Developing and sustaining partnerships and networks
The final section of this chapter draws out the main implications in respect of future programme development and policy. In terms of programme development it offers some lessons that may prove helpful to those seeking to establish similar services. The policy implications section summarises the influences of policy issues and factors on the GOAL programmes, and the messages for policy from the GOAL project’s experiences.
Implications for future programme development
There are a number of implications from the GOAL pilot that should be considered by developers and staff of future programmes of this nature. Some of these implications are relevant across a range of intervention strategies. Partnerships proved to be a rich source of benefits for the GOAL programmes. These benefits included: more successful recruitment of clients than could be achieved through other routes (see outreach); cross-organisational learning about tools that work well for the GOAL target groups (see guidance tools); and expanded capabilities to provide holistic, cross-organisational and cross-sectoral services for clients (see service quality). Successful partnership working increases the likelihood that the policy and programme environment addresses the “whole client” rather than just individual, sector-specific aspects of the client. The sharing of information and methods across partner organisations appeared to produce benefits beyond those that accrued only to the GOAL teams. Other organisations greatly valued their partnership with GOAL.
Partnerships and networks appeared to flourish best when they built on previously existing relationships across organisations. During the pilot, GOAL programme teams devoted significant time and energy to enriching those partnerships, with the positive outcome that partners developed a deeper understanding of how GOAL could complement their own work and add value to the overall policy and programme landscape, without duplicating services. This change in understanding was the product of extensive efforts by the GOAL teams, and depended largely on counsellors’ interpersonal and networking skills, and their willingness to invest time and energy in the process. Future programmes should take account of the clear benefits of such partnership development, but also the costs in terms of programme resources. Programmes may wish to concentrate such efforts in the hands of specific staff who are particularly well-suited to the task. They may also wish to be clear from the start of the programme about which partners to seek to work with, and the potential barriers to doing so. In some GOAL countries, partnership development took longer than expected. With some organisations, particularly employers, partnerships never developed, despite great efforts (and resource expenditure) by GOAL staff.
Ultimately, the sustainability of partnerships is dependent on financial mechanisms being in place to support those partnerships. Future programme development will have to carefully consider how sustainable partnerships can be developed and supported given programme and policy resources. This is particularly essential given the importance of partnerships and networks to each stage of the guidance process.
GOAL partnership working represented joined-up policy in action – that is, there was an explicit aim to develop, contribute to and benefit from partnerships that crossed policy boundaries and moved beyond the traditional “policy silo” approach to public services. This is a noble but extremely challenging task: observers of policy in Europe and the rest of the world will have noted the high ratio of joined-up policy rhetoric to actual joined-up policy action. Despite their best intentions, policy makers in countries around the world (and at multi-national level, e.g. the European Union) have struggled to move beyond a policy silo approach to addressing complex problems and needs. Education policy continues to address the educational aspect of an individual’s life, while health policy addresses health aspects, employment policy addresses labour market aspects, and so on. The individual is divided into component parts, based on the traditional division of policy areas and government ministries. This approach, which is generally efficient and more or less successful when addressing the needs of the majority of the population, has proved resolutely unsuccessful for individuals facing multiple overlapping problems across a range of policy domains. GOAL therefore provides an important example of efforts to join up organisations and efforts in a more holistic way. As such, it has produced a number of lessons about the influence of policy on cross-organisational partnership working, and several messages for policy.
Influences of policy
Adult education guidance finds itself doubly unloved: guidance for low-educated adults is an under-recognised and under-supported area within adult education, which is itself an under-recognised and under-supported sector. The general lack of widespread policy interest for adult eduation in general and adult education guidance for low-educated adults in particular affects policy commitment and funding, which in turn effects programme resources and sustainability. In response to the question of “What is the influence of policy on adult guidance for low-educated adults?”, one honest response is “Not nearly enough”: there is simply not enough policy interest or support. Programmes and interventions thus exist on pilot or project bases, without sufficient and/or sufficiently long-lasting funding, and are dependent on individual efforts and goodwill for partnership development and maintenance, instead of being able to fit into a suitably structured policy landscape. If programmes such as GOAL could garner greater political and structural recognition, they would be more sustainable, and this would have positive impacts on partnership development and maintenance. In Flanders, for example, there was a belief amongst programme staff that the lack of formal recognition impeded the work of the GOAL service, making its position in partnerships and networks less secure. Lack of structural embeddedness in existing structures and the system of temporary funding by different local stakeholders leads to dependency on these stakeholders (for funding). Furthermore, it contributes to dependency on (political) policy priorities of these stakeholders (especially with regard to the funding of local governments). In Flanders and elsewhere, the lack of structural embeddedness served as a barrier to richer collaborations with other organisations, because the GOAL service had a temporal character and was not always perceived as a sustainable partner. This produced a number of negative inefficiencies, e.g. the referral of clients was less systematic than it should have been, and was heavily dependent on individual goodwill rather than a more systemic approach.
As highlighted above, policy silos and institutional borders make joined-up partnership-based working difficult. Policy actors interviewed for this evaluation said that clients suffered because the overall adult guidance system is too fragmented, with separate parts of it falling under different governing structures. For example, adult may receive employment-focused guidance from employment offices that are under the responsibility of Ministry for Social Security and Labour, education-focused guidance from educational institutions under the responsibility of Ministry of Education and Science, and so on. Municipal welfare offices belong to municipal level and all the aforementioned institutions do not always cooperate with NGOs focused on the needs of the target groups. This means that the guidance that an individual gets is often very specific to and limited by the institutional demands or interests of the sector giving the guidance: guidance is too frequently institution-centred rather than client-centred. GOAL sought to overcome this in part through partnership working. As described in Chapters 7 and (in particular) 11, the pilot largely succeeded at providing educational guidance with a holistic perspective. In contrast, it was not able to succeed in establishing structurally sustained partnerships. This does not mean that these partnerships are not sustainable, and indeed partners have expressed an interest in continuing and extending partnerships. However, to move from sustainable to sustained they need policy commitment, support and funding.
The GOAL pilot also highlighted within-sector challenges. Adult educaton institutions often operate in isolation from one another and sometimes do not feel a need for partnerships. As such, they may be unaware of a large number of potential clients: as discussed in more detail in Chapter 7, it proved easier to find GOAL clients through partnerships with organisations outside adult education than through direct outreach within the sector.
Messages for policy
The above implications lead to some key messages regarding policy commitment, funding and support. To provide better support for partnerships and networks, policy makers need to develop a clearer understanding of how educational guidance for low-educated adults fits in with existing policy objectives and commitments, e.g. reducing early school leaving or increasing participation in lifelong learning. More efforts at joined-up policy making and programme development need to be pursued, and policy makers should focus at least some of their evaluation efforts on understanding how to surmount cross-sectoral partnership barriers, and the benefits of doing so. The European Commission should in principle play a central role in these efforts through its ability to fund cross-national projects; however, it should be noted that even the Commission itself is somewhat hamstrung (when it comes to exploring and supporting cross-policy endeavours) by its traditional policy silo structure.
At the national level, cross-policy partnership working could potentially be supported by the establishment of organisations focused on adult education in its full breadth, rather than adult education as it is relevant to a particular policy area. As one policy maker in Lithuania observed:
There are good initiatives by Public Employment Services, but they are in their system, non-formal or formal adult education schools function in their system, NGOs and adult education coordinators function on their own. The system is very fragmentised. We don’t know about each others’ practices.
A more systemic, partnership-oriented approach, whether led by government or a non-governmental body, could initiate and steer the process of connecting systems (e.g. healthcare system, welfare system, educational system) to facilitate joined-up working targeted at meeting the broad range of inter-related needs of low-educated adults. In this regard, the role of NGOs in delivering and championing guidance services should be explored in more detail. NGOs work with population groups at social risk, typically have a good reputation in local communities, and may be more able to work across policy silos. An independent, non-governmental adult education guidance model may be more cost-efficient than funding specialised guidance services in regular VET or adult education institutions, if the latter institutions are not able to engage in the partnership work needed to recruit and address the needs of low-educated adults, nor to maintain a level of independence that would best serve clients (see Chapter 7).
Programme funding follows from policy commitment, and funding routes can impact on the shape of the partnership. In the Netherlands the policy of decentralised funding was seen as a strength in the creation of local partnerships. In other countries, financing was more often seen as a barrier, with insufficient funding for programme sustainability and impact. Of the six GOAL countries, Flanders has taken the biggest steps towards influencing policy makers by developing a policy paper that provides a blueprint for the implementation of GOAL services. The aim is to engage as many stakeholders and political parties as possible and to generate political will to include the GOAL-style services in parties’ policy platforms.