1.3 Dimensions of partnership working
We will now look in more detail at the range of practice and of organisational arrangements known as partnership working.
Below are accounts from two practitioners, who describe their experience of partnership working and their understanding of the term.
Sabrina works as a youth development worker for a local authority in the English Midlands. She manages a small team of part-time youth workers and between them they provide a range of daytime, evening and weekend opportunities for young people living in the local area.
I’m based in a youth and community centre which shares a site with a secondary school, and the school is a key partner for me. I’ve established a good relationship with the head and have worked alongside teachers in joint projects. For example, I’ve been working with the teacher responsible for citizenship and, with a group of post-16 students, developing a peer education project on homelessness. The school funded some of the work and I’ve put in my own time and some additional hours for a part-time worker. Some of my team now operate a sexual health service in the youth centre at lunchtime – in cooperation with the school nurse and a specialist sexual health worker in the voluntary sector. I’ve also been working with an education welfare officer who supports young people in care – encouraging them to take part in youth work. I’ve just had a young woman in care on work experience for a week, which was good. I’ve also got some good links with the sports development worker in the district council. I don’t really get involved in strategic stuff – though my manager does.
Mick works for a community organisation and is based in a community centre on an estate in the West Midlands. He has worked there for a long time and has developed strong networks in the neighbourhood surrounding the centre.
I think of myself very much as a neighbourhood-based youth and community worker. I’ve worked on this estate for a long time and I work closely with local agencies, including housing officers and the tenants and residents organisation. Health is a big issue for residents and I work closely with health and drugs and alcohol agencies in order to be able to respond. Community safety is also high on the agenda. I’ve been supporting young people in meetings with the police where they’ve been expressing their views about how the police treat them and how they’re always being moved on. I chair the estate’s inter-agency forum, which brings agencies and community representatives together. In my role it’s also important to keep up with strategic developments across the city. I’ve managed to position the work of the centre so it has been able to respond to city-wide agendas and priorities – in the past we’ve received significant funding to support some of the work that we’ve done, but getting funding is much more difficult now because of cuts in different organisations’ budgets.
Activity 2: Differences between partnerships
Using these practitioner accounts and any of your own experiences, try to identify some of the ways in which individual partnerships might vary and jot these down. For example, you may have noticed how Sabrina seems to be involved in partnerships with other practitioners working with young people at local level, while Mick is involved in partnerships operating more strategically.
You might have noted some of the following differences.
Partnerships vary in terms of the themes and issues they are addressing and in their breadth of focus – from partnerships with a very specific focus, for example drugs and substance misuse, through to partnerships addressing a much broader set of issues, for example regenerating a town or an estate.
Partnerships also vary according to the range and nature of the partners involved, including whether they involve statutory, voluntary/third-sector and/or private sector organisations and whether young people and other community representatives are also involved.
Partnerships vary in their time span – they may be focused on one-off, short-term projects, or develop into longer-term plans for working together.
The impetus for partnership working can vary – it may come from the bottom up or the top down. In other words, partnership might have developed as a response to needs and issues identified locally or as a result of a ‘top-down’ directive – for instance, in response to a new government policy or piece of legislation, in which case engagement might be compulsory rather than voluntary.
The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, for example, required crime and disorder partnerships to be set up in England and Wales and specified the agencies that should be involved. In other cases, people seek out potential partners whom they know have a common interest in developing provision for the young people they are working with, or who have common values.
Partnerships might be planned or emergent. Some partnerships, like projects, arise because people have a specific outcome in mind. Alternatively, ideas about what you might do or achieve as partners might evolve over a period of time and as relationships develop.
Some writers on partnership focus almost exclusively on partnership in the context of formal organisational arrangements, often at a strategic level, but others take a broader perspective, highlighting the importance of informal networking. We now move on to think about these different levels of partnership.