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Part I: ‘What can we do together that we can’t do apart?’

How one deceptively simple question is creating a movement for change in Cambridgeshire

In the first of our new series of blogs about our work, Owen Garling from the Cambridgeshire County Council Transformation Team sets out an overview of Collaborate’s long-term strategic partnership with Cambridgeshire CC to create collaborative place-based change: new cross-sector relationships, public service reform and organisational culture change.

As with most places, Cambridgeshire faces a real balancing act between the shorter-term work required to balance the books and the longer-term work to fundamentally change how we operate and our relationship with the people of Cambridgeshire.

With an eye on the latter, we worked with Collaborate last year to undertake a diagnostic that looked at our readiness across the Cambridgeshire system to work more collaboratively with partners and with citizens. The results highlighted that while there was a shared ambition across the county to work differently with each other, and many bright spots of activity, the challenge was in making the step-change required to put this into practice at scale across the whole system and place.

We are now working with colleagues from across the county and Collaborate to turn our ambitions into reality, using a deceptively simple question as our starting point:

‘What can we do together that we can’t do apart?’

Starting with this question has enabled us to focus on those things that challenge current ways of working and encourage us to step outside our usual organisational viewpoints, helping us to learn as a system and demonstrate real, tangible change on the ground.

Together we are now building a movement for change throughout the county, involving people from different sectors who want to work in new ways with communities and with each other.

How? Our plan is three-fold:

First, we are working with leaders from across the Cambridgeshire public sector to create opportunities for them to take a system-wide view of the role of the public sector in the county. To help with this, we have identified four ‘grand challenges’ that we can all work towards:

Framing our work in this way helps shift the focus from the organisational towards the systemic — and from a focus on the financial issues that we all face towards to considering the strengths and assets that exist across the county.

Second, we are convening groups of ‘system-changers’ — people across the public, private and voluntary sector to community activists, who are champions for change in their organisations and communities. We have started with a group of colleagues from across the public sector, who have identified a number of shared priorities, including:

  • TAKING A LONGER-TERM VIEW while also understanding the importance of quick wins to demonstrate what’s possible and build momentum;
  • A COLLECTIVE WILL to identify and work towards clear common goals across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; and
  • BRAVE LEADERSHIP giving staff permission and trust to work flexibly for a ‘common good’

We aim to create the conditions that will enable a movement of system-changers to develop across the county, coming together to share insights, learn from each other’s work and identify the barriers and enablers that senior system leaders can help address and create.

Finally (and perhaps most importantly) we are working together to identify opportunities where we can all learn and do together. The scope of the four grand challenges is vast, so we’re looking for opportunities to try new things that sit in the ‘sweet spot’ between them — where the challenges converge and overlap.

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