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The Continuing Travails of Partnership Working on Mental Health

V – Welcome back.  We haven’t heard about your mental health work for the last couple of months: do you want to bring us up to date?

A – Yes, indeed.  The first thing is that I drafted a report for the Health and Wellbeing Board on behalf of the action group.  There wasn’t much of a plan to draw on and there’s no new money, so in the report I suggested implementing our proposal to do social prescribing and peer support, by working with three organisations currently doing either or both in some form, trying to look for synergies between them and moving forward using a co-production approach.  The person presenting the report ignored that and just talked about the other, more general bits.  My proposal, hasn’t been mentioned since and I think will be just ignored and forgotten.

V – so what’s happened since then?

A – the action group has met twice more, with a new, independent chair.

M – Presumably someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.  How come they passed over you?  I thought you were the one with all the answers?

A – Actually, he’s been doing OK.  He’s from a local employer, not part of the council, CCG or voluntary sector, which could be an issue in terms of knowledge and background, but he’s taking a pretty systematic, methodical approach to agendas.  Perhaps more importantly, he seems (for now at least) prepared to listen.

V – that sounds positive, so do you think it’s going to deliver?

A – I’m a little more optimistic than I was, but I can’t see it leading to significant change.  However, already a service that is being re-let is to be modified to have a greater element of social prescribing and more of a focus on mental health.

V – so maybe ‘bending’ existing services rather than creating anything new?

A – exactly.

A – however, there’s no new money, and I’m not sure there’s the vision to come up with an approach which uses the resources of the community to create virtuous cycles and critical mass to produce a step change.

M – or maybe there’s the vision to see through your management-speak clap-trap!

V – Moving on … if we stand back and look at this as an example of partnership working, any thoughts on what the theory might tell us and perhaps insights as to how it could have been done better?

A – Well, I think one important thing is that the requirements of partnership for problem solving are different to the requirements of implementation and we’re just moving from the first to the second.  To some extent, the limitations in the first may impact on the second – if you haven’t understood the problem properly you might not be implementing the right solution.

So we haven’t done as well at the collective problem solving as we might have done, such as using appropriate problem solving techniques and co-ordinating the thinking and process between the partner participants.

M – in English?

A – well effective collective problem solving would involve getting the right people focussing on the right issues in the right way.  Things like having a small, cohesive team using appropriate techniques for research, analysis, creativity, strategy development, etc.

V – anything else?

A – I wonder whether we’re engaging widely enough across the partner bodies – whether we’re involving the people who could make the change happen?

V – so you’ve got the wrong people round the table?

A – I’m not sure it’s that – more about engaging with them outside of the meetings, ensuring we’re taking on board the full service, user and voluntary sector perspectives and getting buy-in for change.

A – another point is that although there appear to be shared aims, I’m not sure the Council’s and CCG’s funding problems and the impact of cuts they’re making, is fully acknowledged.  It’s also possible there’s not complete alignment of approaches (over things like transparency and co-production) which could impact on progress.

V – but despite that, overall it’s not disastrous, making some progress but unlikely to achieve the sort of step change you think might be possible?

A – yes, that’s about it.

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