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This article initially appeared on Collaboration NI by Leeanne Kelly

Partnership working is all around us! Yet as many success stories are often matched with horror stories.  From supporting over 900 organisations to work in partnership these are my reflections on how to get it right.

1.  Put your beneficiaries at the heart of any collaboration

Working in collaboration is not easy and it should only be embarked upon if it will lead to a better service for beneficiaries.

2.  Agree a vision

Organisations need to be clear about why they are coming together and should be able to communicate the vision of the partnership.  The process of agreeing a vision is very important as people get involved in partnership working for a range of reasons.  It is essential for each participant to be clear that they can sign up to the vision of the partnership.

3.   Put an appropriate structure around it

For partnership working to be effective it has to be much more than just a talking shop.  Individuals need to be clear about why they are coming together and what would be the most appropriate structure to meet their need.  This may be the formation of an alliance or it may be a consortium.

4.  Underpin the partnership with an agreement

The process of negotiating and underpinning a partnership with an agreement is much more than ‘ticking a box’.  It requires people to formally sign up to the partnership on behalf of their respective boards, staff and beneficiaries.

5.   Get the governance right

Good governance is essential to any partnership.  This forms the cornerstone of how the partnership will grow.  It is essential that the governance arrangements are clearly defined and built into any agreement.  There has to be a commitment to build an effective steering group.

6.  Agree good guiding principles of collaboration

The guiding principles should be agreed by members of the partnership.  Good guiding principles can include openness and transparency, sharing best practice, commitment to high standards and continuous quality improvement, operating sound business practices and a commitment to flexibility.

7.  Leadership is required

Embarking on partnership working or remaining committed when the going gets tough can be very difficult.  Even when it is clear that partnership working can improve the services for beneficiaries, it is not uncommon for the process to cause unease with some board members, staff and key stakeholders.  Strong leadership is required to support people and bring them through the unease associated with change.

8.   Always remember collaboration is about people

The policy arena is increasingly calling for organisations to collaborate, but it is so important to remember that organisations themselves do not collaborate, people collaborate! Therefore the ultimate success or failure of a partnership rests with the people around the table.

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