Using work shadowing to build stronger partnerships

Paul Winyard from NCVO's Public Services and Partnerships team discusses the benefits of their cross-sector work shadowing scheme - and how you could build on it locally.

It’s that time of year again, folks. I’m not talking about the now routine dismissal of Andy Murray from Wimbledon amid widespread expectation and patriotic fervour. No, I refer to the less sensational but arguably more successful (and worthwhile) NCVO work shadowing scheme, ‘A Day in the Life…’

Now in its third year, the scheme has had a huge impact on hundreds of cross-sector partnerships. And as my colleagues at Compact Voice will be the first to tell you, the importance of good partnerships - particularly with so many policies changing the relationship between the sectors nationally and locally - is vital.

It has provided participants with a unique learning and development opportunity, enabling voluntary sector workers and civil servants to spend a day in each others place of work and witness firsthand the pressures encountered on a day-to-day basis.
The personal nature of the scheme provides participants with the opportunity to ask questions and obtain information not easily collected through more conventional methods of research and inquiry. It’s this distinctive approach that has enabled ‘A Day in the Life…’ to make a vital contribution to breaking down barriers and promoting better understanding between government and civil society.
Sales pitch now over, I’m not here to shamelessly promote the scheme (well okay, I am a little - we’re currently accepting applications for this year’s scheme if you’re interested…).  My real purpose is to draw attention to an idea we recently had concerning work shadowing at a local level.
We surmised that if the scheme was so effective at a national level, why not facilitate a similar initiative between Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations and their local government partners?
Could this have a similar breaking-down-barriers-and-fostering-good-relations effect as its national counterpart? Frankly, the answer to that question is more obvious than the outcome of a mid-summer tennis match between a Spaniard and a Scot.
However, organising a work shadowing scheme between four government departments and hundreds of individuals from across the voluntary and community sector is in itself a sizable task. Doing the same with scores of local authorities thrown into the mix would be complicated at best: at worst an insurmountable web of cross-sectoral preferences and demands.
Well, all is not lost.
If you’re a local infrastructure organisation, then why not show some initiative and set up your own local work shadowing scheme?
Having connections on ‘both sides of the fence’, you’re perfectly placed to promote and encourage this kind of cross-sector interaction.

Alternatively, if you’re a voluntary organisation or employee of a proactive and can-do disposition, then why not consider implementing a work shadow initiative of your own?
Past schemes have involved a range of public sector employees, from commissioners to chief executives. If engaging with commissioners is your aim, why not use Navca’s ‘Where is your Commissioner?’ guide which provides some useful tips on how you might go about this. Once you’ve made contact, just sit back and let the feedback from last year’s government participants do the convincing for you.
Work shadowing provides a unique opportunity to discover more about how your counterparts in government work, the day-to-day problems they encounter and the wider contexts in which they operate.
Importantly, it provides a unique opportunity for you to highlight the consequences of local authority policy decisions, the challenges the sector faces and the added value voluntary organisations bring to the table.
You’ll also make some valuable contacts and have some fun along the way.
Advantage VCS - happy shadowing!
We'd be keen to hear about any instances of work shadowing that are happening in your local area, and how successful they've been - drop us a line to share your experiences.

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