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This week marks the midway point of our Coordination in place project. This project focuses on how we can understand and share learning about coordination of and funding for local action during the coronavirus crisis. Today, we’re publishing our interim report, which shares findings from our research so far.

For this project, we’re tracking three areas—Buckinghamshire, Coventry and Sutton—across a period of six months. We are working closely with a local practitioner in each area and we’re looking to understand how these places are aligning and adapting to meet evolving needs in their local communities, plus how funders and commissioners can best support places as they continue to adapt. We also want to generate some policy asks, which we can take forward out of this research and develop further.

Overall, we’re looking for signs that local systems are shifting in a positive way. Then we will explore how we can maintain and build on these shifts.

Ways of working and attitudes

In this first phase of our research, we’ve been looking at what’s changed in our three local areas. We have heard about some significant shifts in terms of ways of working, as well as attitudes to work and to collaboration.

List of changes in ways of working and attitudes.

There are several key elements that have enabled these changes to happen. Greater working in partnerships occurred due to a shared awareness of the immediacy of the crisis and the emergence of a new sense of shared purpose. Plus, more voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) staff have had permission to focus on a single priority. What’s more, local leaders—from both the public and voluntary sectors, as well as local residents—have given momentum to these changes and online working has enabled more frequent and more targeted conversations, removing some organisational barriers and hierarchies, enabling these people to connect on a more personal level.

Many of these themes were common across all three locations, although in the future, we hope to learn more about the specific characteristics in each area. We’re now looking to understand how each local area can capitalise on these positive shifts that have emerged out of this crisis period, and what might threaten these shifts as we move out of the immediate emergency period.

Trust

One major theme that emerged from our discussions with the local practitioners is the new sense of trust that has developed between organisations. In Buckinghamshire, the crisis period saw an increase in open and meaningful dialogue between the local authority and the voluntary sector, with greater VCSE representation on key decision-making boards within the council. There is a concern however, that staff in many of these organisations have limited capacity and are at risk of burnout, and so if collaboration starts to feel less focused and productive, engagement will drop. These threats could be mitigated by creating smaller, more efficient subgroups—to reduce workload and to increase the number of focused, targeted conversations—as well as including new organisations on these boards, who may help to increase energy and momentum.

Coventry saw greater honesty, acceptance and patience between partners, and a shift in relationship between the local council and the voluntary sector. The local VCSE felt engaged as equals, rather than simply as providers. This could potentially come under threat, as a more traditional power balance between the commissioner and the provider is reinstated. The local VCSE may feel there is a lack of transparency going forward in how priorities are set and funds allocated, while the council needs to face up to its own financial pressures and competing priorities. Creating a shared space to explore all the parties’ concerns, and opening up more direct communications channels between the organisations, could help to keep this collaboration going.

Finally, the crisis also saw increased trust develop between organisations in Sutton, and this trust helped pave the way for other shifts in ways of working. Although the VCSE and council work closely together, with the council facilitating quick access to funds for charities during the crisis, there is a risk that this trust will be broken if the council reverts back to lengthy tendering processes—and, similar to Coventry, old power dynamics may resurface. By adopting a co-production approach to awarding funds and developing processes, the council may be able to build on this new sense of trust, on focus points outside of the Covid-19 response.

For the full research and findings from our interim Coordination in place report, click here. For more on NPC’s work on place-based approaches click here.

How have different areas adapted to meet evolving needs in their communities? @NPCthinks is tracking three areas, across a period of six months, to learn more about place-based coordination. Some findings from their research so far: Click To Tweet

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