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Partnerships and networks in work with young people
Partnerships and networks in work with young people

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1.2 Terminology

Vipin Chauhan, writing about partnership working in the context of the voluntary and community sector, comments that:

Increasingly, voluntary, community and public sector organisations are caught up in this frenzy about ‘partnership’, ‘multi-agency’, ‘inter-professional’ and ‘inter-agency’ working. Such terms are used almost daily without paying much attention to what they mean in reality …

(Chauhan, 2007, p. 233)

In the audio-visual material that you will be looking at as part of this course, partnership working is referred to as ‘working across agencies’. In some cases, people have specific ideas about the differences between different terms. For example:

  • Inter-agency working usually refers to arrangements between two or more agencies for planning, implementing and evaluating joint projects or longer pieces of joint working.
  • Multi-agency working refers to representatives from a number of agencies coming together to look at a problem in a holistic way.
  • Multi-disciplinary working refers to teams made up of people from a range of professional backgrounds.

Conversely, the catch-all term ‘partnership working’ may be used to describe all of these ways of working – and others – in order to describe varying degrees of joint working, collaboration and cooperation:

Trying to understand how partnerships work can be difficult. It is not helped by the lack of a clear definition of the term, and the enormous variation in the types of association to which the term is applied. On reading the growing amount of literature on the subject, we soon realise that the term seems to be applied to any kind of relationship between different agencies.

(Harrison et al., 2003, p. 2)

Some writers (e.g. Roberts et al., 1995) have suggested that this ambiguity is one of its political attractions – it can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. Because of this confusion an important first stage in any new venture is to clarify the purpose and nature of that particular piece of partnership working. It is also important to recognise that the landscape of work between agencies and between different professionals is still evolving and developing as we write this course, and that the language used to describe this area of practice is also likely to evolve and develop with time and to vary with context – for example, depending on the nation in which you are working.

One of the attractions for us of using the term ‘partnership’ is that it can also be used more widely still to represent the traditional values in youth work of adopting a participative approach to working with young people: treating them as partners in their own learning rather than as ‘clients’ to be ‘done to’.