How this idea was developed
Our idea for equitable collaboration is based on conversations, workshops and research with numerous charities and funders who have taken part in our Rethink Rebuild initiative. Here’s what we’ve learnt from this work.
How collaboration is changing
Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen some positive shifts in how charities, funders, and philanthropists worked together. This should not be surprising. People tend to come together in crises, driven by an urgency of need that breaks through organisational boundaries.
But many of the challenges to more equal and effective collaboration remain. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we are already starting to see a shift back to some of the siloed approaches which undermine efforts to get support to people who need it most.
Through our workshops with funders and charities, we heard how the Covid-19 crisis created a host of new opportunities for collaboration. These include:
The instinctive collaboration response: Collaboration can feel synonymous with ponderous and protracted planning. Yet collaboration is often best when it is emergent and spontaneous, and driven by a clear, shared sense of purpose. The pandemic gave rise to this sense of purpose and in many areas, collaboration ‘just happened’.
New momentum: Charities have told us how this spontaneous collaboration with new partners gave them a new experience and understanding of how collaborations can work. As we have reported previously, charities have taken the initiative to maintain the momentum, for example, in trying to build on the new working relationships that have emerged with local authorities.
Cross-sectoral collaboration: Charities, funders and government bodies reported working together across traditional boundaries and in new ways. NPC’s Coordination in Place report found there was faster collaboration between organisations and sectors, along with a stronger sense of shared focus. Collaboration can sometimes happen within familiar and established circles. We believe it needs to happen outside of them, and that we need to collaborate with unlikely allies. We are starting to see such cross-sectoral (or intersectional) collaboration emerge. For example, Crack the Crises is a coalition of organisations committed to tackling the inter-related crises of Covid-19, injustice, climate change and the nature crisis.
Funder collaborations: The pandemic led to new, high profile funder partnerships. Some, such as the London Community Response Fund, were set up to get money to where it was needed as quickly as possible. Others, such as the Funders Collaborative Hub or the Greater Manchester Funders Forum aim to provide funders with a permanent space to align their work and share intelligence.
While it is encouraging to see permanent collaborative structures emerging from the crisis, a post-crisis phase clearly presents challenges for continuing to work collaboratively. These include:
Reassertion of boundaries: As the crisis recedes, it is perhaps inevitable that some will revert to previous practices. Old siloes and boundaries are reappearing. For example, charities are reporting that cross-sector meetings with local authorities are happening less, coordination support is withdrawing, and previous partners have become more reluctant to share information. With staff emotionally, mentally, and physically overstretched, the capacity to forge collaborative relationships could drop.
Collaboration stretched by scarcity: As Covid-related funding dries up, and with reserves depleted by the pandemic, it is likely that funding will be increasingly hard to come by. Collaboration costs time and money, so when resources are stretched it can be seen as a nice-to-have. As we saw in our Coordination in Place report, there can be a loss of momentum. Partnership working should therefore be built into charities’ funding streams and agreements.
Enshrining equity in collaboration: The common mantra in a crisis is that ‘we’re in it together’. Yet many participants reflected to us that ‘although we may have been in the same storm, we were in very different boats’. Fault lines based on access to resources and power thus reopen, with unequal power dynamics undermining effective collaboration. For collaborative working to be sustained, this issue of equity must be understood and addressed.
Participants in our workshops told us that equity in collaboration was the challenge that they wanted us to develop further through our Rethink collaboration work, as they felt that collaborations that fail to address inequality risk perpetuating it.