“Five guys on the court working together can achieve more than five talented individuals who come and go as individuals.” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When you’re working on an outreach project, you will almost certainly have some kind of partner organizations in the project. Funders of outreach projects love to see partnerships, and sometimes they even require it. When everything works like it’s supposed to, a partnership between organizations working on a joint outreach project can spawn better ideas, create a richer program, and improve reach.
But have you ever felt like you’ve made some bad decisions in your choice of partners? (I’m not talking about your sordid relationship history here). It feels like a disaster when your plans fall apart because your partner organization had a completely different understanding of their role in the project, different priorities, or there were communication problems (okay, maybe I am).
Yesterday I was reviewing our Tools and Resources Guide for a major website update coming next week. While I was doing that, I re-discovered some great resources for choosing and maintaining partners.
The Community Tool Box from the University of Kansas has a toolkit on Creating and Maintaining Partnerships. This toolkit is made up of steps for partnering organizations to work through together. Here are some of the main categories, but the descriptions on the website are quite detailed:
- Describe the problems or goals that have brought partners together in common purpose
- Outline your partnership’s vision and mission, objectives
- Re-examine the group’s membership in light of your vision, mission, and objectives
- Describe potential barriers to your partnership’s success and how you would overcome them
- Describe how the partnership will function and how responsibilities will be shared among partner organizations
- Describe how the group will maintain momentum and foster renewal
- If the partnership is losing momentum, review current barriers to your success
- If necessary, revisit the plan to identify and recruit new or additional members
- When maintaining the partnership at its current level is no longer appropriate or feasible, consider other alternatives, including changing focus, adding new members, or even dissolving the partnership
The Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) has a Resource Guide: Establishing and Maintaining Effective Partnerships. It is a one page document with an emphasis on building trust among partners. Here are some of their characteristics of successful partnerships.
- A common vision and collective commitment
- Mutual trust and respect
- Risks, resources and rewards are shared jointly
- Opportunities for capacity building through learning exchanges
- Openness to learning and teaching opportunities
- Ground rules that create a safe space to address challenges
- Acknowledgement of the differences between the partners
Balancing the emphasis on trust and respect, UIHI also has helpful guides on their Resources for Partnerships page for establishing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) so partners clearly understand what’s expected of each other.
You might take a look at these guides and think “they’re asking me to do a lot of work – I just want to do a few health information presentations at the local public library.” While you may be correct, sometimes a small project grows into something bigger, and then suddenly you find yourselves writing a proposal for a grant from the National Library of Medicine. When going into a partnership, large or small (or personal), it might be worthwhile to take a look at some of these these guides — even if you don’t do all the steps or complete an MOU, you will find something that can help you make sure your partnership is nourished and successful for as long as it needs to be.