Collaboration for children: leadership in a complex space. A voluntary sector perspective.

Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol (2014). Collaboration for children: leadership in a complex space. A voluntary sector perspective. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis explores inter-organisational collaboration across the divide between public and voluntary sectors in the context of children’s services in the UK. It explores how voluntary sector leaders ‘make things happen’ (Huxham and Vangen 2000) in this context, where the formal authority, control of resources, and decision-making appear to be in the hands of the public sector. Findings highlight the challenges of influencing dominant public sector agencies, the tensions which voluntary sector leaders experience, and the impact of the continually changing policy environment. The study emphasises the significance to these leaders of a distinct sense of voluntary sector identity, and of the contribution which voluntary organisations can make to the collaboration, and ultimately to the lives of children and families. This leads them to engage in activities which question, challenge, and disrupt their collaboration partners, whilst also engaging in more supportive and facilitative activities. The empirical research focuses on the practice of voluntary sector leaders through interviews and observations, but also presents an analysis of key government policy documents from children’s services during the period 2003-2012. This analysis reveals the ambiguity of concepts and narratives of cross-sector collaboration in these texts. Although policies and formal collaborative entities change when government changes, the ambiguity remains. Despite the challenges of this context, voluntary sector participants weave together layers of connectedness, which build collaborative capacity for future collaboration. This connectedness frequently begins with interpersonal relationships, but over time becomes embedded in the collaborative environment. The research suggests that this longer term approach to building collaborative relationships may provide a more positive perspective for voluntary sector leaders, who are frustrated by the experience of responding to public sector dominance and short-term policy initiatives.

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