Collaboration (again)?

Collaboration is one of the most written about and discussed ideas in the Third Sector. It has been held up as a panacea for many of the challenges in the sector for years; with a range of views and models for charities to consider – consortia, partnerships, social franchises or mutual structures (collectives, co-operatives)[1].

There are thousands of small and medium sized charities in the UK, with similar objectives; all chasing diminishing pools of funding. Logic and economics would tell us, various models of coming together are necessary and will happen.

One current example is a group of organisations in the Early Years sector that have come together to start a process that has resulted in a first of its kind, major partnership aimed at making a positive and lasting difference for families, parents and children.

The Early Years Digital Partnership – coming together to reduce inequalities for families

There is huge support and provision for expectant and recent parents in the UK. However, the inequalities gap in early years development remains significant; and we know that the role child health and development plays in determining the lifelong health, wellbeing and life chances is critical[2].

Parents are bombarded by volumes of digital content and information from multiple sources during pregnancy and beyond. They find themselves asking questions such as - Which ones can be trusted?? Which ones are going to provide the correct, appropriate information and support? And as the custodians of such important content, we need to ask ourselves: Which sources are accessible for the parents that need them most?

Best Beginnings provides one of these resources. Its multi-award winning early intervention in the form of a pregnancy and early parenting app, called Baby Buddy. Baby Buddy provides quality- assured, evidenced-based information and support that is co-created with parents and experts to offer bite-sized, easy-to-understand, relevant daily information,  engaging, relatable videos about all the key aspects of  the early parenting, as well as a number of other fun yet functional features.

But that’s just one source. What if, as a sector, we could come together to provide the fullest range of content possible to parents and healthcare professionals in one place? What if there was digital content that combined the knowledge of experts across the whole range of issues that affect parents and children up to the age of 5? Content that fulfilled this need and genuinely improved outcomes for the families that need it most; and gave kids up to 5 the best preparation for school and the best start in life.

That’s something that could make a huge difference.

The Early Years Partnership is going to create this by working with families and key stakeholders across the sector. We want to pioneer a model of collaborative working to prove that, as a sector, we can come together, pool our resources, knowledge and eliminate duplication of the production of overlapping digital resources.

What’s going to make this work?

Cynics would say that the Third Sector talks about Partnerships all the time but that nothing ever comes of them. Too many wither on the back of lack of resources, poor organisation and self-interest.

So why will this one succeed?

Firstly, this Partnership represents genuine collaboration and shares a set of common values. These have been established early in the process, with all parties included in the creation of a Theory of Change. Secondly, it includes the full spectrum of organisations across the sector - charities, clinicians, professional organisations (Royal Colleges) academics and the relevant statutory bodies. Thirdly, by creating digital content, it is complementary and additive to the existing work of all of the organisations taking part. There are no conflicts of interest, only a solid belief that we can achieve greater impact by coming together.

Finally, the Partnership has formed at the right time – when policy makers are looking to create sustainable, digital, solutions to health issues for parents and around Early Years development. Witness, for example, the NHS Long Term Plan; the 1001 critical days inter-ministerial group; and the Department for Education report on Improving the Home Learning Environment.

 

An exciting road ahead

That the motivation and ideals are aligned is not sufficient. The devil, as always, will be in the detail. Detailed project management and excellent, ongoing communication will be key. Bringing together a Partnership of over 30 organisations, won’t be easy.

We know there will be bumps in the road ahead. But it’s not a reason to step back from the challenge - we have a real opportunity to do something radical, prove that collaboration can work and create a template that others can follow. And that’s really exciting.

[1] https://youngminds.org.uk/media/1252/sustainability-collaborative-models-for-vcs.pdf

[2] http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review

Joel Beckman (MD, Prove Consulting)

Project Lead, Early Years Digital Partnership