An introduction to partnership working
While partnership working often makes sense, it isn’t necessarily easy and the idea can elicit strong views – both for and against. Partnerships can be formed between individuals, agencies or organisations with a shared interest. There is usually an overarching purpose for partners to work together and a range of specific objectives. Partnerships are often formed to address specific issues and may be short or long term, formal or informal.
Partnership working is required by government as an approach to ensure better relationships between central and local government and the third sector, or indeed between the statutory sector and the third sector in localities.
With more opportunities being created for partnership, there is recognition that there can be increasing benefits including wider collaboration, additional funding, mutual advantage and resources accessed through partnerships.
The key principles of partnership working are clarity, openness, trust, shared goals and values, and regular communication between partners.
Our perspective on partnership working
Partnership working makes sense for lots of different reasons, not least that it provides opportunity to view and understand issues from different perspectives and is potentially a move towards more ‘joined up thinking’ between departments, agencies and sectors. It can be useful to bring together people from different agencies and sectors, recognising that they all bring particular agendas, skills, resources, connections understandings, organisational cultures.
However, there are potential pitfalls, not least the need to consider the processes, structures and vehicles of partnership working.
As Drew Mackie succinctly summarised “Too often a partnership is just a bunch of people from different organisations who just happen to be present in the same room, giving the impression of dancing together while actually standing still”.
Different agendas and a lack of clear structure can lead to tensions that can be both destructive as well as creative! For partnerships to work, partners need to understand each other, work out what makes each other tick and acknowledge that there may be imbalances within the group – of power, of access to resources, of knowledge and understanding of the issues. It is crucial to negotiate relationships and keep positive and be clear about what is possible for each partner.
Too often, partnership working can become mechanistic – something that has to be done to comply with government policies and targets. Some partners are less equal than others – often the Third Sector is under represented in formal partnerships.
Effective partnership working could lead to:
- Clarity of expectations and terms of engagement
- Best use of time and resources
- Mutually supportive processes
- Decisions that take into account the views of different stakeholders
- Operating on an equal footing with other organisations
- Sharing of roles
- Understanding other’s priorities and constraints
- Discussions of differences and constructive management of conflict
- Getting beyond individual agendas
- Keeping other organisations informed – and being kept informed
- Consistency of approach and avoidance of duplication
changes recognises the value of partnership working and we encourage others to appreciate the value it brings to initiatives. Partnership working is about more than individual organisations meeting together and exchanging views. It is about operating in a way which includes the views and interests of partners in order to move the partnership towards its objective/s.