Blog Post

Why consortia working is the future


Holly Donagh on new research and the importance of consortium-working for Creative People and Places and beyond

bait workshop with community leaders. Photo: Jason Thompson

There is an interesting moment just after you find out you have been successful in a funding application – it’s when the initial pride and excitement wears off and a difficult thought pushes to the front of the mind, how are we going to do this? I think this occurs with even the most mundane and tightly planned applications. When Creative People and Places (CPP) funding announcements were made there was another layer of complexity - driven by the fact that all bids were made by consortia - so the niggling thought became: "How am I going to do this, with the others?..."

The CPP National Evaluation programme asked researchers Catherine Bunting and Tom Fleming to look at how the condition of consortia working – which was part of the model of CPP from the beginning – has impacted on the development of the programmes and what lessons could be taken for the future. Their report neatly underlines the challenges and sometime frustrations of working in this way but overall makes a strong case that if we want to reach more and different people, if we want to work in different ways then we need to think about the way we organise ourselves, the partners with whom we collaborate and in general open ourselves up to change. 

Perhaps the strongest lesson in the report is that governance and consortia building needs to be nurtured in and of itself. The practices of collaboration need to be considered and given as much time and thought as the business of delivery. Many other sectors also work through partnership and consortia and therefore there is a wealth of literature and advice from other sectors which the arts could do well to consider and learn from. Taking time to build trust, to create the right structures for the task should not be seen as time wasted rather it should be planned for and organised systematically. 

In this period of austerity where there is such pressure on resources and the old models of local authority led arts provision, grant funding in general, are being tested, the extent to which we can extend our reach and develop our work through new and different strategies becomes ever more pressing. 

In the world of cultural education we are trying to set up partnerships across the country to help ensure all children and young people can access high quality cultural education. The idea is that through planning strategically across the arts, schools and communities we can prioritise needs, drive innovation and attract new resources. The findings of Catherine and Tom’s report will be of interest to those setting up cultural education partnerships and other forms of collaborative endeavour and hopefully encourage the sector to take the business of joint-working as seriously and professionally as the creation of art itself.

Holly Donagh is Partnerships Director for A New Direction, the London-wide organisation leading on the Cultural Education Challenge for young people across the capital city and consortium partner of Creative Barking and Dagenham

Image credit: Community leaders from South East Northumberland take part in an arts workshop. bait. Photo: Jason Thompson