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Case study: Partnership skills – encouraging a collaborative approach to data culture at UNICEF UK

UNICEF UK (UUK) is part of UNICEF’s global network. It raises money for their work with children and children’s rights worldwide.

Accurate, up-to-the-minute information – data – is a key element in UNICEF UK’s very successful fundraising operation. And how that data is managed across the organisation is increasingly significant to their work.


Supporter Data Management (SDM) and Fundraising Strategy & Knowledge (FSK) – the two teams responsible for data collection and dissemination in the organisation – had historically worked in different ways, on different high level data management. To complicate things further they had also been geographically separated, and recently relocated to work together. In order for UNICEF UK’s fundraising operation to achieve even better results to help the world’s children, they now had to work in a more integrated way.

Internally the teams needed to share tools, frameworks and approaches to streamline and align their work, and so that they could work effectively on joint projects when necessary. And in the wider UNICEF UK context, they needed to move from waiting for other teams to request they undertake a particular project, to proactively seeking challenges and solutions themselves. So rather than only working to ‘external’ briefs, they were being asked to spot interesting trends and report on those that were likely to impact either positively or negatively on the fundraising operation.

After several months reviewing their working practices and making some changes, the SDM and FSK senior managers felt they needed some external support if they were to move things on more quickly.

=mc brief

UNICEF UK invited tenders to design and deliver a development programme to equip the two teams to work in partnership with their internal clients. The programme aims were:

  • to equip teams with the skills to share knowledge effectively with internal clients, and work collaboratively to make decisions
  • to ensure teams had the tools to co-create projects and interpret complex briefs
  • to be seen by others teams at UNICEF UK both as trusted advisors and critical friends

What we did

After a successful proposal and pitch, =mc consultants explored with senior managers from both teams to understand in more depth what exactly they were looking for. And from that we devloped three distinct phases:

  1. Understanding – we undertook a survey of all 26 participants, to understand their current challenges and the areas they wanted to develop. We also interviewed key staff to find out more about the context. And we interviewed key UNICEF UK staff outside the two teams. We asked them about their perceptions of SDM and FSK – positive and negative – and how they thought the teams could work better with other teams.

From the research, we developed concrete learning outcomes:

  • Turn conversations and briefs into solutions using =mc’s systematic consultancy model approach
  • Manage and influence people in 1-2-1 and groups settings, and develop awareness of how to mitigate challenges in these settings
  • Apply a range of tools and approaches which allow the participants to frame insights in a simple and insightful way
  • Use structured tools and methods to innovate and solve problems, and to be able to deliver data and insights accurately and clearly
  1. Delivering – over the course of two months we delivered a three-day, ‘toolkit-approach’ training programme, to two mixed-team cohorts. Here’s an outline of the three days:
Day 1: Tools for Systematic Engagement (managing and understanding expectations of partners) Day 2: Tools for Group Problem Solving (facilitating partner discussion and co-creating) Day 3: Tools for Influencing Others (communicating with partners)
Defining what partnership work is, and introducing participants to =mc’s systematic approach to internal consultancy. Participants apply this to live work issues. Using problem-solving tools and techniques to work on real challenges. Tools range from mindmapping, to Ishikawa, to group decision making, teams. Exploring different communication skills, participants learn about their – and others’ – styles, and discover how to influence others by adapting.

The training days were hugely interactive and participants worked in groups to tackle their real challenges. Outputs from the days were shared between both cohorts.

  1. Embedding – immediately after the training, UNICEF UK undertook a survey to understand how well participants felt the training addressed the stated learning outcomes and their reactions to the training. Three months later, this was repeated to see if results had been sustained. =mc undertook further interviews with senior managers and internal colleagues to see how they perceived behaviour changes in the two teams.


From the evaluation analysis, it was clear to see the programme had been a great success. Participants rated the training highly, and valued the time they spent together over the three days. This has broken down some walls in the teams, and there is a much more open and livelier culture.

Systems Thinking and a number of other tools from the programme have been applied, and are being used by the teams in their work on a regular basis.

And this change has been noticed outside the teams. Internally, colleagues have reported that they find the participants to be more proactive, more supportive and more enquiring. There is also recognition that partnership working is a two-way street, and other teams need to find ways to collaborate more with SDM and FSK. For example, one interviewee stated: “They have been making an active effort to come over in person and not reply by email. Things are much better now. We need to think more about how we feedback to them, so they know the results of their hard work. This is something my team needs to do for SDM/FSK.”

What next?

To support further changes in the team, Andrew Lynn (Head of Data) is encouraging his team to set development goals in their performance reviews to embed their learning. Andrew explains:

“I am really pleased with the training, and the results we have seen. There is some more work to do of course, particularly ensuring the team has the confidence to use the tools and continue working together. We’ll continue evolving, and the training has given us a launch pad and language to do that. I have seen my team working with others, actively asking questions. They are much more engaged and invested in outcomes.”

The teams are continuing to focus on using the tools, developing their skills and making changes to how they work. They are now looking at practical ways to introduce the tools from the programme to groups that they work with.

How to find out more

The Partnership Skills Programme drew from our extensive experience of working in partnership with our customers, and our established techniques in internal consultancy, project management, problem solving and influencing. If you are interested in how we can support your staff to work more collaboratively, more systematically and in new ways, then get in touch. Call and ask to speak to Yvette Gyles, Assistant Director on +44(0)20 7978 1516.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...