In May 2016, The Intersector Project1 released a blog called “Telling the Story”. As this is an area of much interest to me I wanted to see if what they said aligned with a think piece of the same name published by The Partnering Initiative in 20032.
The original article has for many years inspired me to try to record the partnering journey that is being undertaken. It starts by saying that “Partnerships start out as stories inside our heads, and end up as stories out in the world” and here at DPS we have certainly found this to be the case. When you are considering partnering on a particular issue you may have preconceived ideas about who you might partner with, what the potential outcomes could be and how the partnership itself might progress.
However, we have seen time and again, that how the partnership ends up is often quite different to how we thought it might look like when we started out.
So why would you ‘tell the story’? what is the point?
Telling the story, first and foremost, allows us to see how far we’ve come. It lets us reflect upon the inevitable ups and downs of the journey, learn from our mistakes and build upon our successes. The Intersector blog acknowledged this, reminding us that “telling the story creates transparency and enables partners to communicate the value and legitimacy of cross-sector collaboration”.
Telling the story also allows you to correct minor detours in your journey towards a common purpose. It can form part of a continuous improvement process and “create learning opportunities for others, which may influence interest in and effectiveness of future intersector efforts”1.
But, how would you even tell the story? There are so many ways and I’m sure your partners would be able to inspire you to think of even more ideas. For example,
- The Intersector blog spoke of a Collective Impact initiative in Milwaukee, USA that had released a report on their work (telling the story).
- A community of practice I was involved with once told their story through a group conference presentation.
- An energy company that could see the benefit in working with community told their story through a CEO blog.
- Many Collective Impact initiatives share their stories through newsletters like the Intersector Project or through YouTube videos.
The opportunities are endless.
But these are examples of telling the story externally and I would advocate that there are just as many, if not more, benefits in making sure you tell the story internally to your partnership members and their organisations. This gives you the opportunity to encourage your partners to have ownership and pride in the work you have been doing together; and to be supported by partnership members when ensuring their organisation remains committed. In these instances, telling the story is about reminding members of the partnerships progress and highlighting the unanticipated benefits that have arisen out of the relationships built. Recording the story can be done through keeping a membership historical register, a spreadsheet of those unanticipated benefits, a record of the outcomes achieved or of the annual partnership member review or evaluation.
Whilst the Intersector reminded me of the relevance of Telling the Story, it didn’t inspire me as the original article did from over a decade ago.
As Ros Tennyson suggests, “To tell the story of a partnership is to recount an adventure, a quest to achieve something both unique and universal… In communicating this journey it is important not to skip over the obstacles faced… If there is one key piece of advice, it is this: allow for the heroic…2”
Telling your story can be a key tool in delivering better outcomes from your partnering initiative and it pays to take the time to reflect and document ‘what’ has been achieved and ‘how’ the partners have worked together.
- The Intersector Project (accessed 5 June 2016)
- Tennyson, 2003, The Partnering Toolbook – Toolbox 7, p. 34 The Partnering Initiative
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