Collaboration … You Know You Want To!

Tracey Ratcliffe
The Collaborative Occupational Therapist, NHS Fife

Collaboration is defined as ‘the act of working with someone to produce something’. Seems simple doesn’t it? But how do we achieve it, how do we measure its success and how do we share good practice?

Collaboration is a term we often use in the AHP world to describe our interactions with our colleagues and other services involved in our patient care. If asked, I would bet the majority of AHPs would state that they frequently work in collaboration with others and they wholeheartedly believe it is essential to promote positive outcomes for children and families.

Up until a year ago I would have said I was a collaborative practitioner, except I wasn’t, not truly.  Yes I tried to do collaborative practice but I now realise that without the time and commitment to truly explore what collaboration means , it was at best, joint working alongside colleagues with individual agendas.

Then I embarked on the “Language meets Literacy” practicum with colleagues from speech & language, education and health visiting. Only then did I truly learn what collaboration is.  It’s hard, really hard!  We are in our chosen professions because we felt drawn to that specific role and the vast majority of us are very passionate about what we do.  Stepping into a world that requires us to let go of professional boundaries, share our knowledge and skills and blur our roles can feel like somewhat breaking the official secrets act of our chosen professions.

When embarking on a collaborative piece of work, challenging and truly meaningful conversations need to happen to move towards the shared vision that will hold you together especially when progress halts.  This is not easy as it requires a delicate balance of knowing the value of what you bring to the table but also to know what to let go for the greater good. Professional respect is essential with a healthy dose of humour and comedy to keep the process flowing.

For me, it was a truly liberating experience!  The role blurring was embraced, the commonalities championed and the knowledge and skills we once held individually became collective knowledge. The whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.  This experience has permanently changed me as a practitioner and for the better. The voices and knowledge from my colleagues are with me in all aspects of my professional work making me a far better therapist. Doing it alone is no longer an option and I now continually ask myself “who else do I need round the table?”

So, if we support the view that collaborative multi-agency practice is best practice and anything else should be questioned, how do we scale this up and how do measure its effectiveness? Also, how do we share the learning and outcomes from already existing collaborative teams in order to inform and inspire? The Language meets Literacy practicum alone created 14 multi agency teams and there are many more just like it across Scotland. We must share this work and it’s outcomes within our organisations and beyond in order to continue to gather momentum and make true collaboration core business.

The “Managed Knowledge Network” (MKN) is a prime resource for us to share our learning and outcomes of collaborative working so we in turn can confidently approach other colleagues with stories of success. It is so much easier to create collaborative working opportunities when you have the evidence to show “this works!”

How do we measure collaborative outcomes?  This is a question my colleagues and I wrestle with on a regular basis and the topic creates many long discussions.  These discussions are rich and full of learning and ultimately they help us reframe our thinking and reflect on our practice. For me there is no right or wrong measure to capture your outcomes. It is the shared learning that comes from this work that leads the way.  This is where “Quality Improvement” methodology is worth its weight in gold.  It provides us with the tools to support thinking and reasoning and also it gives weight to your evidence of a robust process to facilitate change.  It clearly illustrates progress and facilitates sharing what has worked, and of equal importance, what has not and why?

Once again, using the MKN as a forum for sharing and learning, and if we are sharing our examples of how we measure collaborative outcomes that can support new initiatives in other areas.  Sharing is crucial for this to work.

Scotland should be the best place for children to grow up and only through wide scale collaboration will this happen.  So what are we waiting for?  Let’s make collaboration, quality improvement and sharing good practice our core business… you know you want to!

Best wishes

Tracey Ratcliffe
The Collaborative Occupational Therapist

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