Why can’t we all just get along? Barriers to collaboration and early thoughts on how to overcome them in public services
- 14 April 2020
- Posted by: Helen Nicol
- Category: News
Collaboration is the only way to address complex or intractable social problems where the solutions are unclear. The benefits of collaboration appear self-evident; working together makes us more than the sum of our parts, allows for innovation, levers mutual gain and builds collective knowledge. Despite the obvious wins however, collaboration is difficult. This article identifies where some of the barriers lie and suggests ways of overcoming them.
Two main assumptions, it is argued, underpin each actor’s understanding of those they may want to collaborate with. One is maximisation – that they will behave according to rational principles and a clear understanding of the world. The second is consistency, that the agent’s understanding and expectations one another’s behaviour is correct. In practice both of these are shifting and mutable. They don’t allow for the human element of mutual trust.
‘These variables are a product of a dynamic process in which individuals and organizations choose to work together – or not.’
One way of overcoming these barriers is to tweak the incentives and to formalise relationships through contracts. A growing body of work, however, focuses on the relational and human elements of working together, on the conditions for achieving organisational trust. There is a need to re-evaluate the environment for service procurement and delivery. Contemporary collaborative reform tools identify a distinct need for a shared vision and common goals for collaborations to prosper. This common goal can harmonise incentives of the players and lower the potential for costly trade-offs.
There are also fiscal barriers to collaboration in a climate of austerity. Working together might not enable cost savings but may bring cost benefits. Policy tools that address some of these fiscal concerns are proliferating; for example, outcomes based commissioning or mobilising community assets by creating a shared vision of what a prosperous community looks like. However, it is as yet unclear whether these will prove to be effective.