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Multi-Agency Collaboration: A new theoretical model

By Jo Rose

University of Exeter

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Institute of Education, University of London, 5-8 September 2007

Abstract

Within the recent policy agenda of Every Child Matters (ECM), multi-agency collaboration is becoming increasingly relevant to policy-makers and practitioners in the broad field of children’s services. Working together towards a common goal raises unique problematical issues for professionals from different backgrounds, over and above those issues arising from collaboration within a single profession or discipline. Such difficulties stem partially from differing ideologies, working practices and priorities. Recent research into multi-agency collaboration has mostly focussed on barriers to and facilitators of the process, and is often highly contextualised with relatively few attempts to generalise findings.

The current paper proposes a model of multi-agency collaboration, developed by the author in response to the literature in the field, and incorporating theoretical developments in team reasoning. The model illustrates the factors influencing the success of multi-agency collaboration, and allows for variations in regulation and working practices in different aspects of children’s services. The model was initially tested by means of exploratory, semi-structured interviews with individual professionals and other stakeholders working in a variety of disciplines within children’s services. The model was essentially supported by the evidence from the interviews. Implications of the model for policy and practice in multi-agency collaboration are discussed.

Introduction

Within the recent UK policy agenda of Every Child Matters (Department for Education and Skills, 2004), multi-agency collaboration is becoming increasingly relevant to policy-makers and practitioners in the broad field of children’s services. The increasing requirements for partnerships within Children’s and Social Services mean that professionals from different agencies and backgrounds must now work together as never before.

Working together towards a common goal raises unique problematic issues for professionals from different agencies and backgrounds, over and above those issues arising from collaboration within a single profession or discipline. Such difficulties stem partially from the differing ideologies, cultures, working practices and priorities that are encountered when educational practitioners, social services practitioners and health practitioners aim to work collaboratively to further the interests of the children with whom they work. Recent research into multi-agency collaboration has mostly focussed on barriers to and facilitators of the process, and is often highly contextualised with relatively few attempts to generalise findings and develop theory. The current paper proposes a model within which to view and further explore multi-agency collaboration, and which may be useful to facilitate more effective multi-agency working. The model focuses on the factors influencing the success of multi-agency collaboration, and allows for variations in regulation and working practices in the different aspects of children’s services. It has been synthesised from a review of research in collaborative practice, incorporating previous theoretical constructions of multi-agency collaboration (eg Easen et al, 2000) and using theoretical developments in the field of team reasoning (Gilbert, 2005; Sugden, 2005). Team-reasoning theory suggests that, in certain circumstances, people consider outcomes and their actions in terms of what is best for the group, rather than for themselves as individuals. The two parts to team reasoning – i. the individual’s preference for and intention to achieve the group outcome, and ii. the individual’s actions as a part of the group – are applicable to collaborative group work and can help to explain issues that arise in multi-agency collaboration. Team reasoning does not imply that those involved in the collaboration are in a formal "team" per se, merely that there is some perception of collective responsibility. In the proposed model, a team could be anything from members of a loose, fluid network of individuals who come together on a case-by-case basis, to a clearly established and structured team who work together regularly or permanently.

The language used to describe inter-professional and multi-agency working has varied over the years, with a proliferation of different terms in common usage. The words "cooperation", "collaboration" and "coordination" have been interpreted in different ways by different people. However, the way the term "collaboration" is used in this paper can be aligned with Frost’s (2005) definitions, developed from a review of research and policy in partnership working. Frost made distinctions between cooperation, collaboration, and coordination in the following ways:

Cooperation: Services work together towards consistent goals and complementary services, while maintaining their independence

Collaboration: Services plan together and address issues of overlap, duplication and gaps in service provision towards common outcomes

Coordination: Services work together in a planned and systematic manner towards shared and agreed goals

Frost (2005, p.13).

Research Background

Much of the literature on multi-agency working is securely grounded in specific local contexts, although some common themes emerged throughout.

The impact of shared and common goals has been discussed frequently throughout the literature, both in terms of a lack of common goals impeding successful collaboration (eg Dessent, 2006; Harris, 2003) and a clarity of shared goals facilitating collaboration (eg Anning et al, 2006; Hartas, 2004; Statham, 2004). The idea of working towards a common goal is inherent in team reasoning theory, with those who are team reasoning having a preference for the common goal (as an individual), and playing their own role in helping to achieve that goal (as part of a group). This type of reasoning benefits both from a commitment to the process of joint working, often cited as essential for effective collaboration (eg Atkinson et al, 2002; Dowling et al, 2004; Sloper, 2004; Tett et al, 2003), and from an understanding of the roles of individual team members, and how they fit together for coherent service provision (eg Atkinson et al, 2002; Cameron and Lart, 2003; Sloper, 2004).

Specification, in terms of aims, resourcing and time (boundedness) encountered by groups or teams can all have a profound impact on the effectiveness of collaboration. The issue of boundedness was discussed at length by Easen et al (2000), in relation to collaboration in both individual- and community-focussed work. They identified both positive (more scope for identifying needs, selecting appropriate actions, and involving wider collaborations) and negative (differing priorities, lack of clearly defined roles, financial uncertainty, and poor lines of communication) aspects of less bounded collaborations. Harris (2003) outlined the problems of having no clear strategy or approach to collaborative working, with professionals incorrectly assuming that their co-workers in a collaborative project held the same goals and were working in similar directions. However, there can be problems with more bounded collaborations, for example, it has been suggested that short-term projects may not allow time for professionals to learn to overcome their inflexibilities, and develop the trusting relationships that are needed for effective collaborative working (Milbourne, 2005; Salmon, 2004).

Several studies have commented on the importance of the continuity of personnel in collaborative work (eg Abbott et al, 2005; Easen et al, 2000; Sloper, 2004). Continuity supports the development of relationships that Milbourne (2005) identified as important. A high turnover of staff will also impact on management of collaborative teams, and the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the collaboration. An individual’s expertise and attitudes, from previous experiences of multi-agency working, has also been considered influential (Cameron and Lart, 2003; Sloper, 2004). Longer term, more continuous collaborative ventures allow for more secure, trusting and understanding relationships between team members: Easen et al (2000) suggested that a term of at least three years was needed to enable effective collaboration. Furthermore, a history of collaboration between agencies can facilitate further collaborative activities, allowing agencies to build on existing structures, links and collaborative protocols (Sloper, 2004).

The necessity of strong leadership of multi-agency teams to provide drive and focus is a common theme running through the literature (eg Atkinson et al, 2001; Harris, 2003; Hymans, 2006; Sloper, 2004; Watqon, 2006). Clarity of roles and responsibilities of all those in multi-agency teams is seen as necessary (Cleaver and Walker, 2004; Hymans, 2006; Sloper, 2004; Watson, 2006). Ambiguity of roles, and lack of direct and clear management can mean that roles are more flexible, although this also carries a heavy burden of responsibility to ensure that there are no gaps in provision (Considine, 2002; Milbourne, 2005). Considine goes on to discuss the complexity of accountability that occurs when management lines become blurred across and between agencies, and suggests that this can be counteracted by developing a "culture of responsibility" across agencies.

Maintaining a balance between team membership and a recognition of individual professional identities can be troublesome, especially where the boundaries between the roles and responsibilities of standard jobs and roles in the collaborative process become blurred. There is a tension between the need for individual professional identities with depth of knowledge, and the flexibility and breadth of knowledge required to understand other professionals’ roles within the collaboration. A recognition of separateness between team members can help to maintain individual professional identities (eg Abbott et al, 2005; Hudson, 2002). Nonetheless, it is important for individuals to have dedicated time within their individual professional roles to contribute to the collaboration (Sloper, 2004). Balancing this professional separateness with realistic commitment to the collaboration can, however, be problematic, depending on the type of collaborative model being used – for example, whether individuals are working solely within a collaborative multi-disciplinary team, or whether individual professionals from separate agencies work together on a seconded, or ad-hoc basis, while still remaining in established positions within their own agency structure. The impact of different funding procedures and resourcing on collaborative working, such as joint funding, pooled budgets, and the pressures of seeking alternative sources of funding, is linked to the type of collaborative model, and was discussed by Atkinson et al (2002) and Easen et al (2000).

Good lines of inter-agency communication, and willingness to share information is seen as crucial to effective collaboration (eg Cleaver and Walker,2004; Sloper, 2004; Watson, 2006), although the definition of good communication can vary across contexts and types of collaboration (Salmon and Faris, 2006). Inevitably there will be both shared and different knowledge and concepts within the team, and dialogue can help to establish clear definitions and shared perspectives, as well as enabling common development of individuals’ cognitive constructions of the collaboration. Such factors are undoubtedly viewed as essential by many in order to develop a common goal (eg Cleaver and walker, 2004; Coulling, 2000; Glenny, 2005; Salmon, 2004; Salmon and Faris, 2006; Watson, 2006). A common goal can also help to establish differences between different professionals as positive, and can lead to more cohesive and complete service provision through use of different approaches and skills (Easen et al, 2000).Joint client-focussed activities, as well as joint training and clear lines of communication, may foster more effective multi-agency collaboration (eg Hymans, 2006; Watson 2006) as well addressing some of the problems surrounding professional difference.

The impact of the way different professions view each other was discussed by Sloper (2004). Tensions between the different professions can arise as a result of perceived hierarchies and feelings of marginalisation by other professions (eg Abbot et al, 2005; Harris, 2003). Culture differences between professions, and the different agendas and priorities held by different agencies (for example, police working towards law enforcement, and youth workers aiming to facilitate personal empowerment) can also lead to tensions if common goals, priorities, and clear ways of working are not established, as can differing conditions of work between the professions (eg Easen et al, 2000; Harris, 2003; Signoretta and Craglia, 2002; Sloper, 2004). The importance of mutual respect for the roles of other professionals was highlighted by Hymans (2006) and Watson (2006), although overcoming tensions cased by differing status and training within individual professions and a multi-agency team can be problematic .

The Proposed Model

The model proposed in this paper situates collaborative practices in a local context which interacts with and is within a national policy field. Interacting at the heart of the collaboration are personal contexts, with the individual as the unit of analysis, and collaborative processes, with the group as the unit of analysis (see Figure 1).

The local context of collaboration focuses on factors and processes in the immediate field of collaboration: boundedness or limits of the collaboration; roles and responsibilities of those involved; leadership and management structures; lines of accountability; resourcing; and the shared or differing concepts and knowledge of those involved. The policy context involves: national and local policies and structures; specific policy interactions; and regulations and codes of practice for the different professions involved. There is a two-way interaction between the local and the policy context – describing both the impact of policy on the way the local context is created, and the way in which teams interpret and subvert policies, and ultimately may impact on future policy development.

Team reasoning in the presented model is a key part of both the personal context and the collaborative process. The personal context of collaboration takes the individual professional as the unit of analysis. This includes the person’s training, status, and responsibility (professional context), past experiences of collaboration and personal skills (individual context), individual constructions of collaboration, commitment to joint work, and an overview of how individual team members’ contributions fit together (team reasoning). The process of collaboration focuses on the group processes. The analysis includes: kinds of joint activities, duration of the group, continuity of the collaboration; and team reasoning. Team reasoning comprises: shared or different purposes/values; types of communications; decision-making processes; and roles and responsibilities within the collaborative process.

The model assumes that interactions between professionals (inter-professional collaboration, e.g. social workers and psychologists) are distinct from interactions between agencies (inter-agency collaboration e.g. schools and mental health service) because they are at different levels of analysis.

Evidence

Interviews with a variety of individual professionals involved in multi-agency working were carried out. These addressed people’s attitudes, perceptions and experiences of collaborative working within multi-agency teams, and their attitudes and perceptions about the ECM policy framework, and how they interpret their roles and responsibilities as service-providers within multi-agency teams. Full analysis of the interview data has yet to be carried out. However, preliminary analysis supports the model as a whole, indicates that team reasoning may be applicable to multi-agency collaboration, and illustrates the separate factors given as part of the model. Five interviews will be considered in this paper as illustrations of the model:

  1. A Community Team Leader from Connexions (CTL, Connexions)
  2. An Educational Psychologist working at a multi-disciplinary support service. (EP)
  3. An NHS Paediatric Occupational Therapist (OT, NHS)
  4. An Occupational Therapist for a charity offering practical help to families caring for brain-injured children. (OT, Charity)
  5. A Speech and Language Therapist / Centre Manager for the same charity. (SLT, Charity)

Team Reasoning

Individual aspects of team reasoning were illustrated most clearly by the two people working for the charity. The charity is set up to look at children holistically, so the nature of the organisation means that individuals are working together towards the organisation’s goal:

"I think a really positive thing at [the charity] is the fact that we all work together and therefore it's a realistic approach, where I think in other centres or somewhere maybe in a hospital setting a child will see an occupational therapist and then she will see a speech and language therapist and the doctor, but they don’t all need to be there, and we kind of look at the child holistically, and that’s what I really like, that’s one of the reasons I really wanted to join the [charity] team because to me that was so fantastic, the way all these, you know, consultants get together and they look at the child holistically. So I think in that way we really achieve that, we share information, you know, we, yeah, we work together, and you know, it all fits." (OT, Charity)

with a clear perception of how individuals’ roles in achieving that goal fit together:

"Well I think I would say in the middle would be developmental therapists because they have the family for the three days or the two days and they basically, it's their job to put the programme together at the end of the day. And then we have the consultants I would say on the side coming in and just emphasising certain things and helping parents with certain areas and referring them to, you know, certain services. And then we also have, like I said, the support, the family support worker which really helps them to access other services. And then the doctor, the nice thing about the doctor is some parents have concerns about, you know, going to the same doctor all the time and, you know, they get tired of listening to the parents the whole time. So he's kind of somebody on the sideline and he just looks at the children, talks to the parents and I think in some ways that’s quite, you know, beneficial for the parents. And then we have the nutritionist and I think that's a very important aspect at [the charity] because we feel a lot of the problems start out of what they eat and, so she's really involved in seeing the children every time they come….Yeah so I think everybody works together then to have the end result, but it's really important for us when we decide what we want to do, put in to the programme, you know, is the input of the consultants" (OT, Charity).

Throughout this interview there was an underlying confidence that the other professionals in the organisation are working towards the same overall goal:

"Because in the end we all work together to put something together for the child to benefit from, so yeah I would definitely, nobody id ever working against each other…I think we are always working in a collaboration, definitely" (OT, Charity).

The NHS Occupational therapist clearly outlined what she felt was the purpose of having a joint goal:

"Especially with the more complex children who have a lot of professionals involved, even if we can't all make the meetings, the fact that all our reports go to one central place and get discussed and then all of it goes together and comes back in a report means that everybody is aiming in the same direction. There is no point one person deciding that they're going to make the child walk and do all this, and somebody else decide they're going to put them in a wheelchair and then they can't stand and, so we’ve got to all come from the same place." (OT, NHS)

The Connexions Team Leader had a clear understanding of her own professional goals and how this was a part of the joint goal:

"Individual professional goals are ‘this is a young person who has multiple barriers to learning so I need to try and sort out those multiple barriers to learning before I can do anything else with him.’ Although ultimately I would like him to be doing something useful with his life, I can't get him to do anything useful with his life until such a point that we’ve sorted out all these multiple issues. So that’s my individual goal, and that would be my organisational goal as well… And the joint goal was to support this vulnerable young person" (CTL, Connexions)

However, when talking about conflict between organisations and agencies, the Connexions Team Leader described how having different purposes impeded effective working across agencies:

"I think goals, you know, not always seeing the same goal. Conflict in school sometimes arises, you know, with teachers and heads of year because we know the baggage that’s going on in a young persons’ life, but because of our confidentiality we can't actually share that, we can say there are some pressing issues that a young person’s facing, but the school’s still actually berating Johnny for not handing in his homework, not wearing his uniform, even though we know he's got a whole bag load of stuff actually going on. I get frustrated with leading care teams and social services because that particular group of young people are the least likely to work of any sector and yet they don’t always seem to have a goal in mind for these young people, you know, they're very good at supporting them in to independent living, they're very good at supporting them with activities and trips and things like that, I don’t always see them actually promoting our service to get a young person in to education and training." (CTL, Connexions)

Commitment to collaborative practice was clearly outlined by all those interviewed, for example:

"[The collaboration], it was key really for this particular individual because everything needed to dovetail in order to actually, you know, to get him right. So yes, you know, it was important even though we were making our own organisational decisions" (CTL, Connexions).

The perception of individual roles in the collaboration was clearly held by all interviewees, and all clearly articulated their own particular contribution, or that of their agency, that none of the others could fulfil. In many cases this was specialist subject knowledge, for example:

"I'd say specifically what we do that other people don’t really do is that we look at a lot more hand function and perceptual difficulties and all that kind of stuff. We do assessments for children who are having difficulty with fine motor control and all that kind of stuff, a lot of upper limb stuff we cover that most of the others don’t. We do a lot of perceptual stuff and things, and at the end of the day we’re looking at things from a functional point of view, so what activities can't they do? So I would say that was purely what we probably do that the others don’t." (OT, NHS).

and

"there are certain aspects of our role that nobody else can deliver on so, you know, unemployed, under eighteen, kicked out of home, to get the benefits they will have to come through Connexions cause that’s the way it is currently set up, so there are certain things that we have to deliver on, but I don’t know – but from the point of view of knowledge I would say we are probably more universally knowledgeable about other organisations than most other organisations just cause of the nature of what we do." (CTL, Connexions).

whereas the Connexions Team Leader also described how the nature of the organisation and what it offers impacted on the specific nature of their role in collaborative work:

"Similarities and differences, the whole point of me referring to the other agencies is that they different, they can offer something that I can't actually offer. So the similarity is that we’ve all got the young persons issues at heart, the difference is we all do a different role, you know, these roles I can't do, I can't get – I can fill in the forms for the benefits for a young person but I can't actually make that process happen, so I can support them to fill in the forms and then somebody else actually fulfils that role" (CTL, Connexions).

The importance of communication in effective collaboration was clearly stated by all interviewees, for example:

"I hope that my role helps to maintain joint working and joint collaboration. By being open to a dialogue, by talking about what I do with other professionals, and asking what they do."(EP)

and

"You could be working with a young person who has no history of offence and then they offend but you're not looped in to that, you're completely – unless the young person informs you, because it's, you know, because these issues are seen as totally separate. The first time you might hear about it the Youth Offending Team phones you to say that this young person is actually on their books and that might be the first time that you actually hear about it and then you would make contact with the YOT worker to say ‘right what are you doing? This is what I'm doing, are you happy with that?’ you know, just to link up in that way." (CTL, Connexions)

Policy Context

The impact of the policy context on collaboration was outlined clearly by the Connexions Team Leader, both in terms of how the nature of the organisation affected roles professionals could take:

"I think one of our key advantages at the moment is that we are a confidential service for a young person so if I work with a young person and they're not at risk and they're not putting anybody else at risk, anything they tell me is totally confidential to the service, most other organisations cannot give them that so they would have to relay it back to parents or guardians or schools, and I think, you know, that fact is the particular, you know, it's that particular young persons point of view, that some other organisations perhaps don’t have, so I think we’re complementary in that way." (CTL, Connexions).

and in terms of what is done and who it is done with, which was particularly important for the Connexions Team Leader:

"Policy led really, it's policy led in as much as we have to make sure that as many young people as possible are in employment, education, or training, therefore those people who are most likely to be NEET are those who perhaps are most deprived, so you are automatically working in a particular sector of society and I think that’s almost inevitable. And then schools will have their own personal agenda of the young people they want you to work with and it's going to be the naughty ones." (CTL, Connexions)

"Most agencies are charged to work with the same groups of young people to make a difference, with the same groups." (CTL, Connexions)

and

"Connexions originally was to stop any child falling through the gap, but they never gave it any teeth, so as an idea it was great, but they never had any statutory responsibility or authority and because of that it didn’t actually work in the way it was envisaged to work. So what they're now doing is absorbing a lot of the more positive aspects of Connexions in to the new children's trust and then everybody has got to get involved." (CTL, Connexions).

Local Context

The way in which the context of a collaborative organisation can impact on practice was neatly summarised by the Speech and Language Therapist from the charity:

"We have people who buy into that [holistic and collaborative working] and if they don’t then they don’t work here." (SLT, Charity).

Professional accountability was felt by all interviewees to be held by everyone in the collaboration, for example:

"We all have accountability. We all have it in the situation, and we are all accountable outside it, to the child and the family and colleagues who might be working in the school" (EP)

and

"We all work with the children, it's not as if it's only on, you know, a consultant basis where there's just a lot of talking, we all physically work with the children so we are all responsible and we are all, you know, accountable for... And we all write our own reports so, you know, whatever you say you have to stand by it, you know, what you're saying, you're suggesting." (OT, Charity)

Differences between professionals are just as important as similarities when it comes to collaborative working. The Educational Psychologist in particular had clear notions of the different knowledge bases of other professionals she worked with. This may have been partly due to the context in which she undertook the joint working, attending several case-review meetings:

"Oh we have different theories, there is no doubt about it. I find being in education, and management and strategies of children with autistic spectrum disorders in schools, I have quite a lot to say, and the management of any child. Clinical psychologists, certainly have a lot of knowledge in terms of their awareness of family backgrounds, and the parents maybe, particularly look at the parenting, who their parents are, they tend to do a lot of the family stuff with them. I think they vary in terms of their management of the way they work with behaviour and so on (…) And the others can be generic. And I think they vary in their knowledge of autistic spectrum disorders, but then I think we all do, it is such a complex area. Speech therapists have huge knowledge in language development, there is no doubt about it, and they are superb at bringing quite detailed and sometimes seemingly scientific knowledge about the nature of speech and language and communication, which I really value. I think I probably could, if I did the intensive one to one work, I might be able to access some of that information myself. But I don’t have to do that because they do it, and they do it superbly well. And I feel that perhaps their knowledge of, they are not in the ballpark of behaviour management and child management and school. They are in the ballpark of strategies at school around language development and communication, but not so much behaviour. Peadiatritians, hmmm, peadiatritians are hospital based. I mean they are, they know a lot about anatomy, about medical conditions which also, you know. They know a lot about eating and sleeping and toileting, blood groups, you know. They have good knowledge and awareness of child management strategies, certainly related to toileting and eating. And I guess they vary in their knowledge of autistic spectrum disorders, depending on their skills and experience and knowledge. And they are quite bright. And astute. So they are great people to work with because they do have that awareness I suppose. Of being able to get to the point, concentrate on the main issues, that sort of thing" (EP)

However, the general roles and responsibilities of the variety of professionals involved in the collaboration were potential sources of conflict or misunderstanding for people, particularly where their own role was misunderstood, as in the case of the Educational Psychologist:

"You have still got to work at it, making it clear that I don’t go around with an intelligence test in my hand, we do not do test bashing any more, and people still think we do. I might do it on occasion, but I won’t be told to do it by a paediatrician or health professional, and I will make the decision as to whether it is appropriate or not. And I won’t do it as a matter of course, if I am assessing a child for autistic spectrum disorder. And I am the person who supports the school with the integration and inclusion of children, and not necessarily the person who works in other places with the child. So there are issues around my role and other peoples roles, because other people see their roles in certain ways, and I have issues with that, and you know, I have issues with if they are going to say oh we are not doing anything unless it has got huge mental health problems, but then they could work on the prevention and stop the issues getting bigger. So people see their roles as very different." (EP)

or with boundary disputes, as in the case of the NHS Occupational Therapist:

"With physio’s we’re very clear on what they do and what we do, teachers I think it's quite clear cut and local education it is quite clear cut. I'd say possibly once you get down to more of the kind of advisory teachers roles and things like that it becomes a bit more fuzzy about who does what, I think that can be difficult for them as well as it can be for us because it's knowing where they stand and what's their role and what somebody else’s role is, and I know we’ve had specialism problems before because they’ve sent out reports going ‘oh we’ve decided to put in this fine motor programme for so and so and so and so,’ and we’re like "is that your role?’ and they are going ‘well actually that’s probably more yours isn’t it?’ and it's like ‘Yeah, so we’ll do that.’ And vice versa, it's kind of, it's not my role to be saying what educational materials and stuff I think they should be using and all that kind of thing, but then again I will put handwriting programmes in to schools to help a child's handwriting." (OT, NHS).

Personal Collaboration Context

The context of the professional, in terms of depth and breadth of training, was discussed by both the Educational Psychologist and the Speech and Language Therapist from the charity:

"I think it would be brilliant to have educationals, clinicals, peadiatritians, GPs, child psychiatrists, to all access a level of training around child development and then, that is the basic. Certainly all psychologists should have a training, and we all do perhaps different areas of learning." (EP)

and

"I'm quite happy to share my knowledge with other people (…) However, you can’t duplicate the training and ten years of experience on that" (SLT, Charity)

The desire for a more generic form of child professional, was further expressed by the Educational Psychologist when talking about status-related issues:

"I think there are huge differences, in terms of structure, pay scales, expectations, very huge differences, social services and education are becoming closer, and I know it is flattening out in terms of structures. I hope in 15 years time there will be more similarities, and more kind of formal network. It has got to happen with ECM. But health are different at the moment, so it needs to be." (EP)

The way in which qualities of individuals are seen to impact on collaborative practice was explicitly stated by the Connexions Team Leader:

"I think that Connexions has very strong working relationships with a whole range of different organisations, but as with any sort of work at all, the strength of those relationships depends on the individual, so for instance, take youth workers for instance, some of my colleagues will have exceedingly good links with the youth worker in their area because they just happen to get on. If that relationship isn’t strong then the work is less strong and I think that’s just life actually, and you can try and promote it, as a team leader I try and, you know, encourage staff to actually work with those partners that are the most appropriate to our service, but the individual relationship is totally key" (CTL, Connexions)

Process of Collaboration

The ways in which professionals undertook joint working varied from collaboration solely at the planning stage, as in the case of the Connexions Team Leader:

"From the point of view of planning, in this particular case – I mean obviously they're planning according to their organisational roles, but in this particular case everybody was absolutely brilliant at feeding back to each other and telephoning each other and saying ‘Right well this is the situation, we can get this young person in to this house here’, or ‘this is the situation with the funding.’ You know, so everybody was…" (CTL, Connexions)

or at all stages of the professional cycle, as described by the Educational Psychologist:

"Well the educational social worker, they might come in for planning, you might be doing work with them, go out with them. And they might come in on the reviewing. They might come in at all 3, maybe just at the doing bit, we might decide we need to talk to them, get them to talk to the family, I would imagine they would also be part of the reviewing too… I would hope it would be to the same agenda. And I would see, that is where I would see the overlapping skills, and we would have confidence in each other. (…) thinking about a child diagnosis, you might well have a family in crisis, so it is a- how you can help the family and b- how can you get the child back to school. So I can’t think that they would have a different agenda to that, and I certainly wouldn’t have one." (EP)

Conclusions

This is the first time that the theory of team reasoning has been applied in an inter-professional and multi-agency context, and there are clear distinctions between current descriptions of multi-agency collaboration and the proposed model. While Easen et al’s (2000) model describes nested levels of context in a similar way, the current model considers the process of collaboration, and the separation of individual factors and group factors in much more detail. Leadbetter et al (2007) address processes that may be involved in new ways of multi-agency working, but do not address in sufficient detail the influence of individuals’ relationships and perspectives on collaborative group processes. Furthermore, they do not appear to consider the impact of the policy climate on group structures, and thus on collaborative processes, which the current model addresses, as illustrated by the nested local and policy contexts.

Team reasoning connects collaborative processes from both individual and group perspectives, and allows for analysis of conflicts of interest within the group. This expands on Anning et al’s (2006) perspective, which approaches problems from both individual and group perspectives, but leaves scope for elaboration on the interplay of individual and group intentions and processes. The way in which team reasoning considers the movement from individual preferences and intentions, to group behaviour and actions, means that is a valuable tool for the study of multi-agency collaboration. Subsequent testing and further development of the model will be carried out, using different types of multi-agency teams, in a variety of contexts, with diverse remits and structures. Individual interviews and team focus groups will address the differences between individual motivations and intentions, and group decision-making. In this way both the individual and the group dimensions of team reasoning will be explored, and the role of team reasoning in multi-agency collaboration clarified. Observations of teams in case meetings will further assess how group decision-making processes are played out.

The proposed model appears to be supported by preliminary analysis of the interviews, and is generalisable, being grounded on a synthesis of previous research. It is able to take account of different management structures, and different types of collaboration, in and between a variety of sectors of children’s services and beyond. Effective collaboration in multi-agency teams is a key aspect in the successful delivery of children’s services. In the UK, effective collaboration is essential to help meet the five aims of the ECM agenda which address well-being for all children. As a tool which facilitates consideration of the factors involved in effective collaboration, the proposed model may be able to inform professional and organisational review and development work in children’s services.

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This document was added to the Education-Line database on 17 December 2007