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Partnerships getting things done – the fatal temptation

V – so, would you like to give us the latest instalment of the mental health strategy saga?

A – Yes. Various things have happened, but I’ll focus on the last meeting of the action group and the decision to take a report to the next Health and Wellbeing Board.

M – I thought you’d already done that.  Wasn’t that what the last blog was about?

A – yes, there was a presentation, but it just sketched the outlines of an action plan.  It was felt we now needed a more detailed report on how we could make most difference, such as through social prescribing and peer support.

V – well I suppose that makes sense.  First the general idea, then a detailed action plan.

A – there were just two problems though.

V – which were?

A – firstly, no-one had time to write the report.

V – a sign of the times.  You only realise what staff used to do after they’ve been cut.

A – Fortunately I’m quite happy writing reports, and though I didn’t really have any spare time, I was probably less busy than most of the others, so I volunteered to do the first draft.

V – and the second problem?

A – That goes back to Mal’s point – the main reason we didn’t put the detail in the original presentation to the Board was that we don’t have the detail.

V – so was that thrashed out in the meeting?

A – not exactly.  There was discussion about the next steps on some of the action points, so there was at least something to say about them.  But really no detailed discussion on social prescribing and peer support.

M – you must be delighted – another chance to trash the partnership process.

A – not at all.  Yes, it could have been done better, but I’ve made that point before.

M – yes, repeatedly!

A – no, I was reasonably happy devising something.  I wrote down lots of thoughts and essentially had the discussion which would ideally have happened in the meeting, with myself, in writing.  I looked at where we were – a proposal for supporting what already exists – what the options were, what might and might not work and the risks.  That led me to a conclusion – start with three already successful organisations, provide some joining up to magnify their success (such as by sharing learning between the three projects) and use that ‘scheme’ as a vehicle for finding additional funding and developing the service.

M – Great, you’ve solved the problem!  You don’t really need the working group or other organisations at all – you can do it all on your own!  Oh, wait a minute, wouldn’t you say that to get people working together more effectively, “you need to persuade people and bring them along with you”?  Actually, you would say that, because you did, last time.

A – That’s exactly what worried me.  While I was pleased with the ‘solution’, I was also worried that I’d put forward the proposal without the three organisations having had a say on it.

V – so why didn’t you consult them before drafting the report?

A – there wasn’t time (and to be fair, I’m not good at just picking up the phone and having a chat).  There was time to respond to the draft before it was submitted, but less than a week, and this was in the run up to Christmas.

The other mitigating factor is that I proposed, in line with much of the earlier discussions, that there would be a co-production approach, so nothing would be decided without the agreement of all concerned.

V – so how do things stand now?

A – the draft report has to go to a steering group which will decide if it should go on to the Health and Wellbeing Board.  So there’s still the possibility of a response from the group after Christmas.  There’s also another action group meeting before the Board, but that would be too late to make changes to the report itself.

V – so any lessons from all this for partnership working?

A – It’s probably too early to tell, but possibly it’s a familiar issue.  Partnership working can be slow, cumbersome and costly.  There’s therefore a temptation to short-circuit it and just delegate the work to individuals.  Whilst that might produce an output, it defeats the object of working in partnership; benefiting from a range of knowledge and views and building shared commitment.

Oh yes, and you need to plan your time well in advance.

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