How to build partnerships

How to build local and relevant partnerships:

Most organisations these days talk about how effective partnerships are central to the strategic development of their work and projects, yet many cut corners on the strategic development of the partnership arrangement itself.

Developing and sustaining effective working relationships requires a high level of commitment and a great deal of hard work if effective outcomes are going to be attained for all parties involved.

Some research shows that in the field of working with young people up to 70% of partnerships fail in achieving their outcomes for all those involved. Therefore it is a process that needs to be intrinsic to the planning stage and be given as much thought as other aspects.

If you have the time, if the project is right and if you have the correct partner(s) the benefits to working this way are numerous. These are covered in the following section. However, before moving those just take a step back and think about what is meant by partnership for you and which type of partnership would suit the work.

There are four main types of partnership:

  1. Secondment: One organisation will commission another to carry out an already set piece of work to a clear set of objectives.   These are partnerships as it will involve an element of working together, however it is the needs of the commissioning organisation which need to be met and  those delivering the work will have had no or little input into the planning of the work.
  2. Cooperative: Partners may share information and recognise one another’s existence. However there is no joint planning and resources are kept separate.
  3. Co-ordinated: Partners will do some planning together and may focus on a specific project. There will be some sharing of roles and responsibilities and some shared resources and risk taking.
  4. Collaborative: Partners commit themselves to longer-term projects and make organisational changes so that there is a higher degree of shared leadership, control, resources and risk-taking. Collaborative work can lead organisations to merging.

All of the above are valid and workable types of partnership. If partners on a project have a different idea of what the partnership structure is,  it is unlikely to succeed.  Resentment and problems will emerge as the project moves forward with this different understanding of how it will work.

Why to work in partnership:

There are many benefits to both service users and organisations when organisations successfully work in partnership with others. Benefits include:

  • Making better use of existing resources – this is particularly relevant in today’s climate of ever decreasing resource to people focussed organisations. The sum of resources from different places is likely to be more effective than a number of smaller pots. This may also avoid wasteful duplication of services.
  • Improve the level and quality of service offered to service users
  • Assist with problem solving that any one organisation may struggle to do
  • Enhance the delivery of services across organisational boundaries

Working alongside others should assist partners to meet not only their own organisational objects but shared targets for the work or in a specific geographic area through:

  • Improving the understanding of the needs and aspirations of the  service group
  • Enabling larger projects through economies of scale
  • Combining the skills and knowledge of different teams
  • Sharing of training and learning
  • Access to a wider range of information and data

Who to work with:

There are essentially two ways to go about this. One is to join an already established partnership   and the other is to start from scratch to form your own.  It maybe that partnering with one of the already established organisations such as Community Safety Partnerships -   which generally include, Schools, Youth Service, Health and Police as  well as a range of local voluntary organisations -will meet your needs. However you will be bound by their mission statement and objectives which might not suit what you are trying to achieve.

Before beginning to look for partners you need to be very clear about what you plan to do and what you are looking for a partner to contribute. E.g. If you are looking to deliver a range of VAWG awareness raising programmes in Schools and Youth clubs what is it you need from those organisations?

Using networks you are already a part of is one of the most effective ways of finding new and appropriate partners as your regular networks are likely to consist of people you trust and respect. You will also already have some knowledge of the organisations objectives and ethos.

If your project involves working with a particular client group and is a new piece of work that has not been carried out before in your area you are more likely to have to develop a partnership from scratch.

When you have identified the partners you need to work with, the next step is to approach them.  If you are hoping to partner with a large organisation, you need to consider who the best person to approach would be. E.g. If you want to work with a school on a VAWG project it is likely to be more productive if you communicate with a Director of Safeguarding or a Head of Pastoral Care.  These people are more likely to be enthusiastic about your work. These people can then engage others within the school as appropriate.

Think carefully about how you will present your rationale for working together; don’t just list the reasons why it would benefit you!

Building respectful and effective partnerships:

For a partnership to be successful all partners need to be fully engaged and committed to the work and all involved need to:

  • Be in agreement that the work requires a partnership approach
  • Willing to work with partners over a sustained period of time
  • Share an ethos  and values about the way in which the work takes place
  • Be able to agree a common aim
  • Value the contribution of others to the work
  • Develop rapport and trust with each other
  • Be a stakeholder in the outcomes of the work

All areas have Local Strategic Partnerships or Community Safety Partnerships are generally more successful because one organisation is not left with doing everything and the responsibility is shared. Having access to a range of ideas and sharing financial costs means that they may be able to address issues that they have previously avoided. Therefore in addition to the above list, partners will be able to:

  • Create a synergy in which people can be enthused by others
  • Share the risk and responsibilities
  • Enhance creative problem solving and decision making around different issues
  • Attract a wider range of funders
  • Be highly productive
  • Offer support to each other

A getting started guide:

Once you have considered all of the above it’s time to get started.  In summary of the above what you need to do is:

  1. Identify the stakeholders who can help you with your project
  2. Think about who you really want as a partner and if there are others who may want to be a partner but you are not sure about.  Have clear reasons for not inviting them in case they ask.
  3. Make sure that other people in your organisation are in agreement with who you want to work with and the way in which the partnership will work.
  4. Before drawing up partnership agreements have an informal discussion with potential partners to get an idea of their thinking and attitudes about the project.
  5. Be clear about your partners specific objectives
  6. Plan the partnership process and factor in enough time to see it through properly.

You can download a AVA Partnership agreement checklist