Clinks has partnered with the Centre for Justice Innovation to take a closer look at how voluntary organisations collaborate, what makes collaboration work, and why it sometimes fails.
Clinks has long supported greater collaboration. Our rationale is simple. As a sector, we support people who are trying to (re)build their lives from a low point, trying to help them find a better future. But their journeys from crisis to stability are not linear: supporting them requires a combining different approaches and, more often than not, different services to address their multiple needs. Our new report, developed in partnership with the Centre for Justice Innovation showcases the power of collaboration to help support these journeys, but also highlights how the current climate can make collaboration more difficult.
The report presents insights from four collaborations: Fine Cell Work and RECOOP at HMP Leyhill, The Inspire project in Sussex, The Prison Family Support Alliance, and the Golden Key project in Bristol. Each used collaboration, to meet the needs of different people in different situations. These case studies showcase the voluntary sector’s creativity, flexibility and its resilience. I want to thank all the participants and the Centre for Justice Innovation for making this report happen and for sharing their experiences so openly.
It would be a brave organisation that suggested they could prevent people from re-offending on their own. The needs of people in the justice system are often diverse and acute. Many have mental health issues, histories of abuse as children and experiences of abuse as adults, poor educational attainment, bad experiences of the care system, have experienced racism or prejudice in the justice system, have little or no employment history, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction. The social issues that affect our society have shaped who we find in our criminal justice system. One organisation simply can’t respond to all these issues at once, it is far too complex. This is one of the reasons we need collaboration.
Collaboration is also being encouraged by others, namely policy makers and funders or commissioners of public services. Some of the rationale here is the same: to fund services that better meet people’s diverse needs. However, it is also being driven by a desire to save money and cut costs. Encouraging collaboration can be a way to rationalise the commissioning of larger services which cover larger areas and deliver a broader range of support. Although, as our case study of The Inspire project in Sussex clearly shows, commissioning can be both the creator and the destroyer of collaboration.
Our 2016 state of the sector report told a story of increasing service user need and an increase in the severity of those needs. But at Clinks we realise that collaboration is far from simple. It takes time and resources to get right, and it can be undone very quickly by external factors that are beyond our control. The research we undertook with the Centre for Justice Innovation highlighted a few lessons for voluntary organisations and funders/commissioners that want to do more collaboration.
Lessons for voluntary sector organisations
- Establish good relationships at every level of the partnership
- Ensure collaboration extends to communication and practice sharing between the frontline workforces
- Standardise and minimise monitoring systems where possible
- Continually assess partner engagement, especially buy-in from the statutory agency
- Don’t be afraid to start small and experiment.
Lessons for commissioners
- Understand what is already in place before commissioning services
- Provide long-term funding and policy commitment, which allows partners to invest time in nurturing relationships
- Acknowledge the flexible nature of partnerships by being responsive to requests to re-organise partnership arrangements within funding periods.
Clinks will be running a seminar on collaboration in the near future alongside our partners in this report. We aim to share the lessons we learned to both voluntary organisations and commissioners alike. Keep an eye on Light Lunch and our events pages for more information.