Partnership working and joined up government; Ways to simplify public sector collaboration

Posted by John Glover

19-Sep-2012 15:22:00

In his 2010 report The Future of Joined-up Public Services, Professor Patrick Dunleavy argues that we can no longer afford to deliver wasteful, fragmented public services.

Because we now live in a period of ‘digital-era governance’, Dunleavy believes we should be using technology to integrate existing services and create new one that are based around the needs of individuals.

In his discussion, Dunleavy quotes analysis made by Professor Nick Frost in 2005, which identified a series of obstacles standing in the way of joining up public services. Although he was looking at children’s services, the following problems he identified are common across the public sector:

1. Information not being shared — and concerns not being passed on
2. No single person to co-ordinate services
3. Different agencies spending money without co-ordinating it
4. Services not taking responsibility — and disagreeing over whether responsibility falls into their category
5. Professionals and services based in different locations

Overcoming these challenges can deliver major dividends as Professor Frost explains:

“• co-location can make services more accessible to service-users and improve inter-professional relationships and ways of working

• services are planned and commissioned to focus on one particular objective… Planning services in the round can enable a better response… and be better value for money. Joint commissioning can enable the creation of services that deliver multiple dividends”

While co-location is undoubtedly a desirable aim, and one which can deliver much better ways of joining up services and of innovating, it’s often impractical.

For example, while it might be possible for a county and district council to share offices in the same time, there’s no way you can get the NHS, police, schools and social services working out of the same place.

But if that’s the case, how do you solve the six problems Professor Frost outlined?

Cloud collaboration for partnership working

Dunleavy believes the answer is to be found in digital-era governance, which focuses on three themes:

• Reintegration. Joining up government and removing silos, stimulating partnership working and shared services.
• Needs based holism. Creating client-focused structures for departments and agencies, creating agile government that can respond in real time to problems.
• Digitalisation. Embracing electronic delivery at the heart of the government business model, such as by centralising procurement and stripping out layers of redundant bureaucracy.

If you’ve been following this current series of blog posts, you’ll have seen how online collaboration meets these criteria in many different ways. But let’s return to Professor Frost six obstacles. Can cloud collaboration software really help the public sector overcome them and deliver better partnership working and joined up government?

We’ll view them through the lens of partnership working within the scope of the new health reforms — which require GPs to work closely with local authorities, local HealthWatch bodies, carers, patients and the public.

1. Information sharing. Online collaboration software allows many different agencies to share information centrally, simply and securely. In terms of health services, GPs and agencies pool information, ensuring they have all relevant details — and that only the right individuals have access to it.
2. A single co-ordinator. Online collaboration software can’t hire a co-ordinator, but it can significantly simplify their work. Because they have access to a shared workspace, there’s less need to spend collating information from different agencies. Project management tools make it easy for the co-ordinator to set goals and track activity, and this is turn drives down the cost of the co-ordinator’s role — and can put it within the scope of an existing post.
3. Spending decisions. Agencies can co-ordinate spending decisions to get the best value and the most effective results.
4. Location. Cloud collaboration can’t make agencies come together in the same physical space, but it reduces much of the need to do so. Collaboration can take place from any location on any device with an internet connection.

The real value of online collaboration, however, is that it can be used for partnership working in almost any context. Think of your own part of the public sector, and imagine how a secure, online workspace can help you to drive work forward, cut costs and reduce the time it takes to work in tandem with other agencies.

There’s another benefit too. You can use online collaboration to bring together many networks of public sector bodies and stakeholders. Because there are many obvious overlapping stakeholder interests and engagement activities, it would be simply to provide a single cost-effective technology support infrastructure for each locality? You could call it an L-Cloud!

 Inform consult involve

Whether they operate on a local or national level, L-Clouds could act as a shared service that allowed agencies and communities to collaborate on shared issues and public service development. Although not the only way for people to share ideas, it has the benefit of being scalable, better managed and highly cost effective.

But where’s the proof in the pudding? Is online collaboration proven to work in this way?

If you have downloaded our guide, you’ll have seen how Health Connect used collaboration to do all these things — and how it brought NHS groups in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Gloucestershire and Swindon together to share information, manage projects and collaborate on documents, with the option of using the software to engage with the public at a later stage.

As they would happily tell you, digital collaboration is going to be at the heart of almost all public sector working any time now. Have you got started?

Coming up next: Designing effective public sector consultations
Can’t wait? Download our free guide below — Doing more with less: 8 key issues faced by public sector

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Topics: public sector, workplace innovation