‘Relationships and collaboration are key to system change and it’s no surprise that building trust is the essential ingredient’
FLNG and DWP: a case study of collaboration
by Lindsay Henderson, FLNG Programme Manager
Many people experiencing multiple and complex needs rely on financial support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) so we have always recognised the vital role of the DWP in our system change work and the importance of us developing positive working relationships with local teams.
We have collaborated on a number of pieces of work to raise awareness of multiple and complex needs (MCN) and to understand how the DWP offer could be improved for both the people we support and for the DWP workforce.
Sandra Brydon, DWP Senior Operations and Partnerships Manager, has been a key figure in our joint working and someone who I have worked with on a number of different projects over the years. She has kindly shared with me her thoughts on our relationship development as a case study of successful system change.
In Sandra’s words:
“The introduction of Universal Credit (UC) in Newcastle in 2016 was a step into the unknown for all of us and I recognised that we needed to work hand in hand with partners to understand the impact on people experiencing MCN. I had worked with Lindsay in her previous role at Homeless Link and our paths crossed again when FLNG begun a piece of research tracking client experiences and exploring the impact of UC. We shared a real passion and commitment to learn locally and use research to inform and improve our local systems and practices whilst also feeding our learning up the line to national colleagues.
“We set up a small operational group with representatives from FLNG and DWP, initially focussing on tracking one particularly complex customer through UC. This ‘deep dive’ was massively informative, and also helped ensure that the customer was better supported through UC by establishing relationships between the FLNG and DWP members of staff involved. We subsequently agreed to look at a number of case studies and established that FLNG clients were sometimes falling through the net due to their complex circumstances. This was invaluable learning for us and we expanded our network to include all Newcastle JobCentres.
“We built relationships between our teams through attendance at team meetings and it was a genuine partnership. FLNG focused on the positives as well as the things that hadn’t gone quite so well, and were always quick to pass on praise for JobCentre colleagues who regularly went that extra mile to overcome challenges that we encountered. This kept the relationship buoyant and positive – it was always about what we could do to make things better and paved the way for further collaboration. For example, when DWP introduced Community Partners, they quickly got involved with the approach and this was picked up with gusto by our Disability Employment Adviser Lead who has taken the relationship from strength to strength.
“The relationship with FLNG is much more than two people now – Lindsay’s team and my team have really built on the initial work that we did and taken it to new heights and will ensure that the strong relationship that we put in place will continue for the next two years.”
Working with Sandra across different roles and services provided solid foundations for our partnership working based on trust and honesty. Since the initial UC collaboration, our joint-working has gone on to include:
- Developing case studies to highlight both the DWP and FLNG experiences;
- Delivering and receiving training sessions both externally and to each other’s teams;
- Rolling out our human library awareness-raising film resources across each JobCentre Plus; and
- Delivering joint presentations in other forums to highlight our collaboration and shared objectives.
DWP is now also working with us to:
- Explore how to use our co-production and peer research resources to understand and improve their customer experience at initial contact; and
- Take part in our systems thinking training and action learning set.
Relationships and collaboration are key to system change and it’s no surprise that building trust is the essential ingredient. Trust doesn’t happen overnight and our relationships need time to develop. We have to earn each other’s trust to enable honest conversations, without which systemic change will not happen. I believe taking time to understand and respect other people’s ideas, experiences and drivers is vital. We are in a strong position now with the DWP and will continue to embed the approach and retain these strong links as the programme moves forward.