By Vodafone

23 May 2016

New research by Vodafone explores the benefits of a robust partnership between public- and third -sector organisations

A thriving community requires strong public services. As demonstrated in the report on strengthening communities, trust in public services is one of the three key pillars to a happy and healthy population. 

But many challenges threaten to erode the efficacy and reach of public service delivery, not least of which are public spending cuts. Following last year’s Spending Review, departments are facing cuts of up to £12bn by 2019-20. It’s therefore essential that people across the public sector put their heads together to come up with innovative and lasting solutions that will enable them to operate under such constraints. 

One tried and tested solution is for public sector organisations to collaborate with charities. A fifth of public sector organisations already rely on charity partners to provide vital public services. This isn’t just a response to the cocktail of cuts and increasing demand from an ageing population: working with charities can increase engagement with service users, and ultimately improve service delivery.

Vodafone’s new report, Charities and the Public Sector; Stronger together,   takes survey data from 175 strategy leaders in public sector and charitable organisations to its logical conclusion: charities and the public sector are stronger together.

Charity collaboration benefits critical public services

Public sector collaboration with charities is no novelty. With a history that extends back to the early 20th century, public service / third sector partnerships exploded in the mid-90s under the leadership of New Labour. Today, 20% of public sector organisations use third sector partners to provide over half of their public services, and nearly three quarters report working with others across the private, public, and third sectors.

The opportunities for enhancing public service delivery through charity partnerships are huge. For starters, partnerships with charities can expand both the reach and impact of many critical public services. Furthermore, it offers a way of improving the quality and efficiency of service provision, which was found to be the most important metric for measuring the success of public services. 

But perhaps the most significant advantage that public sector organisations gain through partnering with charities is greater proximity to the communities they serve. By virtue of their frontline experience, charities have a unique perspective on citizens’ needs and how to improve services – something which public sector organisations are well-positioned to utilise. In fact, public sector and charity leaders ranked a better understanding of community needs as the most important benefit of collaboration, ahead of cost savings and improved efficiency. 

Obstacles to cross-sector cohesion

While seamless cross-sector collaboration is ideal, there’s much that stands in the way of this becoming consistently viable. First is the challenge of how to measure and monitor performance. Only one in five leaders in public sector and charitable organisations report using accurate KPIs, with a third feeling the metrics they currently use are inadequate. Progress is hard to come by without an objective way to measure performance on a regular basis. 

Another obstacle is communication. While virtually all leaders (95%) believe good communication is important to a successful relationship, few public sector organisations or charities are using innovative means of keeping in touch, choosing instead to rely on traditional channels such as face-to-face meetings and phone calls. 

The impact of outdated technology is underscored by the importance public sector and charity leaders place on communication technology. Seven in ten believe establishing effective ways of working together would be significantly improved by introducing technology that aids cohesion. The issue is clear: communication is a foundation of effective partnerships, and out-dated, cumbersome technology remains a major roadblock. 

What about the Private sector? 

Partnering with charities is an increasingly viable option for public sector organisations, but what role can the private sector play?

Most obviously, it’s well positioned to support charities with time and money. Traditionally this has been through what is sometimes disparagingly called “chequebook charity” – that is, purely monetary donations. But organisations are increasingly turning to more innovative methods. Many larger companies (Vodafone included) are beginning to run Give as You Earn (GAYE) programmes that allow employees to support the charities of their choosing. GAYE resonates with staff chiefly because it allows them to have a greater say in where resources are directed. This in turn encourages employees to volunteer their free time, potentially multiplying the benefits that accrue to the charity. 

And it’s not just charities that benefit from private sector involvement – the private sector itself reaps dividends. By encouraging staff to volunteer their free time, businesses profit from more developed employees with refined team building and leadership skills. Employees who volunteer for charities are better negotiators, better listeners, and all around better workers. 

In response to heightened demand for public services that face relentless cuts, public sector organisations are increasingly relying on charities to support service delivery, and both are reaping the rewards. As the private sector in turn gets involved, the advantages of cross-sector collaboration are becoming more apparent by the day, with potentially endless opportunities. 

Click here to download the latest report in the Perspective series, Charities and the Public Sector: Stronger together

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