Research into practice

Gaynor
Wingham looks at research on what constitutes good practice in multi-agency
working between health, social services and education.

One
research project that has particular relevance for practitioners struggling to
establish multi-agency initiatives has been carried out by the National
Foundation for Educational Research. The NFER has published part 1 of a study
commissioned by the Local Government Association entitled Multi-Agency Working:
an Audit of Activity.

This
research explored the key factors in successful co-ordination of inter-service
activity between health, social services or education providers and the impact
of such collaboration on the professionals themselves and their own agencies. Based
on telephone interviews with representatives from 221 multi-agency initiatives
from 117 local authorities it describes the range of initiatives and the target
groups identified, as well as illustrating the main benefits, challenges and
key factors in the success of such initiatives.

The
interviewees gave many reasons for the development of multi-agency initiatives.
The most common rationale was the needs of the target group. Many said they
were responding to government agenda and directives.

Another
reason given was the desire to provide a comprehensive and effective service,
with this response sometimes overlapping that of target group or agency
activities and a shortage of provision. The interviewees referred to a wide
range of themes and documents, which were often target group-specific.

Commitment
from those involved was overwhelmingly nominated as the key factor for success
in multi-agency working with the need for good working relationships raised as
the second most important factor. Another key factor was the importance of
regular professional meetings for strategic planning.

All
three agencies identified leadership, drive and joint funding as key features.
Having a clear focus for the work and joint ownership were nominated more
frequently where initiatives involved social services and education, while
having common aims and relevant professionals involved were key factors where
joint work was between health and education.

The
influence of individual councils’ characteristics was raised, as was the
importance of a history of close inter-agency relationships and multi-agency
working. Although the time needed to develop relationships with other agencies
was difficult to find, it was seen as worthwhile in terms of future savings and
improved working practices.

Many
points emerged to show the benefits of multi-agency working. These included
better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different agencies,
improved communication and information sharing, better working relationships
and the opportunity to address issues between agencies.

The
report found that funding and resource issues are the major challenge for the
implementation of multi-agency initiatives. However, time and different
approaches or ways or working, the clarification of roles, competing priorities
or demands, and recruitment issues were also identified

There
is little direct and current research into multi-agency working and this study
has highlighted the benefits, challenges and key factors in success. This phase
1 study report was produced following an audit of activity. This is to be
followed shortly by a full report on the subsequent research.

This
is a good example of relevant research, intended for a multi-agency audience.
It provides some excellent pointers for managers and practitioners to consider
when exploring existing working relationships and establishing multi-agency
initiatives.

-
The report Multi Agency Working:An Audit of Activity is available from the
National Foundation for Educational Research, The Mere, Upton Park, Slough SL1
2DQ, (price £10), 01753 574123. E-mail: book.sales@nfer.ac.uk

Gaynor
Wingham is a child protection consultant.

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