What can we learn by working across sectors?
As people age and live longer, the complexity of their health and social care needs means that a collective effort from several agencies is essential. Although collaboration can be difficult, Meg Wright explores the benefits of a bolder approach to building stronger cross-sector relationships.
As people age and live longer, the complexity of their health and social care needs means that a collective effort from several agencies is essential.
And the case for collaboration is compelling; we can provide more holistic and seamless services; we can pool our collective resources and knowledge; we learn from each other. However, it is not always the panacea that it is designed to be.
Although partnership working is already regarded as crucial for the delivery of integrated services, there are barriers and challenges. How many of us sit around partnership tables and scratch our heads in confusion? We are unclear on the language being used, we come from a different policy contexts, we are answerable to different pay masters, and we do things differently.
There is also the inequality of the sectors. The voluntary sector, commonly called the third sector (which sectors are first and second?), can be viewed as ‘do-gooding’, volunteer = lack of professionalism. The sector is often in receipt of contracts and funds from the public purse which creates an unequal power dynamic, with one partner being the paymaster.
Partnership working can be fraught. Fragile egos and relationships, lack of understanding and respect can all get in the way of good practice and common sense. It can be exhausting navigating the minefield of cross sectoral partnerships. Done well, however, it can be truly life changing for the people those services are designed around and for. So how do we challenge ourselves to develop and improve?
Firstly, by remembering our common purpose. Those of us leading and working in the health and social care sector are in service for others, the role is less relevant, the purpose is everything. Think of it as a Venn diagram with the individual in the centre and each service being in overlapping circles round that individual. We have so much in common, we deliver our own part for the collective, common good.
As leaders in health and social care, open your doors, welcome others in for a meaningful learning experience. It takes a bit of effort but the dividends are priceless.
But let’s begin at the beginning, with education. To truly get to grips with cross sectoral working students should have the opportunity to work in the voluntary sector. Imagine if every student medic had to roll up their sleeves and serve food in a community kitchen for people who have no roof over their heads. Imagine the same student planting trees in a community orchard assisted by someone living with mental health problems. Think how these rich learning experiences could truly change the dialogue, create a common language, demolish the hierarchy of sectors and create a respectful and honest understanding of the richness that collaboration should bring.
The public and voluntary sectors need each other, the people who use and rely on our services need us to work together. As leaders in health and social care, open your doors, welcome others in for a meaningful learning experience. It takes a bit of effort but the dividends are priceless. As one doctor said “a pill doesn’t cure loneliness, but an engaged community can go a long way to help”.
These education experiences and exchanges can lead to lifelong relationships and whole new networks developing. If we start at the beginning and continue to engage in meaningful exchanges throughout our careers, then we will all benefit.
Meg will be speaking at our Melting Pot Lunch on Thursday 3 December, discussing how we can develop skills and leadership through cross-sector exchanges. Register for the event.