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Building collaborative practices in the Department of Education and Skills

The benefits of working collaboratively in public services are well documented. Collaboration brings together different skills, experience and perspectives to work through challenges. It gives people and organisations the opportunity to develop shared approaches that can support a wider vision, goals and objectives. The potential benefits for people using services are significant.

This work is challenging. How do you introduce, manage and conclude a collaborative working process? How do you know that you have the right people around the table? Is collaboration the right way to approach the task in hand? These were some of the questions considered by the Department of Education and Skills in the context of a busy reform agenda involving different departmental units and divisions, agencies and other stakeholders.

When the Goal Programme began there was no standard operating protocol for collaborative group procedures, management and oversight. The Programme provided an opportunity for the Department to engage support from CES to identify good practice and learning about collaborative working. They were keen to pilot some models of working which would support collaboration across the department, to enhance policy development. A Programme Reform Office within the Department took the lead role in managing and embedding the work, and there was strong support from senior leadership throughout the project.

CES worked with the Department to design a suite of tools to support initiation, implementation and reflection on collaborative working processes. The team tested the tools with policy working groups, and developed further guidance to ensure that when collaboration is the right approach to take, those involved are supported to develop stronger collaborative practice.

These tools and guidelines have been tailored for use in the Department to reflect and build on existing practice. The guidelines and tools were co-designed which has resulted in a degree of ownership by Department personnel which might otherwise have be absent.