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Collaboration in many forms

Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence

Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence

I’ve been reflecting recently on how collaboration is an important factor when it comes to improving social care. This is the case whether the aim is improving systems of care, care services or people’s care experiences and outcomes.  For the social care workforce, the need to collaborate offers both challenges and rewards.

Collaboration with people for personalised care

Effective collaboration draws on the strengths-based practices lying at the heart of social care. Strengths-based (or asset-based) approaches focus on people’s strengths and not on their deficits – from care assessment to care planning and provision. Through collaboration – or, as we call it, co-production – people are more likely to experience personalised care.

Good practice for social care practitioners means working closely in partnership with people drawing on their care and support, enabling them to make choices about their care and to live their best lives. The best place to start is by asking: “How can we help you to do what you want to do?” – not: “What’s wrong with you?”

As an example, take Rob, who’s had a fall. The 75-year old tells his advocate that he loves being outdoors and is sociable. His social worker uses a strengths-based approach to identify Rob’s interest and knowledge in gardening and to arrange for him to help out in a neighbour’s overgrown garden. Rob’s wellbeing has improved, and his wife gets a well-needed break. SCIE’s resource “What is a strengths-based approach?” offers this and many other good practice examples about co-production.

  • SCIE: What is a strengths-based approach? https://www.scie.org.uk/strengths-based-approaches/videos/what-is-sba

Collaboration for better local systems of care

Partnerships at the local level – including hospitals, social services, housing and voluntary organisations – can drive forward the ambitions of national policy that are expected to improve how care is accessed and delivered.  Effective collaboration by leaders from across these organisations offers the opportunity for local areas to meet the expectations of citizens and to tackle inequalities in care.

Strengths-based practices also lie at the heart of local collaboration. It’s about  working collaboratively, rather than competing or putting one’s own organisation, department or team first. True ‘strengths-based leadership’ creates the energy and capacity to co-produce a shared vision and ambition for a local area and to agree what the priorities are.

Traditional ideas about leadership place the onus on the importance of a ‘charismatic’ leader who can influence change through command and control – and who seeks to ‘solve’ problems.  In contrast, strengths-based leadership emphasises recognising and building on people’s strengths and gifts, and working in collaboration with others to identify the best way forward.

  • What next for strengths-based areas? https://www.scie.org.uk/strengths-based-approaches/what-next-for-strengths-based-areas

Reducing barriers to collaboration

Even where local places are embracing collaboration, improvements to social care can be difficult to roll out and sustain. However, a crucial ingredient for improving care is strong local relationships, especially at the senior level. Working together as a system, local leaders are well positioned to identify and tackle barriers to progress. Where partnerships evolve over time, we have seen them do things like join up budgets and jointly commission improvements to services.

In addition to strong system leadership relationships, formal partnership agreements can be useful in building up collaboration and ensuring decision-making and disagreements are handled well. From our experience, the most successful places display a different style of leadership, and not one limited to ‘being in charge’, but rather one where accountability is shared within the partnership.

Collaboration and co-production

Successful system leaders also embrace co-production. For instance, working with SCIE, Kirklees Council has applied co-production to two projects, gathering insights through an action learning approach. These focused on developing an integrated contact centre service for health and care and reviewing their Direct Payments policy. They’re looking to see more people across their area receiving a direct payment that helps them achieve their vision of a good life, feel more independent and in control. Together, the partnership has built on the learning of the two projects and has made the Kirklees Vision for Adult Social Care a reality through co-production.

Collaboration is about everyone working together effectively for the common good. By adopting the principles and practices of collaboration, social care leaders are positioned to transform care systems, services and people’s lives.  We are especially keen for scaling up good practice in co-production.

At the time of writing we’re preparing for Co-production Week, starting 3 July. Join us in celebrating good practice during the week, and If you miss any of it, all the activities will be on our website.


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