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How partnership groups don’t always deliver their best

V – if I remember correctly, you should have had the presentation by now to the Health and Wellbeing Board that your mental health group was working towards?

A – Yes, indeed, we have.

V – and how did it go?

M – presumably not enough strategy and analysis for your liking?

A – the presentation was well made, the chair was generally effusive about what had been done and it seemed to satisfy the visiting dignitary, which was the main point of the exercise.

M – Ahh, I see the problem – too positive!  Nothing about how terrible everything is.  You could have helped them with that – a good dose of negativity.

V – thank you Mal, but perhaps we can hear Ade’s critique?

A – the meeting did put rather a gloss on things, but I’m not too worried about that – sometimes you’ve got to keep people happy.

There was no detailed plan of action, just a couple of possible initiatives listed.  But then, we knew that before the meeting.

M – I don’t think this is building up to a ringing commendation – what was it you didn’t like?

At the last minute, the presentation was changed, so rather than having a couple of new initiatives as the actions, it was to ‘celebrate, promote and connect existing resources’.

V – so not much of a commitment.

A – that’s right.  It seems very odd, because I think the Council (who made the changes as far as I know) do want to see action – there’s been a fair amount of pressure for that.

V – so how do you think the work of the group should have gone and what do you think actually happened?

A – I covered, broadly how I think the process should have happened in my last blog.  In essence:

  • The first meeting should have clarified the task and how it was to be delivered.  At least in part, it was to produce an action plan to present to the Health and Wellbeing Board in November.
  • It should then have agreed the process, such as delegating to sub-groups, perhaps each producing the business case for a different initiative, supported by collective online working.
  • The reports from each could have been brought back, perhaps with a summary table of the key points with a selection process, perhaps involving discussion and voting.
  • There should then have been a process for producing the presentation, with joint sign off.

V – so what actually happened and why?

A – As for what actually happened, this is mostly guesswork, because I don’t know everyone’s true motivations or what happened between meetings, but I think probably:

  • There was a shared goal, at the start, to produce a viable action plan (albeit with limited ambition – probably thinking in terms of small projects rather than a strategic approach to service delivery, prevention, self-management etc.)
  • The process wasn’t managed in the best way to achieve the goal, probably because of not realising how quickly we needed to get started and perhaps because more attention was given to ensuring all stakeholders had a say than having a task focussed discussion.
  • Generally people lacked the time to put into this, so maybe what I suggested should happen wouldn’t have been realistic anyway, (but the question was not even asked, ‘could you do a bit of work on this before the next meeting?’)
  • As the time to produce something got closer, the council took increasing control.  I suspect this was because they thought it the safest way to produce something acceptable to the committee.
  • Even closer to the meeting I suspect (this is total guesswork) that political views stepped in and decided they didn’t want an open ended commitment to projects that hadn’t been costed or justified.

V – so what are the lessons from all that, particularly in terms of partnership working?

A – It’s a messy business, with all the usual issues of agendas, interests and relationships that you find in work of most kind.  As I’ve suggested above, there are methods for working together more effectively, but to get those methods agreed and then to implement them, you need to persuade people and bring them along with you.

V – and what happens next?  What does it mean for the future?

A – interesting question.  I’m not sure what the council’s position is.  I suspect they don’t want to kill off any action, just avoid signing up to spend money if possible.  There’s an indication that mental health is to be a Health and Wellbeing Board priority for next year, so I imagine they will want to see some action coming out of that.

V – Perhaps you can use the learning from this to influence the next stage from the start?

A – hope so.  It maybe needs more attention to the soft skills as well as the detailed analysis.

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