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Learning to improve: collaboration in Welsh public services

As mentioned in our blog post at the end of January Si has been working alongside Cardiff Business School and IFF research to carry out a three-year evaluation of an ESF-funded project to increase the capacity of local service boards in Wales to deliver better public services for citizens. The report was also mentioned by Welsh Minister for Public Services Leighton Andrews in his speech Beyond Williams: Public Service Leadership in Wales.

Our final formative report was published on 29 January, and set out the findings from the evaluation, as well as offering a number of preliminary recommendations for the Welsh Government and its partners. The key message to be taken from the evaluation is that opportunities for learning should be seized upon, and shared among partners in order to maximise the impact of good practice and to create sustainable improvement across Welsh public services.

Findings

Our research drew on interviews with national stakeholders, an all-Wales public service survey on collaboration, case studies of seven delivery projects and an analysis of discussions held at three learning events. Although, as the report states, it may be still too early to draw definitive conclusions from the research, a number of key findings did emerge:

  • Success of collaborative projects hinges on some common enabling factors such as strong leadership with the authority and credibility to engage and galvanize partners, active involvement from partners and a set of clear, shared objectives
  • Learning is key to the success of collaborative projects, and whilst learning took place within projects i.e. through sharing of knowledge by staff, as well as between projects which were linked by the Welsh government, there is still scope to systematise the sharing of learning.
  • At the current stage of the research, specific benefits created by the projects have been hard to identify. This may be due to the fact that some changes might occur gradually over a long period of time or that it is difficult to identify which changes were caused by specific elements of a project. Any impacts which could be identified have not been as obvious or as ambitious as was anticipated.

Recommendations

Based on the findings, the authors made a number of recommendations:

  • The ESF LSB Advisory Board and national project team should continue to disseminate learning about outcomes and effective collaborative approaches on specific policy themes.
  • The Welsh Government should work with LSBs and PSBs to identify outcomes, measure impacts and help develop local theories of change to understand the key enabling factors of collaboration, and extend this to other public service reform projects
  • The Welsh Government should look to take lessons from effective approaches to collaborative working developed by projects or groups and to roll these out on a wider scale. It should also consider how it can work with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action to encourage LSBs and partners to do more to integrate the third sector in the design, planning and delivery of services where their input could have an impact.

The next stage for the evaluation includes the facilitation of a final learning event aimed at LSBs, the creation of a set of good practice cases and the publication of a final summative report due in summer 2015.

If you would like to find out more about our evaluation work, please contact John Houghton (020 7756 7627).

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