When visiting Townsville recently I participated in a Community Learning Day, which focussed on ‘Partnering and Collaboration in Todays World’. While the major part of the day session was imparting some greater knowledge and skills to participants, as part of this day we heard some great examples of local cross sector partnering in the region and shared some of the key learning’s from these initiatives.
Presentations were given on three local case studies each with a different focus and a different style. The three examples showcased were:
- A Homelessness Hub undertaken by a Housing Connections consortium - a larger more formal partnership that is a place based. This initiative involves four major organisations and its key objectives are; to enhance the capacity of government; deliver a flexible, efficient and responsive service system, and to provide a pathway for clients to enter and exit the service system
- Churches of Christ – a place based initiative which focussed on the suburb of Vincent within Townsville and their aim to reduce crime amongst indigenous youth
- Youth Network - this was an event based initiative focussed on delivering activities for an annual youth week
While all the case studies had evolved through different pathways and ranged from quite formalised partnering arrangements to very informal ones there were some interesting learning themes that emerged.
One of the key messages from the Homelessness Hub was the need to take time early to set up the partnering foundations. Researching case studies and other examples, undertaking due diligence around other partners, unpacking concerns and difficult issues early and focussing on a communications strategy were all seen as areas to focus on more. Some specific learning’s highlighetd from this initiative included:
- Ensuring that any agreements allow for what happens when relationships break down and embodying this in any consortia agreements
- Working out how the partnership will be resourced
- Establishing the ‘buy in’ necessary
- Using an independent chairperson
- Starting the change process early, and
- Ensuring inclusiveness – keeping other parties engaged and involved throughout the process
A key issue raised in the Churches of Christ initiative was the resistance that organisations can find when dealing with difficult issues and trying to engage organisations and the community in resolution. Again the time taken in the early stages to build trust and get 'buy in' so that these group’s become ‘part of the solution’ not ‘part of the problem’ was a key success factor in achieving outcomes. Most importantly recognising that building trust takes time and energy and this foundation of trust has to be maintained over the long term.
The Youth Initiative was a much more informal partnering arrangement and very focussed on delivering a key event. One of the key challenges here was having sufficient resources available to support the coordination and development of the partnering process and the event organisation. Gaining commitment to longer term funding was also seen as key challenge.
Overall the Community Learning Day was seen as a great opportunity for shared learning around effective partnering processes as well as unpacking some practical case studies from the local region.
Again it highlighted to me the variety of contexts in which cross sector partnering is being used and the continual need for placing more rigour around partnering processes to give yourself and your partner organisations the best chance of achieving greater impacts.
It was also a great opportunity for those involved in partnering within the community to take a step back and reflect on what works and what doesn't. Sharing stories of practical examples of cross sector partnering in the region helped build on the theory and frameworks discussed as part of the Community Learning Day.