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Networks, Networks, Networks. A new era of collaboration to generate social good?

The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced what MutualGain have been promoting for a decade – that the most wicked, deep-seated and destructive of problems faced in society – crime, poverty, disadvantage, social care among them – requires high levels of collaboration to address and bring about change. During this intense period of isolation we have seen unprecedented levels of neighbours helping neighbours, volunteers stepping into front-line services and multiple businesses offering services and assets for free to those fighting the virus.

Drawing upon my experience of policing I would argue that the best solutions to violence, gun crime, domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour, drug abuse and cyber crime have always involved multiple players and agencies and the best prevention strategies are in-fact solutions co-produced with those affected not solutions imposed on ‘victims’ by organisations. Sadly, in the past, effective collaboration has been too often seen as ‘hard to do’ and often at conflict with how organisations measure their own effectiveness.

So, are we stood today on the precipice of a new opportunity to ensure that collaboration and co-operation become the new organisation practice when we resume ‘normality’? Or will life simply return to siloed organisational behaviour?

Collaboration at its core is about working together to find the right solutions for the right problems and challenges. Not the problems defined by ‘others’, not the tactics which are the ‘flavour of the day’, but focusing on the issues and activities that will enhance individuals’ lives. Where collaboration is effective it creates authentic visions and strategies to address shared concerns at a local level – building a mutually beneficial and committed partnership between groups and individuals to achieve common goals – in much the same way that we have seen in the last month in the UK.

However, collaboration doesn’t just happen because we want it to! There is a real need for groups and organisations to focus upon goal setting, relationship building, co-production and information sharing.  To achieve this, organisations will need to urgently embrace the lessons from Covid-19 and:

  • Adopt a more collaborative approach
  • Internally work on the skills and values that encourage others to be part of co-produced solutions; and
  • Then allow those relationships the time and space to grow into effective strategies

One thing that we have all grown accustomed to in this crisis is taking the time to reflect, slow down and learn. The current UK wide patience for and focus upon the medium to long term change must be transferred to organisational and community behaviour if we are going to see a paradigm shift to delivering outcomes for the social good – just as we have experienced in the social-distancing approach to this pandemic.

We know that effective training and coaching can help organisations build a greater collaborative approach to solving problems. MutualGain programmes focus upon how communities can build Social Capital through greater engagement and collaboration. As an Associate I still sometimes have to stand back to allow myself to really take in the relationship growth that I observe within communities and across organisations. David Chrislip describes beautifully the opportunity that collaboration offers those we work with;

‘Realizing the promise of collaboration can be likened to building a wheel: assembling a number of disparate parts creates a powerful tool. New working assumptions lead to new ways of making public decisions. New concepts and tools help fashion new processes.’
(The Collaborative Leadership, 2002)

Not only do outcomes improve through collaborative effort but the journey itself to those new strategies builds the Social Capital required to grow a fairer, more democratic and aware community. MutualGain always seek to hear the voices of a ‘whole’ community and build active citizenship around common themes. Engaging the ‘disengaged’ in positive dialogue and to becoming part of the change they want to see encourages the creation of deliberative strategies, tactics and policies based upon their lived experiences. MutualGain events consistently involve residents, 80% of whom have not previously attended a public meeting. That is new voices, new ideas, new passion and above all new Social Capital. A community that comes together and focuses upon well-being, dialogue and relationships will always be better placed to tackle those difficult challenges it will face. The evidence for this is staring us in the face at this time!

So how do we encourage organisations, so used to working in isolation, to make a transformational leap out of this crisis? It starts with recognising the change required in individual behaviours and leadership. Building Social Capital and resilience through improving relationships and networks requires individuals and organisations to grasp a change in a mindset – a mindset that delivers on three key principles;

  1. A belief in the potential and power that exists within communities,
  2. Investment in the skills which empower the self-organising capacity of communities to deliver better well-being, and
  3. An understanding of how interconnections deliver greater responsibility and empowers local people to look after themselves.

These are the principles that are today ensuring that local businesses are surviving against all odds, that local residents are working in unison to protect the vulnerable, and that are delivering a high level of self-regulation and ‘policing’ on our streets.

We cannot allow the opportunity of a generation afforded to us by this crisis to build a better and fairer society to pass us by without embracing this moment for genuine change in how local communities function and become healthier. MutualGain are committed to delivering this change.

Who else is joining us?

Garry Shewan

Associate, MutualGain