Building partnerships and organizational environments

The axiom that two heads are better than one really is true when it comes to strengthening children and families in a holistic way. By thinking, planning, and working together, the individuals and groups that make a community can accomplish goals that neither could achieve alone.

Diverse stakeholders shape their holistic efforts through collaborative partnerships. These partnerships give communities a structure for organizing, planning, and implementing their ideas. Collaborative partnerships are the mechanism for designing comprehensive strategies that strengthen children and families.

The process of building a collaborative partnership is multidimensional. It involves:

  • recognizing opportunities for change;
  • mobilizing people and resources to create changes;
  • developing a vision of long-term change;
  • seeking support and involvement from diverse and non-traditional partners;
  • choosing an effective group structure;
  • building trust among collaborators; and
  • developing learning opportunities for partners.

Although the effort takes time and requires careful attention, it’s essential to creating strong, viable partnerships that produce lasting change. This chapter addresses the work that collaborative partnerships typically engage in as they begin and as they move toward action.

How Do Collaborative Efforts Get Started?

Comprehensive partnerships begin
because individuals reach out to
like-minded people and groups to
address issues that affect children
and families.

It isn’t enough to simply round up the “usual suspects”–the core group of teachers, parents, and business leaders who already participate in collaborations between schools, families, and communities. If our comprehensive partnership is going to have a complete picture of community strengths, conditions, and resources, you’ll want to enlist families and community leaders who may be disenfranchised from traditional groups but still have their finger on the pulse of important segments of the community.

In many communities, the partners who join a collaborative group may not have worked together before; they may not even know each other, or they may come from organizations with long histories of conflict and competition. And although diversity among partners gives multiple stakeholders a voice in the comprehensive partnership, it can also mean differences of opinion about issues involving children, youth, and families and the best strategies for addressing them. In order to shape a group of diverse individuals into a focused, trusting, effective partnership, you will need to find common ground and develop a unified vision for success

Evolving collaborative partnerships often struggle between the desire to take immediate action and the need to plan for a sustained effort. There is no specific formula for how much time and energy to initially allocate for building relationships or for planning strategies, but experienced partnerships agree that both activities are essential to long-term success.

Planning for action involves

  1.  establishing guidelines for partner relationships,
  2. defining a target community,
  3. creating trust and a shared vision among partners, and
  4. building cultural awareness. These steps take time, but they lay a firm foundation for future action.