Academic collaborative centres – transformation youth (ACCs) are long-term partnerships between one or more (local) youth services, universities, (local) governments, schools (and educational programs) and clients. The program is funded by the Netherlands organization for health research and development (ZonMw) and supports 12 ACCs in the field of youth care distributed around the Netherlands. The centres aim at bridging the worlds of the academia and youth care practice, thereby fostering evidence-based working on the one hand and needs-oriented research on the other. The main purpose of the ACCs is to improve knowledge generation and transfer between practitioners, policymakers, researchers, the education sector and clients and, as such, improve youth services.
The goal of the academic collaborative centres is to bring science, governance and practice closer together, by connecting a variety of disciplines and fields related to youth care in long-term collaborations. The centres strive to be both inclusive and diverse in their partners; different youth care services take part, as well as different types of stakeholders such as governmental bodies and universities. In the AAC-transformation youth there is an explicit focus on including clients and their parents in all stages of research and in decision-making processes. As clients of youth services are diverse in backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, age, etc., special attention goes to how to do justice to diversity in ACC activities.
Targeted information is disseminated through meetings and training sessions with specific stakeholder groups in which organisers provide project updates and receive feedback. Several trainings are organised by ZonMw during which the different ACCs in the Netherlands can see and learn from each other’s progress.
At this stage, the focus is mainly on setting up the centres, research, and other activities. Researchers, practitioners and clients discuss their views on problems and their perspectives on future research. Roles of stakeholders, and in particular the role of clients and their parents, is reflected on. Planning focuses on short-term goals to facilitate adaptation in response to changing needs and to better involve governmental institutes.
Practitioners, researchers, governments, and clients realise that they have different needs, concerns and perspectives. Thus, they try to accommodate each other in both big (research direction) and small (day-to-day) issues. Though practitioners try to be as flexible as possible, they are limited by government regulation. Researchers amend methods when possible and offer to compensate the time needed for research with activities the researchers can do for the practitioners.
The program academic collaborative centres – transformation youth has started only recently. However, academic collaborative centres in youth care and other fields, such as public health and home care, are funded by ZonMw since 2005. During these years strong relationships and partnerships have been realised between organisations involved in healthcare, strengthening local networks and improving healthcare facilities. Healthcare professionals have more concrete, applicable methods and instruments at their disposal and more evidence-based knowledge has been generated for policy formulation.
Collaboration is a team effort that may require careful attention and tending in its early phases. Leadership, in the form of being sensitive for the organic emergence of team roles as well as facilitating a clear project structure with clear agreements, regular meetings and moments of reflection and evaluation, is important. Collaborations should be approached as processes that build long-term relationships; participants must be flexible, without compromising their own integrity or that of their institutions. To strengthen relationships between different partners, it is important to know each other’s interests and qualities to be able to respond to those.