Being a strong community partner is an important role in most business relationships. Think about how much we’re able to accomplish simply by working together. Particularly, in the health and social service fields, partnerships are most successful when they work toward shared goals for delivering practical solutions to community issues.
By collaborating with partners, we can do our part and reap the benefits of others’ efforts. Unfortunately, many partnerships fail due to unequal commitment among partners, differing values, and duplication of services.
Today, I want to provide 7 key points that are useful in establishing and maintaining community partnerships. Remember, a partnership is a give and take relationship that leads to long-term cooperation and collaboration. By working together effectively, we can expand our community impact.
SHARE A COMMON VISION
A shared vision will drive collaboration. Think about your most successful partnership. Ask yourself, what drives the partnership? Do you share a common vision? Most likely you’ve answered yes, but if not, let’s talk about why this is so important.
Sharing a common vision contributes to knowledge sharing, aligns with mutual goals, addresses the common needs of the partnership, and guides actions and activities. Additionally, in order to work together cohesively, each organization must understand how its own culture and practices influence the relationship. This includes accepting differences among partner organizations.
Anyone can be a partner, but remember, this is a give and take relationship. Initially, there is an investment in time and resources, however, mutual trust leads to a shared commitment to the vision. So, whether you’re working to reduce child obesity, address environmental issues, or increase access to healthcare services, I hope your partners share the same vision as you do!
ESTABLISH DIVERSE PARTNERSHIPS
Despite good intentions, diverse partners do not always have a seat at the table. Many times, this is because they weren’t invited. Other times, organizations may lack the staff or resources to fully participate in the partnership, which requires you to be more flexible in your approach.
Partnerships that aren’t representative of the community can create problems. Often, decisions are made by the majority to “fix problems” for minority partners and populations, without including voices from the community. Diversity and representativeness are important factors for partnership success. Building and sustaining community partnerships that include community-based organizations serving diverse populations will assure that partnerships are representative of the diversity of the community.
Some great examples include promoting participation among diverse and nontraditional groups in health, schools, business, government, faith communities, neighborhoods, and key informants of different community sectors. As you work with diverse partners and communities, it’s important to demonstrate sensitivity and competence. All partners should consistently operate in ways that promote listening, openness, caring, inclusiveness, agreement to disagree, an opportunity for all to participate, and mutual respect.
By establishing diverse partnerships, you gain direct access to the community at large because these individuals are well respected and knowledgeable about the communities they live or work in. They are also committed to recognizing and striving to understand and improve community health and social issues. As a result, partnerships and community actions are strengthened. A big win!
FOLLOW COMMON GROUND RULES
Establishing and following common ground rules provides clarity and sets expectations for partner organizations. These rules should be established collectively by the partner organizations and should include details on how rules will be established and how partners make decisions.
But the burning question is, how can the rules be implemented so people actually follow them? First, set your expectations upfront. Communicate with your partners so they understand the partnership process and outcomes. This will also help to avoid duplication of effort. Delegate specific roles for your partners so it’s clear what their expected contributions are. Clear delegation will also help you more easily accomplish your community partnership goals. Finally, hold partners accountable when they fail to meet their agreed-upon contributions.
Establishing and following ground rules creates a common and comprehensive understanding of your partnership, builds trust, and creates strong group commitment.
One of the best ways to maintain strong community partnerships is to build ownership.
The easiest way to do this is to select strong partners to begin with. Think about your expectations of your partner organizations. Ask yourself, is this partner willing to get involved, open to creating a partnership, and committed to the long-term nature of the process? If so, you’ve identified a strong partner.
Once your partners are committed, start building ownership. Here are some techniques to consider:
- Share responsibilities. Partners who are empowered to make meaningful contributions are more likely to feel a sense of ownership.
- Don’t dominate the partnership. This is especially difficult if your organization initiated the partnership, but this is important if you want to establish group ownership.
- Ask for feedback. Regularly ask your partners for feedback on how they feel the partnership is going. Just make sure you actually use their feedback to make improvements.
- Nurture relationships. Remember, partners are people and strong relationships build strong partnerships.
IDENTIFY POTENTIAL CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
It may be obvious, but when you work with people, you must understand that conflict is a natural part of partnering with diverse groups. The key is being able to anticipate and use conflict constructively. As much as we all like to avoid conflict, we have to work on minimizing some of the negative aspects so our professional relationships aren’t affected. In order to do this, we must communicate effectively and keep lines of communication constantly open. This helps to establish trust, keep partners informed, and provides opportunities to address questions as they arise. Also, establishing a decision-making process that is fair and open will help to alleviate interpersonal issues.
Are you beginning to see how many of these strategies build on each other?
Despite the best intentions of your community partnership, there will be times when conflict occurs. Ignoring conflict can impact the health of your partnership negatively. The key is making sure differences are resolved amicably and equably. Give people the chance for their differing views to be heard. Listen and try to understand different points of view. And always seek common ground.
Improving the health of communities requires partnerships that support the leveraging of partner resources.
As a community partner, you must first examine your community assets. This may include developing an assessment to help align efforts in improving community health issues. Take note of strengths and the areas of greatest need. As a result, you can also identify potential new partnerships that complement your shared vision and goals.
Think about what resources you need to accomplish your goals. Some mutual benefits may include shared information, funding, allocated space, technical assistance, data collection tools, trainings, and staff/volunteer support. By leveraging resources, partners have the opportunity to build on each other’s strengths and expertise, avoid duplicating services, and work together to address barriers to addressing community health issues.
Evaluation plays a key role in developing and sustaining community partnerships. However, even the strongest partners seem to neglect evaluating their partnerships.
Partnership evaluation helps to determine whether goals or objectives have been met. This involves identifying partnership strengths and areas for improvement in operating processes, structure, planning, and activity implementation. Having an evaluation plan in place will help to determine if successful strategies can be supported and replicated.
When evaluating your partnerships, consider discussing the following indicators: how responsibilities are being met, participation rates, leveraging resources, influence of the partnership, and contributions to policies, systems, and environmental changes. In order to measure your success, consider creating member and partnership effectiveness surveys to examine communication, leadership, structure, and function. This information will help to support a successful and sustainable partnership!
You just learned how successful partnerships build support and influence within the community. As individuals, we can’t do it all, but we can improve our capacity by working with others who complement our mission. So now, I challenge you to act in making improvements with your partner organizations. Identify your areas of weakness and create potential solutions. Create support and measures for sustainability.
Remember, partnerships are a give and take relationship where everyone should win!
Until next time!