Keeping partnerships fresh

Two of our regular panellists offer advice on
joint working.

The Challenge
“If nothing else, the publication of this year’s
Performance Assessment Framework indicators reminds us of the
extent to which we are dependent on partnership working to bring
good outcomes for service users. But people bring results not
organisational structures and arrangements. When people talk about
partnership working, it is clear that relationships in joint
working are like any others – they can “get stuck”. They become
jaded and dulled by routine. If the panel were to write the
introduction for a book ‘How to do partnership working with the
same people for the rest of your life’, what would their advice

Mike Pinnock,
Policy, planning and performance manager, North


John Belcher
Voluntary agencies generally find that statutory partners
fall into two categories: those who will stick their necks out and
those who won’t. Much of this is down to personalities.

There are partnerships with people who accept
change, who are flexible and who are chiefly concerned with
outcomes for users. They’re the ones who will genuinely consider a
new idea and perhaps fund an innovative service. These
relationships seldom become stale.

There are others who resist change and are
more concerned with procedures, the “audit trail”, and protecting
fiefdoms. They tend to say “no” a lot. These relationships are not
just stale – they’re stagnant.

But new life can sometimes be breathed into
dead partnerships. One way is to bring other partners to the table
– they may support your ideas and help persuade a reluctant agency
to change. Ensuring users have a voice in discussions can also be a
powerful catalyst for new thinking. Another approach is to quote
successful service examples from other areas – they provide ready
responses to people who say, “this won’t work”. Knowing “the big
picture” also helps – if you know your views are consistent with
national policy reforms they carry more weight.

Fortunately, the new policy environment (for
example, Best Value, The Health Act 1999, Partnership Arrangements,
Supporting People, the NHS Plan) will force inflexible partners to
change anyway. There’s nothing like a raft of government
initiatives to liven up a dull partnership.

No doubt some partners will continue to resist
change. But they are dinosaurs. And remember what happened to

Ratna dutt
My experience of partnerships is that they are generally
forged between people and organisations that share similar values
and beliefs, who speak the same professional language, and are part
of the same network. One of the consequences of this is that
certain groups and individuals who have a great deal to offer any
potential partnership never get a look in. More importantly, the
practice of working in partnership only with groups and individuals
who are mirror images of oneself is that it simply prolongs the
status quo.

If certain partnerships are getting stuck with
the “same people on the same issues” perhaps now is the time to
review such partnerships, and ask yourself a couple of pertinent
questions, such as:

– Are the existing partnerships worth

– Is it time to find different partners to
work with?

It may well be that you have outgrown some of
the partnerships that you have forged, and which now appear to be

Perhaps you should be open to partnerships
with those who, in the past, have been your fiercest critics, or
whose view of “how things are” is different to yours, or who will
challenge your models of practice and refuse to become “co-opted”.
Entering into, and negotiating these partnerships, may appear to be
risky and uncomfortable at times, but may have the most productive

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