Transforming governance and processes through the adaptation of a steering group has led to collective working that has increased collaboration within the VCSE sector across Manchester.
Identifying the need for transformation
‘Whilst the initial steering group served a very important purpose for the early stages of the Local Pilot, it felt like this group needed to evolve for the next phase of the work’ explains Kim Liall Local Pilot Officer at MCRactive.
‘The initial steering group was quite traditional in approach, there were many senior leaders involved and much of the focus fell on reporting and giving updates. This high-level buy in and influence was vital for the early stages of the Local Pilot, once we had secured this, we recognised that working holistically across systems and sectors needed something different to this traditional approach. This then led to the development of the new steering group and evolution of the partners involved.’
Instigating wider process change
Kim recognised the importance of adapting governance and processes, to build new partnerships. ‘The new steering group is the Local Pilot Ops group,’ Kim explains. ‘The next phase of the Local Pilot work needed a steering group that was interested in embedding local pilot principles, and able to work in a more collaborative and relational way.’
‘It took a lot of bravery to instigate change to such an embedded process,’ says Kat Pursall, 10GM Strategic Lead (10GM is a joint venture to support the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector across Greater Manchester). ‘Kim took ownership of the initial steering group and worked to evolve it.’
Exploring the issues of governance
The way governance can affect steering groups is a challenge that spreads beyond Greater Manchester. ‘Governance is a necessary part of investing in, or being invested in, including developing the Local Pilot work,’ explains Kate Ahmadi-Khattir from Sport England. ‘Steering groups are part of this collaborative network of partners, organisations and communities coming together to support more people to be active.’
‘Steering groups underpinned by governance can sometimes support this collaborative aim,’ continues Kate. ‘Yet a group that follows a hierarchical decision-making process of agreed governance, can result in people simply attending meetings, and only contributing to the work if it affects their role or organisation. This can stop people on the ground from making their own decisions and can stifle collective leadership and opportunities for real change.’
Creating new programmes and partnerships
MCRactive brought Macc (who support and develop voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations in Manchester) and 10GM on board to help transform the steering group’s governance to work in stronger partnership. ‘Macc and 10GM were already working together,’ Claire Tomkinson, Macc Strategic Lead for Collaboration says. ‘But this transformation of the steering group governance and process led directly to bringing Macc to the table alongside MCRactive.’
‘The evolved steering group is a brand-new partnership,’ Kim adds. ‘We’re a small, select group of key funders and stakeholders working together to create meaningful and crucial engagement within Manchester’s communities. There is Representation from MCRactive, Sport England, GM Moving, 10GM and Macc. Our goal is to engage with Manchester’s Local Pilot key audiences and geographies, reach people who are not currently active and gather insight from this about what matters to them. This will shape our future local pilot work.’
Building relationships for improved outcomes
For the group transformation and new partnerships to be truly successful, relationships needed to be built from the outset. ‘We invested the time to get to know one another,’ says Claire. ‘We wanted the new group to represent real governance change, so we didn’t go straight into the outcomes of the steering group. Instead, we focused on who we are as people, and how we use our understanding of this to create relationships and make meaningful connections within the system.’
‘It took this process to understand exactly why, and how, it was time for the initial steering group to evolve,’ adds Kat. ‘Though it was clear transformation was needed, it was difficult to recognise exactly why until this point of collaboration.’
New appointments for fresh perspectives
The group identifies the recruitment of a Community Development Coordinator Terry Manyeh to lead the community engagement programme, as instrumental to the way processes have been transformed. Terry’s role deliberately spans both Macc and MCRactive organisations, as a shared staff member to boost collaboration. Terry’s role involves talking to people in the voluntary sector and building relationships. This is the first step towards wider and longer-term collaboration with the sector. The next phase of Terry’s work will involve working together with the sector to co-design activities, initiatives, test new ideas and concepts.
Building relationships for system-wide progress
Building relationships within the new steering group has removed the need for hierarchical reporting. Instead, it has created a place of trust where successes, challenges and learnings are shared.
The group feels this real sense of shift from a strategic steering working group, led by governance reporting mechanisms, to one that unites people. ‘After the transformation, the group feels more collaborative,’ says Claire. ‘It’s focussed on relationships and what we can do to connect by working together.’ It’s a sentiment Kat shares. ‘There’s been a real coming together of people with shared values and behaviours. It’s happened very organically. And though it’s a fresh start for us all, it already feels very integrated. It’s like we’re a team who have always been together.’
Kate is also keen to add how positive governance has transformed the group. ‘The group can now follow the energy of the work rather than a prescribed action plan,’ she explains. ‘The group can make real-time decisions that affect real people, rather than waiting for a meeting, and find support with their work from their new group members.’
‘Everyone understands and supports each other,’ concludes Kim. ‘This takes time to develop, but through really meaningful conversations this transformation happened quicker than we’d even hoped.
‘It’s been a real journey and now that we have the valuable tools and experience gained from evolving the Local Pilot governance in Manchester, as the work further progresses, we will continue to review the governance and adapt again if needed.’
Whilst the work has been understandably impacted by the pandemic, the group managed to stay connected and strengthened relationships through virtual chats and reflection sessions and catch-ups at Local Pilot Forums etc.
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