Local charities have collaborated more quickly and more effectively during the coronavirus crisis, according to new research by the think tank NPC.
The report, Coordination in Place, looks at how small charities in three areas of England have worked with local authorities, funders and other voluntary groups in response to the pandemic.
NPC said that the sector had reached “a key turning point” which will determine how organisations work together after Covid-19.
Charities in all three areas reported a number of improvements during the crisis, NPC said, including faster collaboration between organisations, a stronger sense of shared purpose and lower bureaucracy in working together.
The research said this was driven by “fundamental attitudinal changes” during the pandemic.
Those changes included greater trust between councils and charities, a higher appetite for risk, and more honesty about how well different approaches to social challenges worked.
Charities also felt that the “immediacy” of the collective struggle against the impact of Covid-19 had helped all organisation identify and tackle a single priority together.
However, NPC warned that charities will need to guard against “a return of previous power dynamics and siloed working”, after organisations raised concerns about potential future threats to the way of working developed during the coronavirus.
Those threats include a breakdown in trust, a loss of momentum in the aftermath of Covid-19, unfilled gaps in the resources that charities need, and the challenge of keeping up with the demand created by the pandemic.
Nicola Pritchard, senior consultant at NPC and one of the report’s authors, said: “Local action has been central to the story of the pandemic with people looking out for neighbours, mutual aid groups springing up, and councils and local groups working closely together to support their communities in more unified and efficient ways.
“Charities, funders, and government are now at a key turning point as we begin to see beyond the immediate crisis.
“We could, unless we take conscious steps to keep up the momentum in a sustainable way, working together to maintain the trust that has developed between different organisations locally.”
NPC analysed charity groups in Buckinghamshire, Coventry and Sutton for six months.
Researchers conducted interviews with people coordinating civil society efforts in each place, as well as other local participants.
The report concluded that charities will need to focus on three things to continue the progress made during the pandemic: new funded partnerships between charities and local authorities; the involvement of communities in planning and delivering projects; and better use of data.
Pritchard said: “Place-based approaches have advanced years in just a few months. We need to keep up the momentum and not allow the barriers to coordination to creep back in.
“Local charities, funders, and policy makers can do this by having a clear shared focus, investing in meaningful engagement with communities, and sharing data with others.
“We’re seeing really promising commitments to these things in the areas we’ve worked with through this research.”