Listen to our podcast on collaborating for skills, jobs and growth

Listen to the April podcast in our monthly series, 'in conversation with' Nick C Jones, Director of PwC's Public Sector Research Centre.

For this recording, Nick C Jones is joined by Dr Henry Kippin, Director of Collaborate. They discuss whole system working – its potential to transform people's lives and what it means for how government, social enterprises and private sector organisations interact.

 

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NJ
Hello I’m Nick Jones and I’m Director of PwC’s Public Sector Research Centre. I’m joined today by Henry Kippin from Collaborate to discuss our work together over recent months on the hot topic of improving collaboration to deliver better outcomes. There’s a lot of interest at the moment about whole system working and how it can transform people’s lives. But what does that mean for how government, social enterprises and indeed private sector organisations interact? Henry, tell us firstly a bit about your research on how to improve collaboration across sectors and, indeed, organisations.
HK
Thanks Nick. Our research at Collaborate spans, I think, culture and practice - we are squarely in that space of trying to improve … helping to improve… cross sector collaboration in what we call services to the public. The organisation was set up because of what was perceived to be a lot of dysfunctional relationships in that space, “government can’t related business, business can’t relate to charities, and vice versa”, and what that does is create tension in public services when what we should, and could, all be doing is working together much more effectively for the benefit of the public. The work that we do is about supporting organisations who want to collaborate, who want to work together more effectively, to do that in practice.
NJ
And collaboration is one of those big words which is sometimes difficult to get your head around, so we worked together on the particular issue in Leeds looking at the skills growth and jobs agenda (in Leeds), and particularly how to help those who might be more marginalised from the labour market into jobs and into future potential careers. Tell us a bit about the event that we ran in our Leeds office and how that worked.
HK
Sure. One of the biggest insights across all of our work is the reality, really, that good collaboration doesn’t happen by accident, so I think that is the starting point that we jointly took in terms of the work that we did in Leeds. And we looked at the issue of jobs, skills and growth from the perspective of what we saw as a great deal of consensus actually across the parties, across different actors within Leeds, within the context of a devolution debate that is absolutely creating the imperative, not only to grow the economy in a different way, but to make that growth works for a larger proportion of the public. We took a, as you suggest, quite a structured approach to exploring this, not only bringing together a range of different stakeholders across the sectors in a room, but making sure that we did the right kind of preparation, we did the right kind of stakeholder engagement prior to that event and that we created the right kind of stimulus to have a discussion that went above and beyond, perhaps, the types of aspirational discussions that people would usually be having about those topics.
NJ
It was quite a systematic approach particularly recognising that those in the room, and they did range across government, across social sector, across the business sector, and didn’t really know each other, needed to be brought to the same place and then taken through a series of stages to really inform the people who can potentially make things happen in Leeds of their views.
HK
Absolutely, and you know some of these people did know each other, some of them didn’t. What we’d like to think is that the context that we created allowed everybody to have a different discussion and the fact that we had Roger Marsh, the Chair of the local enterprise partnership and Tom Riordan the Chief Executive of the local authority there to listen to the views of those stakeholders at the end of the event, I think gave that a little bit more impetus, if you like. The structure that we brought to it was to talk about three aspects of this agenda that are, of course, interrelated but quite distinct, if you like, first around the need to create more jobs and make them better jobs, more rewarding jobs, a discrete set of issues there that we work through with participants, the second around creating and sustaining a skilled workforce to make those jobs stick over the long term, and the third issue, very specifically, on how we can make the agenda work for marginalised parts of the population in the city region for whom efforts to get them into work have often fallen because they are either too fragmented or don’t fit with the reality of their lives.
NJ
I think it’s important to stress that as with any place and Leeds just happened to be the place we alighted on for this particular exercise, but any place has certain assets, certain things that can help it succeed, and I think we’ve found that when we were having those discussions.
HK
I think we did - and one of those assets was absolutely the fact that we were able to convene that kind of discussion with that kind of energy in Leeds.  There is clearly a huge sense of possibility around this positive agenda for becoming a NEET free city region around some of the commitments around job creation. Thousands of jobs, and around the potential of becoming a net contributor to the Exchequer over the medium term. I mean, those are big commitments and actually that requires a certain degree of consensus and building on the assets that city region has, even to put those on paper. So I think that was a great starting point for us, and participants in the room also felt that there was some very good quality services, there was some progress around creating new apprenticeship opportunities and de-risking that process for employers.  That felt very positive and felt like things to build on.
NJ
And this was the things to build on, inevitability, no place has achieved perfection so there was some potential obstacles and barriers and the environment created did enable the participants to share their views on those barriers which was important to get a shared sense of.
HK
Yeah, absolutely, and those barriers are legitimate and they look different to different partners in the process. Of course, the participants on the day talked about the need for stronger incentives - particularly in terms of the ability of employers to create new opportunities and take the risk out of that process for them. Lots of participants talked about the need for a stronger citizen perspective … if you like joining up services and the transitions from school to college to work, perhaps, in a way that feels much closer to the way that marginalised citizens might need that to feel, rather than working if you like for the services, which felt very traditional. So I think there were some barriers, system fragmentation was a key barrier … a big barrier that’s not only specific to Leeds but across the public services, and what we were really impressed with, I think, was the way in which we were about to constructively work through those barriers as a group, whilst not denying that they existed.
NJ
And, of course, every place is unique so it’s difficult sometimes to transition all the specifics that are discussed, but I do think there was some important and interestingly more general messages that you could perhaps take from the discussion we had in Leeds, but potentially look at how that plays out in other areas. For you, what were the main lessons that you felt arose from the discussion?
HK
I think that there were several lessons and we would bring those out in the report of the event that we will be jointly publishing of course.  As you say, there is no lift and shift with all of this, the idea that you can take a city region like Leeds with all of its intricacies and complexities and lift that to somewhere else is clearly not going to work, but what there are, are a shared set of characteristics and if you like, the conversation about how you create the right environment … or you create the right conditions for success was, I think a really profitable one. One of those issues is around taking collaboration seriously, around creating and sustaining that shared space. So beyond having a conversation in the room with people who are enthusiastic about making this work, how do you create a process that deliberates, that holds, if you like, our feet to the fire and makes sure that collaboration is not just something that happens at a point in time but through the process.
Another point which felt really like a very strong one in the context of the devolution debate particularly in the North of England was this idea of a citizen city deal that some of the participants were enthusiastic about, which would mirror the process that has been undertaken, if you like, from an economic starting point and start to build a model of devolution from the perspective of marginalised citizens and communities and ask what would that require of public, private and social sector actors and how would they need to work together in different ways to make that happen?
NJ
So a big topic, but a whole system working collaboration, really things that everyone needs to pay attention to when you’ve got these complex issues to address - and these bold aspirations as well.
HK
Absolutely and we were pleased to be able to do that in partnership with you.
NJ
Thank you Henry.
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