3.1 Partnerships in context
As a practitioner wanting to build relationships and work effectively with partners, it is important to understand the context in which a particular partnership is being developed. This includes making time to find out how different organisations involved in a partnership work and the factors that may constrain what they can and can’t do – for example, government policy or reductions in funding. You need to learn the terminology, to recognise the different meanings that people from different professional backgrounds might place on what appears to be similar terminology, identifying where the various sources of power lie, and so on. You also need to be aware of and be prepared to challenge the stereotypes that you may have of other organisations and professionals – and that they may have of you.
It might appear to be a daunting task. However, we are not suggesting that you should undergo a thorough research process on each and every partner or potential partner; simply that, in conversations with them, you find out what issues are on their mind and the significance of these for your partnership working. At a practical level, one youth worker whom we interviewed, who works for a voluntary organisation, offered the following advice:
You have to have an understanding of what current policy is, any contemporary developments you need to be aware of. There’s nothing worse than going to a partnership meeting and everybody knowing something that you haven’t really kept yourself up to date with. So always keep up to date and never be frightened to ask the question. If you don’t know something, ask somebody.
Alison Gilchrist (2007) emphasises the importance of informal links with your partners to complement the more formal meetings that you have, and argues that the most effective community leaders (using ‘leader’ in the informal rather than the formal, organisation-specific sense) are those who have strong informal networks, so that they are in touch with local concerns.