Table of Contents
An A to Z of partnerships
The A-Z contains brief items on the topics listed below. It is designed to read in conjunction with other material on this site which deals with collaboration between different interests involved in urban and rural regeneration programme (renewal or revitalisation are terms also used).
- An Introduction to Partnerships which is just that
- Information sheets on creating development trusts .A set of guidance notes on the process of setting up community development trusts and similar partnership organisations
- The A-Z of Effective Participation . A more extensive A-Z about the wider issues of community participation
The A-Z of Partnerships below was developed in 1994. There's a later version here (2000) with more emphasis on networks. It is a large file (200k) so will take time to load. If you want to use any of the material, please contact me. David Wilcox \«firstname.lastname@example.org>>
Accountability means knowing who is answerable to whom. This may be difficult in a partnership where staff have different employers, the steering group or management committee is not formally constituted, and there are a number of less formal working groups. To clarify accountability consider:
- Who can stop someone doing something?
- Whose permission is needed for someone to act?
- Who pays them?
If these questions give different answers, expect problems. See also Action plans, Terms of reference.
Action plans answer questions of: what do we do next? who does it? with what resources? Action plans may be complex plans covering a year or more, or the outcome of a decision-making meeting covering the next few weeks. Action minutes after meetings should ensure something happens, and clarify accountability.
Agendas ensure there is an agreed plan for a meeting. Hidden agendas ensure it is impossible to plan anything. If different interests in a partnership are seeking different outcomes, and not declaring them, the result is likely to be frustration and growing mistrust. Challenge by ask: 'What are we trying to achieve?' See also Outcomes, Team building, Vision.
Aims and objectives
Aims are a written description of what a group or organisation is trying to achieve, and the objectives are the methods by which they may do that. The different interests in a partnership will all have their own aims and objectives - so focus on where these overlap. See also Mission, Outcomes, Purpose, Vision.
Some of the main barriers to participation and partnership lie in the attitudes people bring to the process. Residents may lack confidence or feel action is not their responsibility. Officials may see getting the job done quickly as a top priority, even if it doesn't meet the needs of all concerned. Councillors may feel their power is eroded by sharing decision making with local people. See also Commitment, Ownership, Stakeholders.
Barriers to partnership
People attending workshops leading up to the New Cities '94 conference gave these examples of why partnerships may not work:
- One partner manipulates or dominates.
- Differences of philosophy and ways of working.
- Lack of communication.
- Unequal and unacceptable balance of power and control.
- Hidden agendas.
- Agendas which are not compatible.
- Some partners brought in late.
See also Agendas, Control, Communication, Partnership building.
Increasingly partnership organisations must make formal bids for resources, governed by strict guidelines. These bids may trigger the partnership-building process, influence the nature and style of the partnerships, as well as dictate funding. In preparing bids:
- Treat the bid as the start of business planning, if you are forming a new organisation.
- Aim for a mix of funding - not just one source.
- Think through aims and objectives independently of the bid. Meet your own purpose as well as your funder's.
- Place the bid in a partnership-building process.
Brainstorming is defined as 'a means of getting a large number of ideas from a group of people in a short time'. It is one of the most widely used workshop techniques, and useful when partnerships are trying to shape their agenda and tackle problems creatively.
After you have defined the problem or question:
- Throw up every idea you can. Don't discuss or reject any.
- Record ideas on a chart - one idea may spark off another.
- When ideas dry up, cross off those agreed as ludicrous.
- Look for common themes and possible solutions.
- Draw up an action plan.
See also Charts, Workshops.
Any partnership organisation which aims to keep going in the long term needs a business or development plan. For a non-profit organisation the plan will balance the costs and income of three parts of its operation:
- The projects, products or services provided by the organisation.
- The core staff, premises and equipment.
- Any fundraising.
The business plan should cover at least three years and show how fundraising and any income earned from projects covers the core costs. See also Companies, Constitution, Fundraising.
A charity is not a particular form of organisation, different from a company or community group. Both may be charities, if they are accepted and registered as such by the Charity Commissioners. (In Scotland and Northern Ireland registration is directly with the Inland Revenue). To be registered as a charity an organisation must restrict its activities to one or more of the following objects:
- The relief of poverty.
- The advancement of religion.
- The advancement of education.
- Other purposes beneficial to the community.
Charitable status adds credibility to an organisation, provides some tax benefits, and enables it to apply to large charities for funding. In general charities can only make gifts to other charities. There are, however, restrictions on trading and members of any management committee have substantial additional responsibilities as trustees.
These may be flip charts - pads of large paper used with an easel - or simply lining paper tacked to the wall. They are an essential tool of partnership-building, because they help you break out of committee mode. Committees need agendas and minutes - workshops need charts. In using charts:
- Stick charts up as you write them, so people can see early work.
- Offer the pen to others in the group.
- Keep charts or photograph them as a record.
Committees of partnership organisations can pose particular problems because almost inevitably people come from different background, and probably haven't worked together before. In order to overcome this, run workshops and organise socials.
- To improve your committee meetings, get members to agree to:
- Read papers beforehand and bring them to the meeting.
- Check what they don't understand and research background.
- Turn up at the right time and stick to the agenda.
- Think before speaking and listen to other people .
- Seek decisions on which all can agree.
- Record what needs to be done.
- Read the action minutes and take any action necessary.
The centre line of partnership-building is gaining commitment. It depends on developing a shared vision, and some ownership of the ideas which are to be put into practice.
Effective communication involves considering how your message will be received as well as how you send it: the meaning of any communication lies in the response you get. Obvious barriers are:
- Lack of clarity about what you want to get across.
- Hostility to you or your organisation.
- Lack of credibility in the message or the person giving it.
Community is a term so widely applied that it is in danger of losing any meaning, like 'members of the public'. Aren't we all? It is more useful to think of a large number of over-lapping communities distinguished by the characteristics of their members, and the common interests which tie members together and give these characteristics a shared significance. Because individuals may belong to many different communities at the same time, different allegiances may people pull in different directions. There are likely to be competing and conflicting interests within communities. See also Stakeholders.
A community forum is regular meeting of community activists and interest groups which may also involve local business, political, religious and social organisations. It may be useful for discussion of issues of concern to local interests, and for stimulating contacts and networking. A forum is not so good for turning discussion into action, where some complementary 'do it' organisation like a Development Trust may be needed.
Setting up a community forum
- Avoid domination by any one interest group.
- Consider splitting meetings into small groups so people have more chance to contribute.
- Seek an independent widely-respected chair.
- Make any servicing of the forum - developing agendas, recording discussion - as independent as possible.
- Don't make the forum the only channel for communication.
See also Networking, Small groups, Structures.
Partnership bodies can be just as inward looking and autocratic as larger bureaucracies. In planning community involvement:
- Think beyond 'the community' to different interests.
- Consider the level of participation which may be appropriate.
- Meet people informally.
- Use a range of participation methods - print, events, workshops - if you are aiming for more than basic information giving.
These issues are dealt with in The Guide to Effective Participation.
A particular form of company, the company limited by guarantee, is increasingly popular as an organisational structure for partnerships. Companies limited by guarantee do not have shareholders - instead their members agree to pay a nominal sum, often onlyy £1, if the company fails. The rights of these members to appoint members of the governing body - the Board - are defined by the constitution - the Memorandum and Articles of Association. The company does not distribute surpluses as profits, but reinvests them in the company. If the members of the Board are unpaid, and the company has appropriate objects, it can seek charitable status.
A constitution sets out governing rules for an organisation. For a company it is the Memorandum and Articles of Association. Constitutions are important at the beginning, when a body is being set up, and when there is an argument about control. Generally:
- Clarify aims and objectives, vision, and an action plan before drafting the constitution.
- Avoid using the constitution to resolve disputes.
- Consult a solicitor with experience of non-profit organisations if you are forming a company.
In my view consultants may be helpful for partnerships if:
- They act as 'process consultants' to help groups through the partnership-building process, or
- They have clear briefs for specific project studies.
- They provide support and training around key issues.
It is a mistake to ask consultants to design partnership structures or programmes unless they work closely with all the key interests.
Consultation is the level of participation at which people are offered some choices on what is to happen, but are not involved in developing additional options. As such it is not a level of partnership.
Control in partnerships tends to lie with those who have the money, skills and administration - however well intentioned they may be in seeking to involve others. For that reason partnerships formed around existing organisations may seem very unequal to other participants. Ways around this include:
- Checking whether 'partnership' is the right label for what is being attempted. Would consultation be more appropriate?
- Being explicit about accountability and terms of reference.
- Setting up formal partnerships when the aim is to share control.
Development Trusts are 'independent, not-for-profit organisations which take action to renew an area physically, socially and in spirit. They bring together the public, private and voluntary sectors, and obtain financial and other resources from a wide range of organisations and individuals. They encourage substantial involvement by local people and aim to sustain their operations at least in part by generating revenue.' (Creating Development Trusts, HMSO 1988). Also known as community development trusts, they should not be confused with community trusts, which are fundraising and grant-making bodies.
Factors for success
At seminars leading to the New Cities '94 conference, participants identified these factors which could help partnerships work:
- Shared mandates or agendas.
- Respect and trust between different interests.
- An agreed need that a partnership was necessary.
- Compatible ways of working, and flexibility.
- Being effective at managing and delivering.
- Time to build the partnership.
Five Ws plus H
A simple checklist to help you think of issues:
- What are you trying to do, decide, explain?
- When must you start and finish?
- Why is it necessary?
- Who needs to be consulted, involved?
- Where is it happening?
- H stands for How, which follows the Ws.
In planning any fundraising consider:
- What do you need the money for, and how much? Do a budget.
- When will you need it? Produce a Time Line.
- What will you do if you can't raise the total you need?
- Who is likely to fund you, and why should they support you?
- Will you need more money later when initial funds are used up?
Identity and image
Corporate identity is the way everything about an organisation looks and sounds, from the letterhead to the way staff answer the telephone. It is an important issue for a partnership because:
- A coherent identity helps communicate effectively.
- Working with a designer and writer is an excellent way of clarifying what you are trying to say and to whom.
- Once you have a strong identify you have to live up to it.
A launch can be useful both externally internally:
- It provides a formal start line if used at the beginning, when you can outline the overall process and your stance to others.
- It is a good time to attract media coverage.
- It is an opportunity for social contacts.
- It is a deadline for making decisions and preparing materials.
The management committee is the governing body for a project or organisation, to which staff are accountable. In a company it is the Board of directors. It is important to strike a balance in composition: little will be achieved if everyone on the committee has to learn how to manage an organisation. However, a committee which has no representation of key interests may well find itself in difficulty.
The media is mainly in the business of interesting and entertaining its users, and of selling itself or advertising. It is not there as a public service to promote your ideas or project. Journalists judge what is news against 'news values' which generally include:
- Conflict (where's the row).
- Hardship (how many hurt, who is in danger).
- Oddity (that's unusual).
- Scandal (sex, corruption).
- Individuality (what an interesting person).
- Disclosure (we can reveal).
Local journalists have a more relaxed view than Lord Northcliffe, but you do need to consider what's in the story for them. In producing a press release, make sure you have answered the Five Ws plus H.
Meetings are at the heart of partnership building processes, whether social get-togethers, committees, workshops, or public meetings.
For effective meetings, consider:
- Style of the meeting. If it is to be a creative workshop rather than a committee, make sure people know that in advance.
- An accessible venue (public transport, disabled access).
- Child care (crèche, financial assistance).
- What information and notice is appropriate beforehand. Provide papers with options for formal meetings, but only an outline for a workshop so that people are spontaneous.
- Any aids you will need: charts, projectors etc.
- The layout of the room, and scope for breaking into small groups. Avoid a platform and lecture-style seating .
- Good management of the meeting itself, and follow-up: see Action plans, Committees, Public meetings, Workshops.
Mission is what you wish to achieve. The term is much favoured in business management, but can confuse people with its military or evangelical overtones. Purpose is an alternative. See also Aims and objectives, Outcomes, Purpose.
Networking is the important business of making informal contacts, chatting, and picking up further contacts. It is the way to learn:
- What issues people consider important.
- The sort of ideas and language they find familiar.
- Who are the key people and organisations - the stakeholders.
Networking is important before other more formal information-giving like producing leaflets, staging exhibitions and holding meetings. National networking organisations may also be able to provide you with local contacts, and similar projects elsewhere.
Not invented here
The opposite of ownership, and one of the most significant barriers to participation and partnership. People are far more likely to participate effectively in partnerships if they play a part in developing ideas and action plans.
The way local authorities traditionally work can present major barriers to partnership and community involvement. For example:
- Officers who believe that they know best.
- Councillors who believe they are the sole voice of the community.
- Departments that act independently.
- Insisting all decision-making processes follow the local authority political and statutory framework.
Outcomes is used here to describe those general results of plans and actions which you are seeking to achieve. Thinking in terms of outcomes which you may see, hear, feel as well as the more abstract aims and objectives should help clarify what to do to achieve what you want. For partnerships to work well, the outcomes sought by different parties must dovetail to some extent.
Outputs are the measurable results of projects or programmes - homes built, people who have completed training - and are dear to funders who want to know what they are getting for their money.
The stake that people have in an idea, a project or an organisation is fundamental to their commitment. For that reason, early brainstorming workshops, where everyone has a chance to contribute ideas, are important. See also Control.
Participation is used here to describe a process by which individuals, groups and organisations are consulted about or have the opportunity to become actively involved in a project or programme of activity.
Partnerships are formal or informal arrangements to work together to some joint purpose. In my view:
- Informal partnerships work best when the project is specific and clearly achievable.
- Where the task is complex and long term it may be necessary to create a more formal structure for decision-making .
- It is difficult to tackle a wide range of issues through an informal partnership. It is better to treat this as consultation.
- Simply setting up a partnership structure doesn't solve the problems. You still need to clarify joint purpose, values etc.
Partnerships do not have to be equal - but the various parties do need to feel that they are involved to an appropriate degree.
Partnerships, like relationships, take time to develop. Are partners after the same thing (outcome)? Do they have the same idea of what is important (values)? Do they trust each other? It may be helpful to think of developing a partnership as a four-stage process:
- Initiation: something triggers the idea of a partnership.
- Preparation: the initiator plans how to involve others.
- Action: the partnership is formed.
- Continuation - or separation.
Planning for Real®
Planning for Real is a powerful technique for involving individuals and groups in decisions about their neighbourhood, a site or building by producing a three-dimensional model. This and similar model-based techniques can be very effective in involving people because they allow 'hands on' responses, do not rely on written material, and give everyone a say. It is important that:
- People are aware of the 'real world' constraints on making physical and other changes.
- It is clear where responsibility for decisions lies, and who will takes ideas forward.
- If community interests are to be involved in implementation, there is support and training for organisational development.
A great technical aid to collective decision-making, and an improvement on basic Brainstorming. When running workshops give people pads of Post-its to write their ideas on, then stick them on a chart and move them around into groups.
Although widely used, public meetings are not the most effective method of involving people. While they may be useful giving information, and gaining support around a clear-cut issue, they are poor vehicles for debate and decision-making. Classic public meetings with a platform party can easily be dominated by a small number of people, and become stage sets for confrontation.
- If you do hold a public meeting:
- Ensure good preparation and publicity.
- Research and focus on local concerns.
- Keep any presentations short with opportunities for response.
- Consider breaking into small groups for some of the time.
- Choose someone independent and locally respected as chair.
- Ensure the venue is easily accessible.
- Build on the results and report back on progress.
A statement of purpose, or mission statement, is a summary in a sentence or two of your intention - your aims and objectives. Statements of purpose may start out as broad intentions like 'we aim to create a better place to live and work'. They become meaningful when the aim is followed with statements of how: for example 'by providing advise and support for practical environmental projects'. There may be a number of these 'how to' statements which are objectives. If they are measurable, they become targets. See also Aims and objectives, Mission, Outcomes, Vision.
Large meetings and committees are often unsatisfactory for working through difficult issues. Take some time to break into groups and report back.
Among the committee meetings and workshop sessions allow time for social events where people can get to know each informally.
Stakeholders are those with an interest, because they will be affected or may have some influence.
In order to think through the role of stakeholders:
- Consider who the key stakeholders are.
- Put yourself in their shoes: how are they likely to react ?
- Draw this up on a flip chart.
What is their likely attitude?
What response or change do you want?
What has to be done?
Steering committees are groups, often with wide representation, responsible for the direction of a project. In order to ensure all parties play a part:
- Clarify accountability and terms of reference.
- Run some sessions as workshops, rather than formal committee meetings, and develop agreed action plans.
See also Structures.
Successful partnerships are not created solely by choosing the right structure, any more than marriages are made by marriage vows. They should be founded on a clear purpose, trust, agreement on responsibilities - and that take time. Consider:
- Whoever holds the cheque book controls the programme. Should this power to lie with an existing organisation?
- Staff will follow the directions of whoever pays their wages.
- Information is power, and whoever produces papers, agendas and writes the minutes controls the meetings.
- On the other hand, incorporated structures like companies generate extra costs and responsibilities for those on the Board.
I suggest that for big programmes where a number of interests want a real stake over a long period, go for a company. For short-term projects work through existing structures, and fora. See also Accountability, Constitution, Partnership building, Terms of reference.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It's a good technique to start planning a partnership.
When you are clear what your aim is:
- Brainstorm issues under each heading. Strengths and weaknesses relate to internal matters for the group or organisation, opportunities and threats to the external. Divide up a chart, and ask people to fill in and stick on Post-it notes.
- Draw up a summary and discuss how to build on your strengths, do something about your weaknesses. make the most of the opportunities, avoid or eliminate the threats.
- Turn these conclusions into an Action plan.
At the start of a partnership building process take stock by carrying out a SWOT analysis, identifying stakeholders and clarifying your aims and objectives.
Team building is the process of helping a group develop shared aims and objectives, values and a plan to put them into action. People working together are better able to get to know each other than, for example, members of a management committee meeting every month or two - so team building workshops can be particularly important for partnerships. I suggest, if possible, bringing in a trainer who specialises in team building to plan a programme. If not, an 'away day' with a facilitator to work on simple techniques like Brainstorming and SWOT can achieve a lot.
Terms of reference
Any committee, forum or group needs clear terms of reference covering:
- The purpose and membership of the group.
- Who services it with agendas and minutes.
- How often it meets - and for how long.
- The topics or issues the group covers.
- The powers of the group to make decisions.
- What funding it has, if any.
- To which committee or group it reports back.
Everything takes longer than you thinkk - even when you know it does. Drawing a timeline is a simple technique to set priorities among activities and events which must be completed in creating a partnership or carrying out programme.
- Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper.
- Graduate it into appropriate blocks of time (days, weeks, months). The first mark is NOW, the last the completion date.
- Think of all the tasks to be completed.
- Place the tasks on the time line in the order of when they have to be done, and which are the most important to do at a particular time.
Trust is an essential foundation for all aspects of participation and partnership. It comes from working together and through that discovering shared values and ways of doing things. In order to develop trust:
- Draw out and deal with any suspicions from past contacts.
- Be open and honest about what you are trying to achieve - and about any problems.
- Be prepared to make mistakes - and admit them.
- Meet people informally.
- Deliver what you promise.
Values are statements of what we consider important. Since they may be emotive, political, and difficult to express, they are frequently hidden. However it is difficult to understand each other or reach agreement if we are unclear about values. For example, council officers faced with a tight project timetable may be frustrated by a community group which insists on numerous meetings, held in the evenings, leading to the appointment of a representative steering group. The officers value cost-effective delivery of 'product' acceptable to their political masters and the Government; the group values openness and democratic process. In groups where there may be underlying differences of values it is often most productive to concentrate first on what there is in common by discussing outcomes - what you would like to happen at the end of the day - and how you can get there.
The idea of a vision of the future seems to me rather broader than purpose or mission, because it places more emphasis on values and approach - how you do things as well as the result you achieve. Vision may be a helpful term if you are using participation techniques that encourage people to create pictures of what they want, or develop models. Partnerships need vision - and visions.
Workshops are meetings at which a small group, perhaps aided by a facilitator, explore issues, develop ideas and make decisions. They are the less formal and creative counterpart to public meetings and committees. See also Brainstorming, Charts, Post-it notes, Small groups.