Deeper Collaboration

Common ambitions, better partnerships, co-design initiatives, and shared funding allow some charities to align their activities for more effective impact.

Many of those we interviewed agreed that, accelerated by Covid19, the Armed Forces charity sector is entering a period of significant readjustment. This, in part, reflects concerns over future funding, but more a belief that there are probably too many of them for the projected size of the veteran community in the coming decade, albeit a community with an increasingly diverse range of beneficiaries in need of help. A fundamental question emerges: how best to deliver effectively using significantly reduced resources. Many agreed that “we must do things radically differently. We will be more collaborative, more systemic, and also take time to take a moment to pause and work out what we were trying to achieve in the first place.” The hope is that when organisations with a common aim work together, they can cut costs, improve outcomes, and reduce duplication. As a result, they can better reach and support their beneficiaries and their families over a longer period.

Co-designed initiatives work especially well. In particular, the gathering of data and the provision of information are some of the things that many consider should be non-proprietary. Although “it is not as well developed as in the wider charity sector”, initiatives such as the Veterans Gateway offer good examples of how veterans and their families can be helped, by providing access to relevant resources and information from a network of organisations. From a government perspective, the recently established Office for Veterans’ Affairs (OVA) aims to facilitate collaboration between departments. Hopes around its future impact are high: “If the OVA took the generation of research under its wing, then you would have evidence already inside government, and it would really help to make a difference.” Also, “if it does its job right and builds the environment in government that understands the needs of veterans, within the context of what wider society needs, and has great services for them such that for each department, veterans are business as usual, then in ten years’ time we shouldn’t need it.”

Some suggest that “there are opportunities to collaborate with close partners, including the police, the emergency services, and other organisations dealing with similar sorts of issues.” The Armed Forces Covenant, established in 2000 and now signed by all 407 local authorities in mainland Great Britain, plus four Northern Ireland councils, alongside thousands of other organisations including businesses and charities, supports this type of cross-working. It sets out the relationship between the nation, the government, and the Armed Forces, and establishes how veterans should expect to be treated, offering the basis for future cooperation between Armed Forces charities, local government, and multiple corporations. Some felt that its very existence has already been sufficient to drive change: “Sometimes I feel we are done here.” But others feel that it has yet to be effective: “You are supposed to have veteran champions in a Local Authority, but there is a massive disconnect between Armed Forces life and what local government can provide. More needs to be done around mental health and housing provision. All of these things can only be solved at local level, but I’m not sure the understanding is there.”

The third sector, more broadly, is also making changes. We heard in particular that “foundations are starting to work better together in new ways that could be quite profound. There are more joint portals for grant applications, so they can see each other’s work and what they are doing. They are sharing ideas and information in a way that they haven’t done before.”

Some felt that the problem around collaboration really lies more specifically with the Armed Forces charity sector itself, although work is being done to address this. For example, “to encourage collaboration, post the emergency phase of Covid19, there will be a collaborative hub to allow the sector to know what else is going on and who they can collaborate with – to enable a better focused delivery and leveraging of pooled funding. We would love to have one around veterans.” Although on a practical level it seems that most charity staff want to co-operate with each other, “the issue is how to get senior leaders working collaboratively better. They talk a good game, but people still have an urge to make their organisation look the most effective.”

Many we spoke to felt good examples of wider collaboration are quite thin on the ground. Indeed, sometimes we heard little enthusiasm for the idea at all. “How much impact can be gained from better collaboration of existing support versus adding more support? Difficult to say.” We also heard that “charities, for all the thunder and lightning, are still business organisations. While they determinedly work for beneficiaries – I suspect they are blind to their own organisational ego and the sense of self-preservation that this places on themselves.” As one participant observed, “this doesn’t actually benefit the ultimate beneficiaries.”

And yet, when it works, collaboration is an effective way of accelerating learning. This is much needed, as the Armed Forces charities work harder to remain relevant. “There is a challenge to the sector as to whether it can change as Service leavers change.” At a time when the Armed Forces veterans are diversifying, sharing experiences about how best to support cohorts such as women, the BAME, or the LBGT+ communities, will build much needed knowhow and understanding.

Some were concerned that change among Armed Forces and the supporting charities has not come fast enough: “The Armed Forces need to keep pace with society. My impression is that the two have diverged more over the last 20 years – civil society and its ideas have raced ahead – and that worries me because it suggests a loss of relevance.” Others were more confident that at least the MOD is adapting to modern lifestyle choices; “… there are clearer policies now and the MOD is working better in collaboration with the Armed Forces sector to get messages across. They have released a holistic defence transition policy. It’s about family as well – and there is recognition also that the “traditional family” of 2.4 children is no longer an issue.”

Looking ahead, it is clear that the next ten years will see a transformation for many Armed Forces charities: possibly not all of them will survive in their current form. “Covid19 will force rationalisation. If managed properly, it may put charities in a better position to serve better. This doesn’t mean retrenchment”. “For some time, we have been aware of the need to drive efficiency and rationalisation in our sector – too much duplication, too many organisations, too many staff – not as much as people think, but still, change is needed.”

An Implication: As funders align on key priorities, a series of under-funded but possibly high impact niche service gaps emerge for future benefit.



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If collaboration is a key part of the future - what can we all do to incentivise and support the development of new approaches together.