New report highlights key challenges of multi-agency working

Issue date: 01 March 2005

Issue date: 01/03/05



Multi agency working in the public sector is reaping dividends by driving forward new initiatives and programmes, but its full potential is not being realised due to lack of trust between partners, differences between community groups and agencies, and short term support by the Government.

These were the key findings of a major study, A Review of Partnership and Multi-Agency Working commissioned by the Bristol Children’s Fund to establish a realistic understanding of the current state of multi-agency working in Bristol and to contribute towards effective partnership working.

The study was led by Mike Broussine, Director of the Research Unit for Organisation Studies at Bristol Business School, part of the University of the West of England (UWE) and also involved UWE’s Centres for Local Democracy, Psycho-Social Studies and Research in Education and Democracy. It focussed on the development of Youth Inclusion and Support Panels (YISPs), which are being set up across the city of Bristol and involve multi-agency planning groups covering Social Services, Education Youth Services, Police, Health, Housing Services, Careers Services and Youth Offending Teams. The aim of YISPs is to prevent offending and anti-social behaviour by offering voluntary support services for 8-13 year old high risk children and their families.

The researchers found many examples of collaborative working. Feedback from frontline staff participating in the study revealed a range of initiatives that would not have happened had it not been for a partnership between community groups and agencies. This has resulted in a greater range of programmes and facilities that are being made available to children.

However, a number of issues were uncovered by the research. In some cases, effective partnership working was seen as challenging because of a lack of trust between partners and by views of specialists who had been brought up in a ‘silo mentality’ in some larger public agencies. In addition the research revealed that some staff and managers found it difficult to move out of their professional discipline-based practice into interdisciplinary practice. Moreover, the researchers came across cases where the ideological or political differences between community groups and agencies could get in the way of partnership working.

Some of the barriers to good partnership working were seen to originate from outside the partnership arrangement itself. In particular the short termism in funding of some projects by government could shake people’s confidence about a partnership arrangement. A significant number of participants in the study felt frustrated by a continuous stream of new initiatives coming out of central government. Another concern was the government’s insistence on performance measurement and this was leading to a ‘tick box’ mentality.

Says Tony Benjamin, Project Manager at Bristol Children’s Fund: “We are already using the findings to inform staff development, as well as to help policy makers whose role it is to establish partnerships and interagency working which are becoming increasingly important in the delivery of good public services.

Adds Mike Broussine: “On the benefits side partnership arrangements guarantee that groups of professionals and citizens think about and try to act on some of the tricky social problems that face us and that may have lain dormant for years. On the cost side, partnership and multi-agency working can result in both fragmentation and duplication, as problems are reinvented in each initiative, and as partnership boards across the city compete to promote the partial interests of their own initiatives.

“The much sought-after practice of ‘joined-up working’ still has to overcome cultural and organisational barriers. In this sense, there remains confusion at the heart of contemporary social reform initiatives.

“However, as the research findings reveal, there is no doubt that partnership working can thrive in the right environment.

“From the research we have been able to draw up a number of recommendations to enhance partnership working in the future and to build on the positive impacts to date.”

The Report’s recommendations focus on the creation and development of collaborative structures and processes and dealing with competing or unclear partnership aims.


For further press information, please contact:
Chris Lawrance or Melanie Beeby at JBP Public Relations on (0117) 9073400.

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