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

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3.2 Co-working agreements

When working with a group of partners, it is important to agree an initial contract or set of ground rules in order to clarify what you each expect from each other and how you will work together. One of the stumbling blocks in partnership working is the assumptions that people may make about different elements of the work.

Gary, a detached youth worker, found that there were tensions between his team and the police. He highlights the importance of negotiating clear agreements before starting to co-work, and describes what he includes in such agreements, based on his own experiences of practice and what can go wrong.

Gary’s approach to partnership agreements

We sit down and clarify what is the purpose and the aim of the work. We would look at roles and responsibilities (as in who will do what and by when) and we would look to put in place regular meetings to reflect on what has been going on and to plan ahead.

We also look at how we would want to publicise anything we choose to do in terms of which names are getting mentioned, so that individuals do not claim all the glory … at planning in an end of project review [and] at the management structures. For example, if there were issues in relation to face-to-face delivery, which managers could or should be involved in unravelling some of those issues. At the end of the project we would produce a report where we would evaluate not only what we have produced but also what we have learnt from each other and the partnership working process.

We also negotiate partnership agreements on an individual basis. Even if I was co-working with one other youth worker from another discipline out on the street I would go through our code of conduct (in terms of how we operate on the street) before we began delivering together. For example, if young people use inappropriate language that co-worker needs to know what our boundaries are and how we deal with certain situations. There are also implications for us in terms of health and safety. As detached workers, when we are on the streets, our health and safety is always at the forefront of our minds. If we are taking workers from different disciplines they may not be aware of some of the importance of things like observation skills, constantly risk assessing, being in well-lit areas and being aware of what is behind you – the little things detached workers do instinctively.

(Gary, detached youth work coordinator)

One of the main advantages of written partnership agreements is that they provide a common reference point. As Gary says, much of our work may include things that we take for granted or that we do ‘instinctively’. When we are working with people from different professional backgrounds and professional cultures, approaches to work may need to be clearly spelled out and agreed.

One disadvantage may be that they might appear to indicate a lack of trust. Another may be that they give people less flexibility or room for manoeuvre. However, there is no rule about not renegotiating the agreement if it proves to be unhelpful and, again, having it written down provides a clear focus for this process.

The issues that need to be agreed will vary according to the nature and context of the work, but we suggest that issues to consider include:

  • Your aims and purposes: including how success will be measured and what data might be collected, how and by whom. For example, you might need to collect data on the numbers of young people involved, for funders; or there might be information that you want to collect for your own purposes.
  • Roles and responsibilities: who will be involved and who will be responsible for what.
  • Meetings: how often you will meet and the purpose of these meetings.
  • Codes of conduct: how you expect people to behave and treat each other.
  • How you will deal with problems: including how you will communicate with each other if a problem develops between meetings.
  • How you will review the work you are doing, including how you will evaluate your work at the end of the partnership if the partnership is likely to be time limited.