Q&A best bits: Working in collaboration and consortia

Q&A best bits: Working in collaboration and consortia

Nick Petrie, The Guardian


A round up of our experts advice on how consortia can deliver better services and ways you can support collaboration in your social enterprise


Penny Fell


Head of new business at the Social Investment Business. SIB provides finance, knowledge and expertise to the third sector.


Have a framework in place and make sure all partners are fully on board: I have witnessed a number of big charities form a consortium without fully ironing out the operational detail which led to some major internal issues and tensions – so I would agree that it’s vital to always take the time to get the framework right before you start pitching for work.


When working at a sector skills council I also experienced the reluctance of a number of key players to share information precisely for the reason other posters have identified – losing ideas, market position and so on. Employers would not sign up to training initiatives for staff for fear of losing them because they were better trained – and then lost staff anyway because the staff didn’t feel valued.


Here are four key good practice pointers for collaborative working:


Establish democratic and accountable governance structures.
Only look at shared work which will build on each organisation’s strategic aims and shared objectives.
Ensure customers and staff have the chance to contribute to decision making.
Have a clear understanding of programme and project timescales as well as outcomes and performance measures.



Esther Ridsdale


Collaborative working development officer at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. NCVO provides a shared voice and support for the voluntary sector.


Collaboration can be difficult as we are conditioned to work as individuals: We have years of conditioning towards a silo mentality. While undoubtedly some people are more predisposed to working collaboratively and beyond silos, doing this involves breaking conditioning and normal practice. Individualistic working is promoted from the first days of school – as we are rewarded for individual performance, sharing work is ‘cheating’, and competition is a primary motivator for performance. This continues throughout our education and training in work- where we are trained to compete rather than collaborate. It is also implicit in the usual models for managing organisations and running wider society.


An industry wide, systematic approach is the best way to increase collaboration: There are at least two key strands that are helpful in helping to increase collaboration and gain more joined up approaches that increase effectiveness across an area. Firstly, developing behaviours, skills and tactics in working collaboratively and effectively outside of hierarchy and silos ourselves.


Secondly, and supporting the first, is to draw on and promote different models; models and hence different problem-solving and management approaches that better lend themselves to considering how to get things to work effectively as a whole. For example, what would be the best configuration of services and organisations across the locality and what could our part be in making this happen?



Michael O’Toole


Chief executive of 3SC. 3SC bids for and manages public sector contracts on behalf of consortia of civil society delivery organisations.


Be aware of the financial obstacles to running a consortium: We have found some banks fairly positive about potential lending to consortium models, like 3SC (others weren’t at all). For other potential sources other social investors including equity firms and social foundations may be viable.


Also at 3SC we have been developing some supply chain models which spreads some of the financial risk/cash-flow burden at different levels depending upon appetite for risk / balance sheet. So some CSOs [civil society organisations] will be able to cash-flow the supply chain to a greater extent than others (typically smaller, perhaps community-focused CSOs). Reward has to reflect the level of risk accepted.



Laurie Gregory


A social entrepreneur who founded the Foster Care Co-operative. The FCC is striving to increase the total number of foster homes by recruiting and training new foster carers.


The government’s attitude towards collaboration is changing, slowly: I think there is going to be massive change given the financial constraints and current commitment of government to externalisation and the development of co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise. There is a resistance based, I suspect, on ignorance about social enterprise and a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, leadership and drive. There are now the beginnings of a clamour to examine positive models of success that still deliver quality and at a reduced cost (but not cheap). I am committed to the co-operative model as it is the best fit with the public sector (and the interests of the unions) and can deliver a degree of democracy and empowerment, especially in social care where service users can become voting members.


How can social enterprise look to engage the next generation going into the workplace? I would enhance the marketing of social enterprise in the educational system and concentrate on the positive differences from other organisational models. Many people of all ages come to the agency I chair – the Foster Care Co-operative – specifically because it is a co-operative and they warm to the value system and ethics of this model.


There are some very powerful organisations representing social enterprise in the widest sense. These organisations are gaining considerable "traction" nationally and this is likely to continue.



Natasha Thomas


Project manager at the Hale Project, which aims to reduce of health inequalities by creatively engaging and working with local communities.


Collaboration is key in helping deliver ‘more for less’: I think it is absolutely vital there is a diverse range of services but the problem will be how they are funded, with personalisation round the corner we are being forced to think more competitively and for some organisations locally I think there is a real challenge for us to look at how we work collaboratively.


The challenge will be preparing properly for this – just because two organisations deliver similar programmes does not mean that they will have a similar culture to the way work is delivered, monitored or evaluated. I have just come from a meeting considering how we might engage in a partnership approach with regard to providing solutions to the local authority.


The key issues for me always come back to: clear communication about expectations,and evaluation of delivery. The challenge then is to ensure the rest of your staff understand the approach and what is expected.



Malcolm Corbett


CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association. INCA works to ensure that all of the UK has access to broadband internet.


Social enterprise could learn best practice from other sectors: In this country we are used to businesses working in trade associations with a lobbying and promotional function, but less so in co-ops that aim to organise common services. I guess we could lean a lot from other countries, like the US and Europe, or from other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, where co-operative organisation between smaller players overcomes some of the disadvantages associated with lack of scale, while preserving the benefits of running a small enterprise.



Sarah Deas


Chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland. CDS aims to increase the contribution of co-operative enterprise to the Scottish economy.


Consolidation in social enterprise could increase effectiveness: I believe that there will be consolidation in social enterprises. This will hopefully increase their scale, effectiveness and impact. I’m sure all forms of consolidation will take place – mergers, acquisitions and collaborations. The important point is that businesses should be alert to the need to change, review how their environment is changing, assess their strategic advantage, identify which are core capabilities and which aspects of their business are better achieved by collaborating with others.


For most social enterprises, a balance has to be drawn between the localised relationship (especially with users) and the efficiency gains that come from having scale. Both can be achieved by adopting appropriate business structures.