A few weeks ago, what seemed like most of the local voluntary sector, and more than a few others, turned up at a conference with the fancy title Collaboration for Social Change. All those buzz words in one title.
There was a Minister, a Chair of an Assembly committee, academics, practitioners and someone from the telly. And me.
The first question was asked to the room- what do you want social change to be? No dozing off here- we had to do thinking before the event had hardly started. The range of responses was quite revealing, and showed the range of starting points in the room: jobs, supportive parents, economy, draw a line in the sand rather than stick heads in the sand, politics for people, respect.
It was noted that 22% of the NI population live in poverty. 22%. Now that would be a place to start. Can we seriously address other inequalities without addressing that?
One of the interesting things about the half day event was the fear in the room. Many of the voluntary organisations were seeing collaboration as something being pushed on them as a cost cutting method. For those, collaboration was a threat to their wellbeing and ability to pay the mortgage. I realised that, as a volunteer for an organisation that hasn’t got any money yet, I was in quite an unusual position. Collaboration is how the Rare Disease partnership works. It’s the only way we’ve been able to do anything. We’re finishing off our strategic plan and will be looking for funding, but collaboration is central to our work; opportunity rather than threat. (That may be old fashioned now, but I’ve been out of the work loop for years, excuse any outmoded language.)
While officialdom talked about targetted funding and tangible outcomes, the academic and practitioners talked about people. Organisations don’t work together- people do. It’s necessary to devote time and energy to relationship building. There’s no point in leaders being all for collaboration if staff and others don’t understand the value, or trust the process. Partnerships just don’t happen. Respect, trust, open communication and shared understanding are vital to the success of any partnership, but have to be worked on.
Get on, create ways of working together, make progress.
Never mind the buzz words, or the TV man, or the Minister; that’s just life.