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

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1.4 Levels of partnership

As we have seen, partnership working can involve different levels of formality and commitment, from work based on quite loose and informal networks at one end of the spectrum, through to working arrangements based on formal agreements and organisational structures at the other. Himmelman (1996) has developed a model of partnership that he uses to explore these different levels of commitment, which he sees as a continuum. In Figure 7.1 we illustrate his model using the idea of a series of levels.

Described image
Figure 1: Levels of partnership (Source: adapted from Himmelman, 1996)

Networking is the most informal level of partnership working and involves exchanging information for mutual benefit. There needs to be a minimal level of trust and willingness to share information, and the contacts are usually made informally, person to person rather than organisation to organisation.

Himmelman highlights the importance of this person-to-person contact in networking, pointing out that, ‘it is clearly more helpful to be able to have a contact person through whom you can get the information required and, as necessary, have a continuing dialogue of mutual benefit’ (Himmelman, 1996, p. 27).

Coordination goes a step further. As well as exchanging information for mutual benefit, the partners agree to alter their activities or ways of working in order to achieve a common purpose. Coordination can help to address problems of fragmentation, overlap and duplication in services. For example, Sabrina might identify, though her conversations with other organisations, that they are each offering similar provision for young people on the same night of the week. As a result of exchanging information, they might decide to open on different nights, or arrange to diversify and complement each other in order to give young people a wider range of options.

Cooperation moves the partners up a step. In addition to exchanging information and coordinating activities for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose, organisations might share resources – including money, staffing and buildings.

At the top of the staircase, at the level of collaboration, the step of enhancing each other’s capacity for mutual benefit is added to the earlier ones. At this level, each person or organisation works at helping their partners to become better at what they do. Mick’s advocacy work might come into this category. Thinking of the needs of others, as well as one’s own self-advancement, is generally considered to be a sign of maturity (Himmelman, 1996) – hence the placement of this form of partnership at the top of the staircase, subsuming the other activities of networking, coordination and cooperation.

Himmelman (1996) argues that any of the four levels of partnership might be appropriate in different circumstances. He offers three key factors that influence the decision, the three Ts of: Time (how much is available), Trust (how well the people involved know and trust each other) and Turf (how high is the potential for turf wars, based on different values and purposes, readiness for power sharing, cultural differences, and so on).

Activity 3: Levels of partnership in practice

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes

Look at the video, ‘Planning inter-agency work’, below. It shows practitioners from two organisations in London meeting to discuss how they might work together.

As you watch, make notes on the following points:

  1. Why have the two agencies decided to work together?
  2. What do they want to achieve? Have they any common goals?
  3. What different knowledge and skills can each organisation contribute?
  4. What resources have they agreed to share?
  5. What other practicalities need to be agreed?
  6. At what level of partnership are they operating?
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Wandsworth Youth Service: Planning inter-agency work
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Gillian, Charline and Junior are meeting to discuss how they might work together in response to concerns about young people ‘hanging about in the streets’. By working together, they believe they can provide young people with something more positive to do. Each agency already has a relationship with at least some of the young people mentioned and it makes sense to try to work together in order to develop a shared response to needs.

They know, through their contacts with young people and with parents, that the young people are interested in music. They each have resources and skills to bring to the project, including access to recording equipment, premises and staff, and they each agree to make some contribution, including paying for additional staffing. This will be a pilot project, which they plan to evaluate as the basis for developing longer-term work together. They also discuss another potential piece of joint work, specifically targeting Asian young men who are ‘known for getting into bits of problems in the community’.

They mention a number of other agencies which might play a role in supporting young people and with whom they have contacts. These include the housing department, the further education college and a faith-based organisation, as well as relationships that they have with parents and ‘the community’.

After their meeting, Gillian reflects that she achieved what she wanted – ‘getting Junior on board’. She recognises that Junior will bring skills, contacts and resources that can help her to achieve more than she could just by working on her own. We can assume that Junior also sees benefits for himself, and for the young people he works with, as a result of developing joint projects with the youth service.

We suggest that the two organisations are beginning to work on the cooperation step – exchanging information and also planning to change their activities and to share resources (at least for the duration of this pilot project) in order to achieve mutual benefit for each organisation. They agree to evaluate the project afterwards. The outcome of this is likely to determine whether they continue to cooperate and share resources, or whether they go back down a step.