In 2020, as part of its response to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, Scottish Government sought to address the barriers facing the third sector by bringing together SCVO, the TSI Scotland Network, COSLA and the Scottish Government Third Sector Unit in the Strengthening Collaboration project.
After a couple of meetings I was excited – there was an appetite to tackle some of the sticky issues we had all been talking about for years; to recognise that these are systems level issues that could take years to ‘solve’; and to move beyond rhetoric to focus on implementation. The opportunity to work on these collectively, with all of the different actors in the system coming together, felt full of potential.
And in many ways, the work that we have done during the first couple of years of the project has felt different. By taking a slower approach, we’ve had time to build relationships that allowed us to have the most honest conversations I’ve been part of in this type of work. We’ve developed a greater appreciation that we all want to achieve the same positive outcomes for communities, and we come away with a far better understanding of, and empathy for, the barriers that each partner faces to collaboration. There’s some really valuable learning there for me about how long is needed for meaningful joint working, but it does mean that there are frustrations that we’ve not made the progress we might have hoped. Stepping back from those frustrations, there is also a huge amount of learning.
Earlier this year, the research that Strengthening Collaboration commissioned highlighted some of the challenges of partnership working, many of which we experienced first hand: the time and resources needed to really commit to this approach, and the difficulties of working collectively on an issue that is so complex and multifaceted.
Sometimes that complexity threatened to overwhelm us, and over summer, following a successful session at The Gathering, we agreed that in the current climate our primary focus should be on fair funding for the voluntary sector. We have therefore paused the overarching work to concentrate, individually and collectively, on this one vital strand.
While there are many improvements that could have emerged from this work, I'm pleased we have come out of it with a collective commitment to create a fairer funding environment. That is absolutely crucial to the sustainability of the sector, and with each of us working towards this I’m sure there is much to be achieved.