Summary and managerial implications for practice

Our starting point at the beginning of this investigation was to apply and explore the framework produced by Knight (2002). Her framework captures both the context of learning and unit or level of learner. The interviews with the six steering group members suggest that in the ESeN partner network the unit of learning is individual. The context appears to be the inter-organisational network, therefore using the Knight methodology and framework captured earlier in Table II, we would describe this as (I-I-O). We can therefore describe this project as an example of learning within a network, but not as networked learning, as there is no evidence of the network itself learning and changing.

In conducting the study we have also used a number of different frameworks around learning in networks and supporting collaborative working, some of which appear to have more relevance for our ongoing practice. Having collected evidence from interviews we have been able to compare this to what actually happened in "collaborative practice" in the project steering group meetings. We have been able to see evidence of a number of themes from the literature around collaborating and learning in networks, notably around culture, the need for a common focus and agenda, and the need for strong facilitation and influence. In particular we have been influenced by the personal capacities for collaboration produced in 2002 by Knight and Pye and captured in Table IV.

The fact that these capacities were not always present (or at least were not enacted) may perhaps be seen as the cause of some of the frustration and slow progress of the project. Interestingly as the coordinating partner, the lessons to be learnt about the need to take a strong and decisive stance and provide direction seem to sit uneasily with some of the ideals of participation and negotiation associated with collaborative working.

Table IV Personal and organisational characteristics supporting collaboration

Personal capacity

Organisational capacity

High reliance on the relationship

High organisational dependence

Positive (i.e. not defensive) attitude towards suppliers

Clear rules

Understanding of "principles" of trust and mistrust

Alignment between performance measurement of players and of the

contract and relationship

High levels of influence (role and/or personal)

Organisational proximity of players

Elizabeth Houldsworth and Gillian Alexander

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