How we work > Resourcing

In applying our wholistic, systemic, and emergent approach, we take advantage of a wide range of resources to help clients reduce the ‘transfer gap’ between learning and applying that learning to improve performance. Reducing this gap is not something you can approach directly in a linear fashion, like applying a tool to a piece of work. Instead we have to work more indirectly focusing on creating quality in what we are doing in the present, noticing the nature of interim outcomes that emerge, and using these to imagine and adjust the development trajectory we are following. So these resources are used selectively to create a dynamic stream of close learning experiences that enhance learning, support improved practice, and develop individual and partnership leadership capacities

Leadership and partnership theory
The Centre for Leadership Studies at Exeter is one of very few university centres specialising in leadership in all its many forms across public, private, commercial, voluntary and community sectors. Our links with the Centre provide us with a rich and dynamic source of understanding involving different kinds of codified knowledge, and importantly what this knowing can and can’t do. One recent example of such research is the ‘five mind sets’ framework developed by Gosling and Minztberg that capture in a fruitful way the most important attitudes and behaviours required of executives i.e. analytical, worldly, reflective, collaborative and catalytic. However, long experience at the Centre suggests that though the insights and approaches that emerge can be very useful in stimulating dialogue and insight these are best used to provoke learning rather than dictate practice.

Models of context and culture
A second framework we make extensive use of are the models of context developed by academics like Snowden and Boone, and Keith Grint, who use terms like ‘simple’, ‘complicated’, and ‘complex’ to denote the varying kinds of context that problem solvers can face, and the different approaches that are most effective. Many local partnerships are created because the issues their constituencies have to deal with are located in what Grint would call ‘wicked’ contexts – cross-cutting issues involving many funding streams and agencies are a typical case. Partnerships then struggle if members try to resolve these by using approaches more suited to the ‘simple’ or ‘complicated’ issues they typically face in their home organisations.

Strategic narrative
Many local partnerships do have a strategic component to their work in defining how new outcomes and different engagement with constituencies may be achieved to e.g. achieve ‘active citizenship’ and ‘joined-up’ government. A useful competence for leaders in partnerships is to be able to frame the strategy in different ways, to generate new ideas, and suggests ways in which the story may be told more clearly to the different stakeholders involved. We find that narrative structures that e.g. highlight the ‘competitive’ in situations involving alternatives, ‘values-based’ in situations where conflict and emotions can be high, and ‘perceived value/cost of the services’ where the direction of travel is critical, can provide useful guides to action.

Psychometric profiling
A major question for members of PIN is how to assess the implications of different kinds of leadership (or management) behaviour, in respect of the effects these produce on the range of interest groups that may be involved. These insights can be particularly relevant in multi-sector partnerships where something perceived as positive in one group may be experienced as toxic in another with a different value set. We make use of several well regarded profiles like MBTI, FIRO B, and the Hogan Derailer to help raise group awareness of potential patterns of behaviour, and to stimulate dialogue about the possible chains of consequence that might attend certain actions.


Lived experience
While academic knowledge/models do offer a rich tapestry of ideas to challenge and stimulate debate, we regard the huge residue of experience and associated practical knowledge of partnership members as the greatest source of relevant expertise required by the partnership. This largely tacit reservoir of knowing often can lie hidden and dormant in traditional meetings, but when tapped and shared can provide the foundation for the cohesion, innovative thinking, and effective delivery of outcomes that these partnerships struggle to achieve.

Participative and creative learning methods
As improving engagement, stimulating creativity, and encouraging reflexivity at both individual and group level, are keystones of our approach, we make constant use of a wide rage of novel communication frameworks and tools like 'metaplan' type visually based discussions, reflection processes like 'fish bowl', 'gossiping in the presence of'', and 'speaking in the shoes of the other'; ethnographic methods like 'leadership exchange', and various kinds of enactment like role playing and Forum Theatre.

The nature of community based partnerships with their focus on neighbourhoods and the people who live in them, offers many opportunities to use features of the built and natural environment to stimulate debate and new sense making of issues central to the partnership. In a recent project in Wiltshire the use of Avebury village, the Honda factory in Swindon and an organic farm near Trowbridge provided a powerful context to explore issues of legacy, demography, and culture which in conjunction with other processes, created some very innovative reframing of issues. Further choosing venues for workshops and close learning events provides an opportunity for the co-creation of the programme where participants can grasp the opportunity to identify places to visit and build a workshop around a simulation or actual experience of partnership working in practice.

Web technology

We use this technology extensively to facilitate close learning in several degree programmes at Exeter, as well as using it with partnerships to enhance the learning process. Tools such as e learning, blogs, discussion forums, and Skype allow us to work intimately with individuals/groups on a real time basis as well as asynchronously and remotely. Apart from maintaining continuity between workshops, and reinforcing learning and change, this technology fosters genuinely interactive discussions between group members, as well as providing portals through which individuals may source further materials.