Sharing your toys is a new report from ASA on advice agencies’ experiences of working in partnership. It is based on interviews with 20 people in advice agencies working in different kinds of partnerships: under the Financial Inclusion Fund, delivering LSC contracts, outreach services, or housing advice, and also with partnerships bringing advice agencies together for general working or to do specific pieces of policy work.
We asked what agencies thought about partnership working, what made partnerships work and what problems they had experienced. We wanted to find out the extent to which the issues arising are specific to advice or whether they are simply generic to partnership working.
One interesting finding was the high number of partnerships where there was little or no choice as to who the partners would be. This was either because of the nature of the partnership itself (and the need for it to be inclusive of all potential members), or because of factors such as the need to maximise the funding opportunities available, agreements reached elsewhere, or the requirements of funders themselves.
Despite this lack of choice our interviews provided clear evidence that partnerships between advice agencies can and do work. The people we interviewed were generally enthusiastic about what their partnerships had achieved in improving services to clients and relationships between agencies.
Where issues specific to advice arose, these reflected the nature of the sector, the different kinds of advice being provided, the funding rules under which agencies operate, and specific issues to do with referrals, confidentiality and quality.
The factors identified as making partnerships work were more generic however, and included
- Getting things right at the beginning
- The need for transparency, trust and mutual respect
- The importance of communication
- The importance of commitment and capacity
- The need for flexibility
- The importance of having the right structures in place
- The importance of having the right people with the right mix of skills
- The importance of managing performance properly
- The size of the partnership
- The funding of the partnership – its adequacy and flexibility
Specific problem areas were also identified concerning
- Conflicts of interest
None of the problems seem to be insuperable however. Most of them were mentioned by only a few of our interviewees and many of the partnerships we discussed seemed to be relatively trouble-free. There is no reason why advice agencies should not continue to expand the nature and extent of their partnership working.