With this article we would like to some insights on how regional collaboration among diverse partners might work. Additionally, we would like to highlight the importance, relevance and value of such collaboration to address unexpected and pressing needs using the example of the YES-project funded under the EEA Norway Grants Youth Employment initiative.
At the outset of the YES-project we were wondering whether interventions, such as mentoring, could be scaled up across different regions (scaling depth) and serve different target audiences (scaling reach). Another unanswered question was whether the intervention itself would need to adjusted to different needs and whether that could be done in a cost-efficient, more sustainable way. Little did we know at that time that life would present us with unprecedented challenges.
One of our assumption has been that highly mentoring standardised services might be easier and more cost-efficient to scale. For organisation who have little or no experience it would be a straight forward process, for those who had more experience we expected more resistance as scaling scope would require to support all involved actors, i.e. mentors or coaches. When supporting over 1.000 mentors this can be a time consuming and expensive endeavour. Additionally, we wanted to have evidence and be able to draw learning and insights from working across different regions, with different target audiences, i.e. women, migrants/refugees, the young etc.) to be able to adjust and improve coaching and mentoring processes and related techniques. We formed a consortium of implementation parters with different levels of experience in mentoring (Greece, Spain, Italy, Poland), selected expertise partners who who have been involved in scaling mentoring services across different regions and contexts (U.K., Germany) and researchers for impact assessment (Greece, Germany). While some of the partners had worked together in other projects, none had worked together with all partners.
Parola, Spieß-Knafl, Thaler (2022) describe three distinct turning points in the collaboration between academics and practitioners – nudges, pushes, shoves– which reflect different levels of tensions and threat levels regarding collaboration among project partners and project outcomes. They suggest that such diverse collaborations need to be carefully facilitated and supported in order to make it work and lead to impactful opportunities for engaging and informing relevant stakeholders and possibly future programme design and implementation. Clutterbuck (2014) and Swenson (1997) have, among many others, highlighted the importance of taking time and offering different forms of support to help (diverse) teams managing conflicts and achieving valuable outputs and outcomes. Whilst we were aware that taking time for forming – storming – norming – performing would be beneficial with a view towards project outcomes and impact, little did we know…
And then came COVID
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Europe we were all shocked and overwhelmed. It is fair to say that scaling scope (processes and techniques) got a new dimension. While the assumption was that the mentoring intervention would only need smaller adjustments to make it work across different regions and target audiences, now a significant shift was required. Services had to be transformed from off-line to online formats, new issues needed to be addressed, i.e. dealing with uncertainty, developing VUCA skills, dealing with isolation, restrictions to travel and do business, etc.). Did we know that our updated mentoring intervention would work? No! Did we have the answer(s)? Were we humbled by the enormity of the task at hand? Yes!
The main reason why we were able to address the need to adjust quickly is based in trust-based partnerships. We were able to establish a working alliance based on trust which created an atmosphere where experimentation and learning has been encouraged. This atmosphere took away the pressure to deliver perfect results and focused more on potential learning from and with others. The diversity of the project partners allowed us to make use of available resources efficiently and swiftly. It allowed us to delegate tasks to those who were interested and experienced in contributing to improving existing interventions and programmes. Impact assessment and drawing insights and learning has been possible because we had researchers and academics on board. Expertise partners focused on improving and adjusting existing methodologies and approaches. Implementation partners tested and scaled up ideas and interventions as well as providing valuable insights and feedback.
We tried to highlight some aspects of the value and benefit of regional collaboration and indicated some options on how to make it work. However, it always needs courages donors such as EEA Norway Grants to such create opportunities – being fully aware that such a path can be challenging and might need skilful support to make it work and promote its outcomes. During the EU’s Regions and Cities week the region of Catalunya hosted a side-event which allowed to present some learning and findings.
To learn more about the YES-project’s approach to mentoring, the experience from an implantation partner and the impact assessment please, go to the project’s website: https://youngentrepreneurssucceed.com/resources/ and watch the video recording at the EU’s Regions and Cities Week.
Clutterbuck, D. in Cox, E., Bachkirova, T. and Clutterbuck, D. (eds) (2018) The complete handbook of coaching. Third edn. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Parola, G., Spiess-Knafl, W. and Thaler, J. (2022) “The Butterfly Effect: How Academics and Practitioners’ micro-Practices shape Turning Points in Response to Paradox,” Academy of Management Learning & Education, 21(3), pp. 369–393. doi: 10.5465/amle.2021.0235
Swenson, D. X. (1997) “Requisite Conditions for Team Empowerment,” Empowerment in Organizations, 5(1), pp. 16–16.
Joerg Schoolmann, Dr. Yiorgos Alexopoulos, Agricultural University of Athens