For a practitioner engaged in the subtly beautiful and nuanced work of building useful and therapeutic relationships with people, a systems view can feel unimportant. More likely, it can be frustrating and induce feelings of powerlessness to be acutely aware of the deficiencies of the system and feel no influence to change it. This model for partnership suggests that practitioners can learn to sit in the uncertain space of the systemic catastrophes (just as they often sit in uncertainty with the people they support) because they truly feel there are possibilities for change. See Meaningful Relationships for how to create safe spaces. Most important is that practitioners feel they have influence and scope to initiate change. The evaluation of the Southern Melbourne Services Connect Partnership found “there was a strong view that the authorising environment created by the project enabled key workers to challenge traditional paradigms to put client needs first” (p2, 2016).
In a similar way to an individual, organisations can feel restricted by their funding and the ebbs and flows of the political tide that determines it. A robust partnership between organisations can create safety and power in numbers where conditions for change and influence are optimal. Partner organisations must seek to uncover possibilities for innovation that improve the system for the ultimate benefit of the people who use it. At the same time, organisations must create conditions for their practitioners to create and innovate for the direct benefit of the people they support. This means the courage to be flexible in procedure and policy implementation and a strong trust in practitioners. The flexibility must always be in line with person-centred principles.
Providing this flexibility to practitioners who may not have extensive practice experience may be challenging for organisations due to potential risks. Agencies within the partnership can mitigate these risks by implementing strategies such as utilising experienced workers as key partnership members and having a robust governance structure to accelerate decisions to management and executive members for agreement. To ensure there is an adequate reporting structure within the partnership there needs to be engagement from all levels of governance in each organisation, this includes direct client practitioners, team leaders, managers and executives. Each of these different levels of governance within organisations bring specific knowledge and practice experience about their individual organisation and the sector that is valuable within a cross sectorial partnership. The involvement of the different levels of governance within partnerships also provides practitioners a sense of containment and empowerment in their innovative work as they feel supported, heard and trusted.
At the heart of the empowering environment is the core value that all members of the partnership, at all levels of work, have wisdom and experience to contribute to the success of the partnership. The Groupwork Institute of Australia asserts that the “gathered wisdom” of a group “will help the group come to its wisest decisions in all its endeavours” (Groupwork Institute, p6). Empowerment flows on naturally from a collaborative leadership style that equally values the contribution of all members. In partnership also, each organisational member holds shared responsibility for the outcomes of partnership endeavours. As such, each partner agency must be empowered in ownership of decision-making for the whole group.
In the context of partnership where information is shared across services there may be concern around responsibility for quality in practice. On the other hand, by the very nature of collaborative effort and shared information, quality is more likely to improve.
An exercise in improving quality in the partnership context:
Due to using a shared database the Southern Melbourne Services Connect Coordination team became aware that there were discrepancies in naming Family Violence as an alert on the system. The key workers were entering case notes and information in the needs identification components of the database that explained there was Family Violence present in many cases although there were no alerts present on these cases. At their induction into the Services Connect pilot, all key workers completed CRAF (Common Risk Assessment Framework) training with DVRCV (Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria), the Coordination team reflected on this and agreed that although the team was well trained in the identification of Family Violence it did not alleviate the barriers to naming Family Violence on the database.
To improve the reporting of alerts the Coordination team made a conscious decision to do something innovative. Instead of providing another training session they conducted an exercise that would stimulate open and honest discussion with the key workers to uncover the barriers to recording alerts on the system.
The Practice Lead gave each person a scenario where there was potentially some indication of Family Violence and asked everyone to put them in categories in line with the alerts present on the database. There was much robust discussion in the group and each person explained their reasoning as to where and why they categorised their scenario. Through the discussions the key workers named that one of the most significant challenges for putting an alert of the system was the language that was used, the key workers felt that naming the people they were working with as ‘perpetrators’ and ‘victims’ was not reflective of their person-centred approach. They were able to draw on each other’s experiences and learn from differences of opinion in the group. Practitioners with specialty family violence experience and with personal experience gave their insight into the importance of naming the violence for someone subjected to violence. The group critically discussed how soon they should be naming something as family violence and how much information they ought to have to do so.
The Coordination team completed another audit after the session and found that in only a month there had been a 33% increase in Family Violence Alerts. No one had been directed to add an alert to a case.