Developing and sustaining partnerships and networks
The six GOAL teams succeeded in their objective of building partnerships and networks through which potential clients were identified and referred to counsellors. Partnership working has been multidirectional – upwards towards policymakers and the policy environment, “downwards” towards potential clients, and laterally towards other organisations serving the target groups – and has led to expanded understanding of and interest in GOAL across a range of groups and interests.
As analysed in detail in Chapter 7, countries reached their recruitment targets through referrals, in large measure due to the relationships that were forged with partner organisations who worked with the same target groups and shared similar ambitions; “reaching in” to these organisations was the key to successful outreach. To take Flanders as an example, staff members of the two organisations invested a large amount of time and effort in developing strong collaborations with partner organisations. These partnerships have not only been developed with educational institutions but also with local authorities, labour market actors and important social services. GOAL came to be considered a valuable player in this service landscape, a fact that was reflected in the strong rise of referrals from other organisations. The 2016 year report of de Leerwinkel shows an increase in referrals of 33% in 2016 compared to 2015.
Across countries, the key features of partnerhip success were that:
- Partnership and networks with organisations from other policy areas gave GOAL staff access to more potential clients than they would ever get from individual adult education institutions, or even the wider adult education system.
- For the most part, the partnerships and networks strengthened in the GOAL project built on existing relationships rather than starting afresh, meaning that there were established working patterns and a good degree of trust between organisations, even if these agreements were only entered into on an informal basis.
- Due to the quality of the information exchange, the promotion of the GOAL service, and the time and efforts put in by GOAL staff, “buy-in” was achieved. Although, as explained in this chapter, there had been fears that some partner organisations would view GOAL as a competition to their own work, these fears were largely unfounded and GOAL came to be viewed as both a good thing in its own right and an enhancement to the work of the partner organisations.
- The high quality of the working relationships during the project produced an ambition from multiple partners to make these partnerships extend beyond the life of the programme.
Teams faced some challenges in the day-to-day operation of the partnerships and networks:
- Partnerships and networks take time to establish and require intensive work and use of resources to maintain them.
- In some countries partnerships were characterised by an uneven balance of effort. Some networks experienced passive partners, or partners whose own bureaucratic processes impeded the network’s processes. Not all partners were equal.
- Not all possible partners were willing to become involved – this was especially a problem with regard to employers. This barrier highlighted issues both about where adult education sits in priorities (especially where there is no policy focus) about separation of like organisations in different silos.
Ultimately, the countries were unsuccessful in their second objective of achieving a formal basis for the partnerships. There were a number of contributing factors to this. Limited finances were a factor, as these impede the ability of GOAL pilot projects to transition into long-term, sustainable services. Finance is in turn influenced by the general lack of policy commitment to education guidance and to adult education in most European countries. Education-focused, client-centred guidance is an under-recognised and under-supported area within a sector (adult education) that is itself under-recognised and under-supported. There are thus numerous hurdles to clear with regard to increased policy support for services such as GOAL – not least the challenge of making other policy areas aware of the potential value of adult education guidance. That being said, this evaluation finds that the GOAL pilot largely succeeded in this task, at least on an organisation by organisation level. The more challenging task is to translate that success into broader policy support and structural embedment. The need for partnerships across a broad range of organisations is vital to future GOAL-like services.
The adult educational system does not seem to be the most effective way of reaching out to the target group, as this system is not one the target group normally engages with. This highlights the importance of and need for successful collaboration with other services, enabling a cross-organisational referral system.