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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 austerity and Covid-19, the UK 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 and complexity of needs. Many agreed that “we must do things radically differently. We will be more collaborative, more systemic, and make 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 the beneficiaries and their families over a longer period.

Co-designed opportunities include the gathering of data and the sharing of information. Although “it is not as well developed as in the wider charity sector”, initiatives such as the Veterans Gateway offer good examples of how recent and long since-served transitioners 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 veterans’ needs, within the context of what wider society needs, and has great services for them so that for each department, veterans are business as usual, then in ten years’ time we shouldn’t need it.”

In addition to collaboration between each other, some propose greater partnerships with the police, the emergency services, and other organisations dealing with similar sorts of issues. The Armed Forces Covenant supports this type of cross- working. It sets out the relationship between the nation, the government, and the Armed Forces, and establishes how the Armed Forces Community should expect to be treated, offering the basis for future co-operation between 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 disagree: “You are supposed to have veterans’ champions within 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.”

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.” On a practical level, it seems that most charity staff are prepared 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.” Sometimes we heard little enthusiasm for the idea at all; “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.”

New collaborative models are already being explored by some. Expect others to follow suit; “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.”

Example Implication: As funders align on key priorities, a series of under-resourced but possibly high impact common interest, niche service gaps are emerging.

Discussion

1 Comment

Anonymous

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