Assessing the value of regional collaboration in Wales
Cardiff Business School (with Shared Intelligence and IFF Research) has published a report, commissioned by the Welsh Government, which identifies a range of factors that contribute to effective regional working.
The researchers used a wide range of research methods and evidence to explore the impact of different ways to fund and deliver regional collaboration. Five in-depth case studies were conducted of regional projects, which comprised:
- Western Health and Social Care Programme - which brought together Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University (ABMU) Health Board with the local authorities of Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea and third sector partners to co-ordinate a programme of change in a suite of health and social care projects;
- North Wales Economic Ambition Board - includes the six local councils and representatives from the private sector, higher and further education and the third sector aimed at supporting the improvement of economic development across the region;
- Regional Shared School Improvement Service Hub Integration - involved four councils in the region (Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys) pooling school improvement services at Hub levels within the regional education consortium. The Hubs aimed to introduce more consistency on approaches to school improvement;
- ICT Enabled Schools Transformation Programme – involved Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil councils who had a common aim to transform education through the use of ICT; and
- North Wales Legal Services Regional Collaboration Project - which built on a history of collaborative working across legal services in six local authorities - Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Wrexham.
All five case studies showed that the main types of outcomes achieved were process outcomes. These range from changes to practice within a specific service and/or organisation, to new mechanisms for collaboration and co-ordination between and across authorities, and the establishment of integrated regional services. Often an increase in capacity in the region helped to enable collaboration to become ‘business as usual’. These types of changes act as a step towards improving outcomes for citizens.
The report concluded that there were a number of enablers of effective regional working:
- Formal collaboration agreements are important in establishing the strategic framework, yet trust and relationship building are integral to successful practise. Senior officers should model collaborative behaviour; provide training, mentoring and/or coaching for staff working on collaborative projects and share news on collaborative working.
- Senior strategic leadership of projects is essential. Leadership should also be distributed across partner organisations. Project managers were often a key determining factor in the success of a project.
- Closer liaison between different Welsh Government departments would support 'joining up on the ground'.
A series of recommendations were put forward by the researchers including strengthening strategic leadership, developing collaborative project management competencies and improving training, and placing greater emphasis on governance and accountability within project application processes. The report also encourages Welsh Government to take a lead in facilitating and disseminating best practice and to review funding for regional collaboration, focusing on transformational change projects.
Following the publication of the report, Cardiff Business School’s Dr James Downe, said: “Our report has shown the value of regional collaborative projects, however, little evidence could be found about any direct impact for service users. We have shown that there are a number of common factors which help to facilitate effective regional working. It is important that public sector organisations and the Welsh Government learn from these so that future regional working can make a real difference.”