Leeann Kelly speaks to Building Change Trust

Leeann Kelly, Project Coordinator for CollaborationNI

Leeann Kelly is Programme Coordinator at CollaborationNI, providing support to organisations who are seeking out opportunities to work together. Here she talks about why her organisation is key to successful collaborations.

As the programme Coordinator at CollaborationNI, my role is to provide support to organisations who are seeking out opportunities to work together. Here she talks about why her people are the key to successful collaborations.

What does your role within Collaboration NI involve?

CollaborationNI is a partnership in itself. In order for it to work effectively it is up to me to liaise with the CollaborationNI staff and partners regularly to ensure that we can provide a package of support to organisations exploring or implementing collaborations.

We have worked with almost 900 organisations providing high quality bespoke support  for their collaborative efforts along the spectrum which ranges from informal alliance to full blown merger.

You often hear talk of organisations collaborating but in my role you realise that it is people who collaborate and it is people who are key to successful collaborations. Therefore the success or otherwise of collaborations can be influenced by the people who form them.

In order to work effectively in a collaboration people are required to share information, beyond their organisational boundaries, and it usually requires their organisations to go through some change process.

My role is to be able to build a support pathway around the collaboration, to give individuals a safe space to develop their collaborations and assist them overcome the roadblocks.

How did you end up in this position?

I have over ten years’ working experience and knowledge of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. I previously worked in the Research Unit within NICVA, where I was responsible for an exploratory piece of research commissioned by Supporting People to consider how collaborations could be developed in Northern Ireland.

I also have a Masters of Philosophy which explored ‘Consultation as a mechanism to deliver equality’. This academic background gave me a detailed grounding of the voluntary and community sector.

What's the best part of your job?

The people! I am very lucky to work in a very dynamic and motivated team and partnership.  It is a pleasure to come to work in the mornings, especially as most days we have lovely treats in the office.

We are very lucky to get to work with senior managers and board members from all across the sector as they strategically develop services for their beneficiaries.

I regularly get an insight into how organisations face real challenges and respond to the changing policy environment.

I am constantly reminded of the innovation in our sector and am given the opportunity to be part of work that is genuinely improving the services for some of the most vulnerable within our society.

What area of your job is the most challenging?

The people!  In many respects people are also the most challenging aspect of my job.  This is because people are dealing with very real issues that can affect the services they provide to their beneficiaries.

Therefore people can feel anxious and stressed about the unknowns of collaboration. It is my job to talk them through the available options and reassure them that if they want to progress with a collaboration we have the expertise to make it happen, if they are willing to commit to the change process required.

I am also there when temporary blips or roadblocks are put in front of a collaboration. Sometimes I have to provide them with practical support to overcome the blockages and other times I simply have to reassure them that this is a natural part of any change process that can be worked through by the individuals themselves.

Have you had any career highlights with CollaborationNI?

As we have worked with almost 900 organisations it is very difficult to pick one career highlight. We work with people over long periods of time and even the best ones have those shaky points.

So every time a collaboration gets over the line it feels like a career highlight.

What is the biggest goal on the CollaborationNI agenda for this year?

Working to support organisations as they deal with the consequences of the RPA in Northern Ireland.  This involves working with organisations to consider how they will fit in the new landscape.

For many organisations this is considering consortia working.  In the sector many people have negative experiences of working in partnerships, including them being little more than talking shops, power imbalances and partners not delivering.

We work closely with organisations to negotiate the consortia, including developing the governance of a steering group and how it will operate.

This is all captured in an agreement drafted with the groups by one of the two solicitors working for the CollaborationNI programme.

What do you like to do outside of your 9-5?

I like to spend time with family and friends. As a mother of two young children, I often find myself at various children’s events.