Collaboration between care organizations, educational organizations and other organizations is only successful if they need each other to achieve a common goal. If they put aside their own interests and take the time to get to know each other, even very different organizations can successfully set up a project. Other than within a single organization, it is important in such a network that the different layers, from front-line workers to managers, keep in touch with each other. ‘You must never collaborate for collaboration’s sake’, researcher Jelly Zuidersma concludes. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 29 March 2012.
The trend that saw care, welfare and educational institutions being expected to collaborate at a local level began in the 1980s. This is now standard practice, with, for example, the implementation of the WMO (Social Support Act) or the Brede School (a network of provisions for children, parents and district with the school at its core), but Zuidersma noticed that this was still very much in its infancy fifteen years ago. She conducted research into local collaboration between care and educational institutions with a focus on Nursing and Care programmes. ‘What was already conceived in 1980 was only introduced from 1997 onwards. In my research I discovered that there was great call for collaboration but that very little was known about how this should take shape and which attitudes should be fostered to achieve a concrete result.’
Questionnaires and observations of dozens of collaborating organizations helped Zuidersma come up with a number of critical success factors. First, the institutions involved need to be aware that their partnership is not an organization in itself but a network with a specific goal. This actually requires the different layers at the partner organizations to interact: for example, the manager of a care institution speaking directly with a teacher at a school.Together with this multilayered aspect, Zuidersma introduces the term of reciprocity, in which not the status of the organization is the main focus but, for example, the interest of students or patients. Over the course of time the organizations should sense where this joint interest lies and none of them should dictate the agenda. They must be able to grow together. This is crucial to the success of a project. ‘I noticed that the parties involved generally collaborate well, but that if things are proceeding less smoothly the organizations stake out their positions, making effective consultation more difficult.’Two other factors that Zuidersma distinguishes are that the collaboration has a long-term perspective and that those working in such a partnership are accessible, both physically and digitally.
On the basis of her research Zuidersma can provide a method which organizations working in different social fields can use to structure their partnership. This includes a measuring instrument that makes it clear whether objectives are being achieved and an observation method that determines whether difficult discussions involving divergent interests are actually effective.
It is also a good test for checking whether collaboration is worthwhile at all, says Zuidersma. ‘I hope that my thesis will communicate the message that one can look at these conditions and say with certainty: we will not opt for collaboration at present. Organizations must look very critically at whether they have a joint objective; otherwise they should not even begin. You should never collaborate for the sake of collaborating.’
Jelly Zuidersma (Leek, 1963) studied Health Sciences at Maastricht University. Since 2005 she has worked at Het Stagebureau Expertisecentrum (an office coordinating placements) for the Care and Nursing programmes at the northern Regional Training Centres (Regionaal Opledingscentrum; ROC) and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences (UAS), Groningen. Zuidersma’s PhD is in Human and Social Sciences and she was supervised by Prof. Greetje Timmerman and Prof. Patrick Kenis. Her thesis is entitled: ‘Reciprocity patterns in regional partnerships. A behavioural theoretical approach’.
Contact: Jelly Zuidersma, tel. 050-575 7475 (work), e-mail: j.zuidersma hetstagebureau.nl
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