Efficiency & Collaboration Projects

Collaborative strategic development opportunities for Archives in the South East Midlands


Commissioned by The National Archives (TNA) this project, which ran between November 2013 and April 2014, explored how the archives services in Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton can work more effectively together to improve services while achieving savings targets in the current challenging financial environment.  

A range of local and national strategic priorities and future aspirations were expressed as the project progressed.  So whilst economic development (growth in the digital economy, regeneration) was originally the stated focus for future collaborative work, Service Directors are also looking to achieve a greater contribution to health and well-being, community cohesion and sense of place. 

The need to develop a shared vision and supporting objectives emerged during the project.


There were three stages of work

  • Familiarisation research and data analysis  - to develop a broad current state analysis of each service
  • Analysis of existing innovation and best practice  - to draw on learning from existing models of collaborative working
  • Facilitation & Stakeholder Engagement  - to capture opinion and develop ideas including the Project Board and Steering Group, archive staff, archive Service Managers and Directors, Financial interviews and strategic partners


This project was ground- breaking work for the partners, who had not worked together as a group before.  Thus the project provided that vital initial stage of coming together and identifying a common purpose.   The project increased familiarity between the partners about their common interests and the specific strengths and challenges of each service.  Prior to the project the partners had varying levels of understanding of each others situation and capacity for partnership working.

An initial Vision was developed which will be taken on and amended by the partners as their plans for collaboration develop.  This draft Vision is ‘To transform archive services in the South East Midlands through digitally-led collaboration and by developing an enhanced local presence.’

The project also enabled the partners to identify key themes around which they could unite and build a vision.  The central theme was the need and desire to develop digital channels for delivering services and developing dialogue with current and new audiences.  Subsidiary themes included potential solutions to storage issues and sharing skills.

Individual options for possible collaborative working were developed along with outline resourcing and timetables.  These included

  • Foundation steps – simpler, smaller areas of work that could be undertaken immediately to develop a foundation for collaborative working amongst the partners e.g. assessing the user journey across the services, streamlining policies, co-ordinating charging.
  • Developing joint digital solutions for increasing user access to collections – e.g. via a joint web-page
  • Looking at the potential for shared storage – this is a complex area of activity that may not engage all the partners
  • Creating capacity by sharing staff or physical resources – this could be difficult across a large geographical area, but might be partially achieved through a simpler process of learning from the experience of the other partner services.
  • Developing local ‘points of presence’ either physical or digital to counteract the lack of capacity of the individual partners to maintain a presence in individual communities.
  • Developing an offer to support the local authority health and well-being agenda and to tap into the commissioning of services by local authorities.

The partners will take these initial ideas and develop collaborative projects informed by this work.

There were several other practical outcomes from the project: 

Firstly, the data analysis highlighted gaps in vital data within and across the partnership. This data would be necessary to develop the services and create cogent arguments for brining in additional partners and stakeholders.

Secondly, possible funding solutions to provide capacity for the services to develop and change were identified.  Under current conditions funding is so restrictive that that the services do not have the resource capacity or financial flexibility to enable radical change individually. Partnership working would be a practical contribution to resource development.

Finally, the project brought out the need for the partner authorities to prioritise activities around partnership working to ensure success.

About the team

The Culture First team comprised of Director Heidi Bellamy and Matrix Associates Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan and Judith Barker.  

Heidi is a recognised Shared Service Practitioner SS(PRAC) equipped with a range of tools and techniques to drive forward and support collaboration using the Shared Service Architects methodology.  If you would like to have an informal conversation about shared services do call us on 01473 345385 or drop us a line heidi.bellamy@culture-first.com