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Joining up public services around local, citizen needs

Perennial challenges and insights on how to tackle them

Heralded as the solution by many, joining up is seen as a way to reduce duplication, make efficiency savings and improve public service outcomes. In recent years, fiscal constraint and rising demand have only increased the pressure on local and central leaders to join up and break down entrenched organisational silos. But although there is broad agreement on the need to join up, there is little agreement on what this actually means, what approaches work best or whether particular models are more effective than others.

Why is joining up so difficult to do in practice?

Countless attempts to join up public services have demonstrated that it is not easy, and significant barriers and up-front investments are needed before benefits are seen. From the New Deal for Communities, Neighbourhood Renewal Funds and Total Place, to Troubled Families and Community Budgets, we are still grappling with the challenge of how to effectively join up services on the ground. Five challenges repeatedly hinder joint working and collaboration:

• Short-term policy and funding cycles can restrict the ability of local actors to invest in the long-term partnerships needed to meet local, citizen needs.
• Misaligned geographies and the patchwork of commissioning, funding and regulatory processes can make it difficult for local actors to design services around a ‘whole person’.
• Cultural differences between professions and organisations can discourage collaboration on the ground.
• Barriers to data sharing can make joint working between distinct teams or organisations practically difficult.
• Limited sharing of ‘what works’ in different circumstances can mean that lessons from effective models and practices are rarely built on.
There has been a strong push from both local and central government to overcome these long-standing challenges.

Setting out his vision for a ‘smarter state’ in September 2015, the Prime Minister called on ‘departments, local authorities and charities to work together collaboratively’ and overcome these challenges.3 The 2015 Spending Review provides an opportunity to realise this as organisations consider how they might work more effectively to re-design services.4 However, the current fiscal climate can make joining up more difficult to realise in practice. Publicly funded organisations are currently working hard to maintain business-as-usual activities, deliver multiple reform agendas and survive in an increasingly competitive financial environment. The instinct may therefore be to protect, rather than join up, shrinking budgets and resources.

What lies behind the most successful approaches to joining up?

The case studies in this report demonstrate that joining up is hard, but can be achieved if the right building blocks are in place. Below are 10 insights on how to overcome some of the barriers and join up around local, citizen needs.

• Using multi-disciplinary teams can focus attention on complex issues.
• Agreeing on clear, outcomes-focused goals can help front-line organisations prioritise resources effectively.
• Using evidence can build consensus and help to draw in resources from a range of organisations.
• Building on existing programmes and structures can enhance existing good practice and partnerships on the ground.
• Giving local areas greater flexibility can help local actors form the partnerships needed to deliver cross-cutting outcomes.
• Balancing this with some central government support can provide the additional resources and political momentumneeded to get an initiative off the ground.
• Building the desire for joined up services into the aims and processes of commissioning can incentivise organisations to collaborate.
• Engaging a broad range of stakeholders throughout the design process can help to build buy-in and commitment to partnership working.
• Sharing learning and experiences widely can help to ensure that effective models are built on.
• Physically bringing organisations together can help to overcome entrenched cultural differences and data-sharing challenges.

These insights provide a starting point for thinking about how to effectively join up services in any particular sector or area.