A healthy community cannot be created by one organization or within one sector of the community. Collaboration across boundaries is essential to develop sustainable solutions to complex, systemic community issues such as homelessness, poverty, social isolation or racism.
“The hypothesis underpinning a partnership approach is that only with comprehensive and widespread cross-sector collaboration can we ensure that sustainable development initiatives are imaginative, coherent and integrated enough to tackle the most intractable problems. Single sector approaches have been tried and have proved disappointing. Working separately, different sectors have developed activities in isolation - sometimes competing with each other and/or duplicating effort and wasting valuable resources. Working separately has all too often led to the development of a ‘blame culture’ in which chaos or neglect is always regarded as someone else’s fault.” (Tennyson, 2003, p. 5)
Levels of Collaboration
There is a broad spectrum of collaborations, ranging from loose associations to formal unions, any of which may be referred to as community partnerships. The Duffy Group: Partners in Planning suggested the following spectrum of collaboration. At each step there is increasing level of structure, expectations, shared decision-making, and integration of budgets, workplans and personnel.
Discovering and analyzing the root causes of the issues to be addressed by the partnership may suggest different types of partners who could contribute to different types of solutions. Sometimes, organizations or people working with or representing equity-seeking or historically marginalized peoples are over-solicited to participate in partnerships. Partnership development must be undertaken thoughtfully, with due regard to those being asked to invest their time and effort.
Benefits of Intersectoral Partnerships
Partnerships are essential to creating supportive environments in which all residents can thrive. They increase the impact of investments, build community capacity, foster strong leadership and increases social capital and community resiliency. Intersectoral partnerships deepen our understanding of issues, bridge gaps in our knowledge, share resources and reach new people. Working with community partners often allows us to accomplish more than we could working on our own. It gives us access to new networks, sources of expertise and resources. This allows for increased engagement with the wider community and potentially greater influence on policy development. It also creates a “greater understanding of the value, values and attributes of each sector thereby building a more integrated and a more stable society”. (Tennyson, 2003)
There are common challenges in partnering with other organizations, such as clarifying a shared purpose, bridging organizational cultures, maintaining good communications and making time to reflect and evaluate. As partnerships establish or expand their membership, the need for clarity around roles and responsibilities, structure, and governance start to emerge. Organizational structures such as a board of directors, bylaws, formal committees, and membership, may not be appropriate for the partnership. It may be helpful to adopt a shared, participative leadership style, with a focus on reflective learning and ‘sense-making’.
Ingredients of a Successful Partnership
All partnerships, whether informal or formal, benefit from a clear statement of goals, roles and expectations. Meaningfully engagement is also essential for partnership to be successful. Tennyson suggests that the following assumptions can be applied to all successful community partnership.
• Partnerships take time, skill and effort – on all sides
• Power‐sharing is necessary in partnerships – with some loss of autonomy
• No partnership will work if it comes together only for funding purposes
• Partnerships are beneficial to all partners involved.
Community Tool Box Work Group for Community Health & Development, Univ. of Kansas A free, online resource for those working to build healthier communities and bring about social change. Two of the Community Tool Box’s toolkits are particularly relevant to partnership development: Creating and Maintaining Partnerships and Increasing Participation and Membership.
Hodgson, Kim. Governing for Partnership Success. 2011
Community Partnerships Resource Guide for Family Health Teams. Quality Improvement and Innovation Partnership (QIIP)
Tennyson, Ros.The Partnering Toolbook: An essential guide to cross-sector partnering. International Business Leaders Forum. 2003
Vic Health. The partnerships analysis tool.