A relational guide to dating for schools, or how to collaborate

Inter-agency collaboration in the public sector has been viewed as a self-evident virtue in complex societies for several decades, yet has remained conceptually elusive and perennially difficult to achieve

Schools and MATs are coming under increasing pressure - both financial and political - to collaborate with others, despite the fact that all the accountability carrots and sticks incentivise splendid and fortified isolation. After all, if our performance and therefore legitimacy is measured in relation to our ‘competitors’ in a ‘market’ where parents can exercise ‘choice’, then why would we collaborate?

But there are significant benefits to schools and school groups in working together, and creating their own collaborative ventures and networks. In fact, one might go further, and suggest that in the public sector, where organisational individualism wastes precious resources and fails to achieve the sort of efficiencies the taxpayer expects and the learner needs, it should be mandated.

The problem is that nothing in a school leader’s training prepares them to understand, lead and manage collaboration, and just like any complex organisational change process (but probably more so), it’s really, really hard.

Happily, inter-agency collaboration - both in the private and public sector - has been the subject of a great deal of academic and practitioner research, which was summarised in a recent presentation to school leaders by Ben Gibbs of the Relational Schools Foundation. Drawing in particular on the work of Hardy et al (1999), Ben set out a dating manual for schools, presenting a framework for collaborative endeavour, and outlining the importance of pragmatism, systems thinking, and relational approaches to leadership. He explains the nature of collaboration, why schools should do it, and how they can ensure it has at least a fighting chance of success.

The presentation is summarised as a paper - It takes two (or more) to tango - which is free to download and share here.

The main points are outlined in infographic form below, and here, again free and ready to share.

Happy collaborating!

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