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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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4 Working in partnership

Two runners in a relay race
Figure 4 Working together

Partnerships are a complex type of team: they usually involve different organisations or different groups (e.g. staff and volunteers or service users) working together to achieve a common goal. The focus here is more on multi-organisational partnerships, whereby voluntary organisations work together or with organisations from other sectors.

A multi-organisational team is one drawn from different organisations. These may be within the same sector, but more often than not the organisations are drawn from different sectors as well. They could be a mix of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors such as:

  • a charity working with a local authority
  • a small voluntary organisation working with the police on a community event
  • voluntary organisations, local authorities and private sector organisations collaborating on a major initiative.

In some cases, for example in child protection, multi-organisation teams are a legal requirement, but in other settings, organisations have come together voluntarily because they can see advantages in pooling resources and expertise. In theory, partnerships can help voluntary organisations have a voice in decision making and give them access to more resources.

Partnership teams are complex because they involve all the issues raised so far about effective team working, but then a further layer of complexity is added. People from different organisations will be attempting to achieve a common goal but still bringing their own organisations’ objectives, viewpoints and challenges to the partnership table. As you can probably imagine, partnership working might not always run smoothly.

Many voluntary organisations will have experienced working in partnership, particularly in health and social care, where service users’ needs are complex and cut across departments and organisations. In these situations collaboration (another word for partnership) across organisational boundaries is vital to delivering better care. Other examples of partnerships where the voluntary sector plays a role could include urban regeneration, community projects, environmental initiatives, social housing, heritage projects or events, and so on.

Partnerships can be formal, with their own shared budgets and management committee, or informal. For example, people from different organisations meet occasionally to share ideas and plan joint events but still have a particular aim, such as developing a shared protocol for best practice in volunteer management in a particular field.

Many voluntary organisations run services for local authorities. This is usually a contractual relationship rather than a partnership. If the same voluntary organisations are asked to contribute to meetings discussing the future of services in a particular locality, then this might be more of a partnership. The difference is the degree to which partners are contributing to decision making and have a voice beyond a specified contract.

You might have direct experience of partnership working through representing your organisation at a partnership meeting, or perhaps you are aware that your organisation is involved with one or more partnerships. You might also have wondered why your colleagues contribute effort and resources to take part in what can be complex and time-consuming arrangements.