Local Trust supports communities across England to enable residents to take a lead in creating lasting change in their area. We've seen that it can be hugely valuable when communities do this work in partnership with public services, and many on both sides support collaboration as a powerful solution in the face of funding cuts. But we also know that collaboration is never easy. So we brought together people from communities that we support, voluntary and public sector professionals, as well as academics and asked them to debate their experience of collaboration.
The debate showed that on-the-ground knowledge from residents and communities can help public services, including local authorities, make better, more informed decisions, while expertise from public services can help community-led projects succeed. But our debate highlighted that there are four vital steps to take to secure a sustainable collaborative future for all those who live and work in communities.
1. Communities and public services need to commit to the time it takes to establish collaboration
The most successful collaborations are those that invest time to establish shared goals and a clear sense of what they are trying to achieve. Starting with a blank canvas is powerful. Local authorities benefit from resident involvement at an early stage, even if it appears to slow down the process.
2. Communities and public services need to be open-minded to restore trust and confidence in each other. Communities may feel dis-empowered or cynical about collaboration and elected members and those working for public services may consider it impractical or undermining to have residents involved. Both sides need to be open-minded to overcome any past negative experiences of collaboration. Establishing regular meetings between community groups and public services working on similar issues helps build trust.
3. Collaboration is a powerful solution in the current financial climate, but we must resource it
Joining up the dots between local authorities, communities and the private sector can lead to new solutions. In some cases money isn't necessary: the conversation creates the solutions. However, many in local authorities face time restraints and budget reductions; lacking time to develop the relationships and trust that collaboration requires. Political leaders nationally need to encourage local authorities to spend time on building relationships within their communities to find ways to meet local need and build on local assets and opportunities.
4. Those supporting communities need to help residents to build their confidence and skills to improve their community. Collaboration works best where residents are more active, and we need to ensure a diverse section of residents are able to participate, rather than just the 'vocal few'. Those working with and for communities need to help develop residents' capacity and confidence to take the lead. Communities flourish if people learn how to be activists for things they care passionately about.
Find out more about the debate on the Local Trust website: http://localtrust.org.uk/news/blogs/roundtable-summary-nov15