As part of Cork City’s Lifelong Learning Festival 2022 , CESCA hosted a webinar to officially launch research undertaken by Claire Kenealy as part of the Community Academic Research Links (CARL) programme in University College Cork.

While this research has been complete since 2019, our opportunity to launch it at the 2020 Lifelong Learning Festival was postponed due to Covid-19. These were the early days of the pandemic when we had not quite moved online!

However the research findings and recommendations remain as relevant today as they did two years ago, in many ways even more so. As an Alliance we are now considering how we can emerge from the last two years  and begin to address the pressing social justice issues of concern to our communities.

When we sought the assistance of CARL in 2017 we had two key questions:

  •  How effective is working together as an alliance as opposed to operating as individual
  • What are the component parts needed to make an alliance

Key Findings

The key findings that emerged from the research were as follows:

  1. Strategic networking versus tokenism. The research found that in many instances the efforts of the community and voluntary sector to secure meaningful participation within the state policy making structures have not been successful. In fact it has only amounted to a form of ‘tokenism’ or participation but no influence or authority in decision making. Indeed involvement has been counter-productive as a result.  However Claire found, such tokenism can be resisted or opposed through an inter-organisational discourse of strategic networking.

“The building of connections between organisations, which otherwise would likely to be more fragile, is a clear outcome of a high level of strategic networking. Where inter-organisational groups have reached a high level of strategic collaboration underpinned by strong informal networking, their capacity for influence would thus appear to be greatly increased.”

       2.  Collaboration versus Competition The study identified a contradiction between the competitive               funding process fostered by government and the inter-agency collaborative approach nurtured by CESCA. The area of funding has the potential to hinder relationships between third sector groups competing for the same funding.

“One of the most important achievements of CESCA has been to ameliorate the deleterious effects of the competitive milieu fostered by government. The general consensus among the group members is the fact that there is cooperation and respect between members regarding funding information and applications. In turn this has led to a coordinated approach for funding which has prevented large scale duplication of service provision.”

The research found that the personal qualities of the individual members of CESCA was an important component underpinning these findings. There was a recognition of individual member’s awareness of the positive group dynamic within CESCA and their desire to reinforce and contribute to this as an important factor in CESCA’s longevity and impact. In addition to this the informal networking, the skills and experience of the members was essential in maintaining the momentum within CESCA.

Recommendations going forward for CESCA and Interagency Working more broadly

  1. Professional Coordination. There is a need for professional coordination support in order to ensure
    that inter-organisational groupings such as CESCA are properly resourced, and have the capacity to operationalise and implement collective decisions on a day-to-day basis. CESCA now have a part time coordinator in post to support them in their goals.
  2. Further Develop Strategic Networking Based on evidence identified in this research, strategic networking, and related to this, informal networking, are essential in effective collaboration. A practical recommendation then is that strategic networking, as demonstrated by CESCA, be developed and further invested in. “The benefits accruing to the state through a deepening of collaboration amongst civil society organisations will more than offset the modest costs involved. Indeed, CECSA have demonstrated how strategic networking prevents a duplication of services, resulting in considerable savings to the state.”
  3. Promote Citizen Participation and Frontline Staff Involvement. Interagency alliances such as CESCA need to do more to explore ways of increasing the involvement and participation of citizens, who are service beneficiaries, in decision making, within CESCA and across other fora. This may emerge as a co-governance scenario.

We are very grateful to Claire and to the CARL programme in UCC for providing us with a clear roadmap for a way forward and an insight into the components of our success as an alliance.

Taking on board the recommendations contained in the report, this year CESCA will be reconnecting as an alliance with a renewed focus on social justice, climate justice and equality. We will seek to hear more from the communities we support and create stronger networks across the City. All with a view to progressing diversity, equality and sustainability. We  have a number of events and training seminars this year so do continue to follow our activity throughout the year.

You can read the full report, including information on the methodology, promising practices and insight from our members here