The benefits and challenges of collaboration

Why collaborate?

Local government leaders are working across public, private and administrative boundaries for the simple reason that by doing so they can amplify their influence over economic development and get more from their assets with partners than they can alone. Collaboration means leaders can draw upon the full range of assets within their city as well as draw in assets, scale and expertise from the wider city region, widening the opportunities available and raising the level of development.

Even within the public sector or a single organisation, the different goals and performance measures of specific teams, departments or locations can restrict that organisation’s ability to achieve its overarching purpose.

For local authorities wanting to improve the performance of their local economy, this can be even more difficult: many of the assets that would help to develop the homes and commercial space needed in the locations that will give the greatest impact are divided across any number of public and private bodies, while councils won’t have the powers or funding to take sole control of many projects or infrastructure needs. The complexity and diversity of land ownership, especially within our cities, is made clear on the Who Owns England interactive map,, available at http://map.whoownsengland.org/.

Collaboration breaks down the walls between partners to make the most out of mutually beneficial assets and shared purposes, which:

  1. Allows partners to take a more strategic approach to a larger range of assets, rather than be limited by acting on a site-by site basis. Collaboration can create greater gains more in line with local priorities. 1. Allows partners to take a more strategic approach to a larger range of assets, rather than be limited by acting on a site-by site basis. Collaboration can create greater gains more in line with local priorities.
  2. Reduces risk and shares costs
  3. Gives access to additional funds – either because several local authorities are working together and bringing money, or because one specific institution can then access additional funds
  4. Offers more human resources: benefiting from one organisation’s specific skills or knowledge to deliver the project
  5. Allows new opportunities for partnership – not only between existing partners, but successful partnerships can spur ambitions for future, additional cross-boundary working

What are the major challenges of collaboration?

Our interviews with cities identified a number of obstacles to identifying potential collaboration and making partnerships work. Each of these obstacles has the potential to cause opportunities to be overlooked or, once underway, fail to deliver to their full potential:

  • Understanding the full range of opportunities available within a place – who owns what and where – and sharing that knowledge with potential partners in order to take that opportunity is difficult. In some places, parts of the public sector may be unwilling to disclose all assets publicly if they think that they may then lose control of how they will be used.
  • Deep knowledge of the local economy and how it is likely to develop in the mid to long-term is difficult but important – partnership takes time and incurs risk, and it is difficult to factor this in successfully if it is not clear how a project will fit into the future economy of the city.
  • Different organisational cultures – public and private sectors stepping out of their core functions expose themselves to greater risk of failure without taking steps to address this higher risk and measure progress. Different organisations will often have very different timescales for when they can take decisions and expect to see results, as well as how they measure the success of those results.
  • Capacity – funds are limited and individuals can be busy with existing work. Collaboration to make the most of assets requires additional dedicated resources to overcome inertia and realise benefits.
  • Inflexibility – all projects will be buffeted by events foreseen and unforeseen. Without a strong institutional relationship backed up by strong personal connections between partners, collaborations can be overly rigid and brittle, unable to bend with the wind of external shocks and internal developments.

How to collaborate?

The importance of and opportunities for collaboration are clear, in particular the need to support local authority budgets. But as more cities look to make even greater use of their assets in partnership with their neighbours, government agencies or departments, or the private sector, there are clear lessons from the cities across England that are leading the way in doing so. Below we set out the five key lessons we recommend for cities wishing to use their assets with partners in order to shape their local economy and get commercial returns to support their bottom line.

Our findings on how assets can be best used through partnership can be divided into two main and related parts:

  1. Understanding of the local asset base and how that fits into the economic vision  – identifying the full potential for collaboration within a city across sectors and boundaries, and building a vision that harnesses these partnerships achieve a clear economic goal, with strong empirical grounding. These are set out in points 1 and 2.2.
  2. Providing the resources and support for the partnership to make the most of the asset – how to bring together partners from across public or private sector boundaries with overlapping but not identical aims and ensure the partnership maintains momentum and direction. We look at these elements in points 3, 4 and 5.

Each of these recommendations has been drawn from the case studies as well as interviews regarding other collaborations. These case studies will hopefully demonstrate the variety of ways in which cities are looking at or using their assets with partners, as well as animate the five key findings.