any ways you could generalise some of that, so others could apply it to their own circumstances?

A – A vision that drives people is often mentioned as a key component of change and improvement.  It’s hard to legislate for, though.  If it doesn’t come fairly naturally, how much time is it worth spending trying to force one out?

A – It certainly seems worthwhile for the group to reflect on what it is doing, how work is progressing.  There has to be a balance, not spending too much time navel gazing at the expense of actually getting on and doing.  But a slot, maybe 10-15 minutes at the end of meetings to give people a chance to say how things could be done, might be productive.

M – surprisingly, I’m not actually going to disagree with you about that.  Those sessions at the end of meetings can be useful, but to play devil’s advocate –

A – we mustn’t let the devil go without some advocacy –

M – why not just have those discussions at the time when the decision’s being made.  So when that person was being volunteered to do the work on the digital resource, why not be clear at that point what they were expected to do?

A – yes, I think you’re right-

V – pass me the smelling salts, I think peace and understanding is breaking out amongst the boys.

A – as I was saying, yes, you need to be careful and precise when you’re making decisions, but since you won’t always get it right, give yourselves chance to review and revise how everything’s being managed from time to time.

V – well before anything happens to shatter this historic consensus, I think we’ll leave it there.  Thank you gentlemen.

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