The purpose of this paper is to discuss findings from the formative evaluation of a national public library development initiative in England, with a focus on the practice and impact of collaborative leadership.
A realistic evaluation approach was used in the study, enabling a nuanced assessment of the initiative’s contexts, mechanisms and outcomes in relation to its core objectives. These included testing innovative, partnership approaches to library service delivery, encouraging greater synergy between libraries and the arts and other public and commercial sectors. Evaluation findings are subsequently contextualised using a conceptual framework drawn from critical management studies on collaborative advantage.
Data show that the initiative was an effective catalyst for enhanced collaborative leadership in the public library sector, including the development of a cross-sector community of practice, with evidence of collective ownership and decision making. The relative collaborative advantages of the initiative are underpinned by evidence on the unique value of public library services to collaborating organisations and sectors.
Outcomes are of relevance to a range of public services and governing bodies with reference to shared strategic objectives with other sectors and services and collaborative leadership learning and practice.
There are implications relating to the public value of library services and how this can potentially be enhanced via collaborative leadership approaches to service design and delivery. This is especially pertinent given current cross-government policy drivers towards integrated public services.
The research makes an original contribution to contemporary debates on cultural value in considering the cross-sector role and impact of collaborative leadership.
The evaluation research described in this paper was commissioned and funded by Arts Council England (March 2012–June 2013). The author also wishes to acknowledge the contribution to the original research of evaluation team members Tamsin Cox, Paul Kyprianou and Kate Rodenhurst. The evaluation team is grateful to all participants in the Libraries Development Initiative for their invaluable contributions to the research.
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