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6 - Four factors for better community collaboration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

Impediments to collaboration

Why is it so difficult for those who work in formal institutions (national, regional or local), and those who operate at the community level, to find common cause and to build effective alliances? The benefits of doing so seem obvious. Working in isolation only gets you so far. As the proverb says: ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

Cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration has long been promoted by government, policy makers and funding bodies, to overcome fragmentation or duplication of effort, to reduce costs, to achieve regeneration of deprived communities and, more recently, as a means to bring about the systems change needed to tackle complex problems, notably those associated with multiple disadvantage (Kail and Abercrombie, 2013; Kippin and Billiald, 2015; Helgerson and Price, 2017; Knight et al, 2017; Becker and Smith, 2018; Lowe and Plimmer, 2019).

But all forms of partnership are difficult. ‘Don't do it unless you have to!’ (Huxham and Vangen, 2005) is advice that will resonate with many. It is hard enough to build effective and lasting collaboration among public sector agencies, or even departments within a single institution (Miles and Trott, 2011). And collaborative efforts among charities and community groups are often equally fraught with difficulty, even when they operate in close proximity, and would seem, on the face of it, to have much in common (Baker and Cairns, 2011; Broomhead et al, 2016; Wyler and Adjaye, 2018).

Yet, perhaps most difficult of all, it seems, are the attempts to build collaboration between those who operate at the community level – at the grassroots, on the front line – working often informally and horizontally, and those who operate from above, often vertically, in formal institutions, notably in the public sector but also in universities, larger charities and housing associations, for example (Balloch and Taylor, 2001; Cairns and Harris, 2010; Rees et al, 2012).

And yet, it is this type of collaboration, the intersection of those operating from below and those operating from above, which may matter most of all if, as has been suggested, it is ‘the diagonal fault line through which a new society can and must be born’ (Lawson, 2019) (see Chapter 8). Collaborative efforts are usually prompted by the best intentions, but they often fail, whether initiated from above or below.

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 93 - 110
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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