23 October 2023

Collaboration is seen as an important tool for public agencies tasked with helping young people at risk of being drawn into crime. But collaboration partners way too often end up being disappointed with each other and with the meagre results. In spite of this, nobody wants to give up. In her doctoral thesis, Christina Söderberg at Linköping University has studied why.

Portrait of Christina Söderberg.
Jonas Roslund

“What drives the efforts is a strong wish to contribute to getting these young people and their families on the right track. And then you think that, in spite of everything, this must be done through collaboration,” says Christina Söderberg, doctoral student in the Department of Culture and Society.

She has studied how collaboration has worked out in four Swedish municipalities, first when the collaboration was initiated and then again a few years later. The municipalities studied include a big city district, two large municipalities with 130,000 to 140,000 inhabitants, and a small municipality with approximately 5000 inhabitants.

She has interviewed focus groups including a total of 35 representatives from the police, social services, schools and after school care. In addition to this, she has conducted six individual interviews and carried out observations at seven collaboration meetings in one of the municipalities.

From optimism to disappointment

Her thesis shows that when collaboration is first initiated, everyone is optimistic. They share information to find young people at risk, and they discuss measures to take. A few years later, they are not as optimistic. There is a disappointment with the efforts not having produced the desired results, and irritation that all parties are not equally committed.

“Most people said that they didn’t have enough measures in their toolbox to deal with this group of young people. So, not much comes out of it other than talking,” says Christina Söderberg.

According to her, there is no research to indicate that collaboration as such actually contributes to helping these young people, and the parties involved seldom find the time to follow up on their work.

Still, interviews show that no-one wants the collaboration to end. Everyone, no matter how negative and angry they have been, claims to believe in this work.

It’s important that you don’t just sit there and exchange information. You must turn words into action.

One reason for this is the participants’ need to create meaning for themselves, as collaboration does provide a sense that something is being done, according to Christina Söderberg.

Another explanation is that by joining forces, the various organisations share the responsibility for lacking or inconclusive results.

Room for improvement

So, is collaboration a waste of time? Well, yes, in the form it is often carried out, but this can be changed, according to Christina Söderberg. This requires full commitment by all parties, a clearly defined purpose and target group, and measures that everyone is prepared to put a lot of effort into taking.

“The measure taken must be tailored to the risk the young person is facing. There are models for making assessments. One month is a long time for a young person. You have to take the opportunity when they are receptive. There is great development potential.”

She also points out that the parties must follow up the effects of the measures.

Her everyday job is as a project manager with the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, and she often lectures on collaboration. In her lectures, she makes sure to highlight the good examples among Sweden’s 290 municipalities, but she also tells it as it is.

“It’s important that you don’t just sit there and exchange information. You must turn words into action. Otherwise, you might just as well close the whole thing down. I usually say this to their faces.”

Contact: Christina Söderberg, kickiesoderberg@gmail.com

Translation: Anneli Mosell

Organisation

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