Developing and Sustaining Partnerships
The purpose of this document is to draw out key lessons, illustrated with examples, from the ten projects which linked developing partnerships to learning and regeneration.
||Developing a Corporate Lifelong
Learning Strategy and a Learning Partnership
||Identify appropriate partnerships
and targets between new unitary authorities in the North West.
||Analyse and develop Bristol
||Establish a partnership to
achieve social and economic regeneration
||Motivate Greenwich people to
participate in lifelong learning through working in partnerships
||Build on existing Community
Education Partnership to improve coherence of lifelong learning locally and widen
participation from under-represented groups
||Develop the Learning Partnership
for the Education Action Zone
|St Austell &
||Secure a partnership between
learning, economic regeneration and community development to bring tangible benefits to
||Work in partnership with Oldham
and Bolton focusing on towns emerging from industrial decline in order to develop
performance indicators Towns: St Helens, Oldham, Bolton, Bury
||Work collaboratively with Higher
Education providers and schools to develop appropriate outreach activities for York school
1 Lessons from evaluating partnerships
1.1 Complexity of partnerships
Few communities develop what might be called 'greenfield' partnerships. It is important therefore that, in the early stages, partners have the chance to explore points of difference and to identify areas of work. And where partnerships already exist, it is necessary to discuss
Partnership problems often arise when people understand too little about each other's organisation's culture and priorities. Setting time aside to discuss this is time well spent.
The experience of the projects is that the 'partnership field' is complex; requires a high degree of personal and communication skills on behalf of key personnel, and clear lines of communication to ensure that targets are achieved.
Changing Government approaches to local partnership structures have had a dramatic impact on the energy and focus of all LCN Pathfinder projects. This is because partnership working is an essential ingredient in local learning and is highly susceptible to changes in the policy context.
Kirklees Metropolitan Council
Kirklees had a multitude of partnerships, many with the same organisations and overlapping/duplicating roles. There was little coherence in developing and sustaining cross sector partnerships to encourage participation and progression in learning for the whole community.
While some partnerships were well established, it became clear through using the Practice, Progress and Value Guide that all were still at the early stages of getting organised.
1.2 Different types of partnerships
There are many different types of partnerships: strategic, operational and community and others.
While there are principles common to all types of partnership - i.e. building trust, clear understanding of agendas and contributions, etc - actions and protocols may vary, particularly across the different levels of partnerships. Communities are encouraged to map the work of all partnerships and to tap into local knowledge, innovation and ownership. An accurate understanding of the types of partnership will in itself add value.
Birmingham Strategic Learning Partnership
This partnership is still in its early stages of development, although it has agreed its mission, values and protocol. Growth of the partnership has been impeded by national developments such as Learning Partnerships and Learning and Skills Councils. This has been exacerbated by a multitude of partners and existing partnerships (with overlapping remits), plus a history of competition in the area.
Operational - Corporate Lifelong Learning Strategy Group
This group has operated within the authority for a few years, providing a focus for lifelong learning across the authority. It has produced a strategy framework and, more recently, the local authority 'Lifelong Learning Development Plan'. In 1999, an
officer was appointed to develop the work of this group. Issues include the problem of fully engaging individuals from across a range of departments and how to effectively measure (at a corporate level) the impact of a wide range of learning activities.
Community - Area-based local learning partnerships
A number of these partnerships have developed in disadvantaged areas of the city, often (but not always) around funding such as SRB. They bring together organisations that share an interest in post -16 education and training and have a strong regeneration agenda. The partnerships appear to be most effective where a development worker has been appointed.
1.3 Partnership champions
Successful learning partnerships frequently develop through the efforts of a single individual - a 'champion' -who builds commitment to, and support of, the need for a common vision. This individual is usually already well known and respected within the community and already acts as a community ambassador.
As things develop, it becomes necessary to broaden the membership of the partnership. Strategic partners are needed who can give authority to the partnership and represent the community. The need to ensure wide ownership is especially important, lest a 'leadership gap' develops if and when the 'champion' moves on.
St Austell and Newquay
Previously, concerted action has proved difficult in this predominantly rural area with little industry apart from tourism and clay. But if a plan for a network of local learning communities has provided the spark, then an individual has been the catalyst.
The principal of a local FE College has played a key role in bringing together local agencies and interests to form the Restormel Action Group (RAG), which includes the chief executive and economic development officer of Restormel Borough Council. The Group, which includes business representatives and representatives of local town forums in Newquary and St Austell, is developing a 'learning for regeneration' strategy closely linked to the ESF Objective 1 programme.
1.4 Communication is critical to successful partnerships
Partnerships - of all types and at all levels - rely on effective and diverse methods of communications to sustain and develop their activity. Effective partnerships use a wide
range of communication tools to give, receive and reflect on information and messages relating to their activity.
A key component is a neutral body to take on a communications role. Sometimes an outsider can more easily spot the cause of tensions and may be better placed to tackle disagreements between partners.
Effective communication is critical to all players involved in partnership activity: e.g. paid staff, volunteers, Steering Groups, informal/formal networks, public bodies, the media and the broader community.
Green Apples Early Outreach project links higher education and secondary schools. The project's target group is young people with the capability of moving into higher education but no family or personal aspirations or experience that would lead them to do so.
This project, co-ordinated by Learning City York, has a high ownership by its twelve partners due to their early involvement in detailed discussions, development and review of the project model. At regular meetings, partners contributed to the plans, enabling a flexible model to develop according to individual organisations resources
and way of working.
2 Lessons about participation
2.1 Participation is a challenge to most partnerships
The Practice, Progress and Value Guide encourages partnerships to evaluate the ways in which they actively engage and receive feedback from the broad range of players. Experience from LCN demonstrates that very few began this from a Learning City concept. Some individual organisations have begun it where it has become part of their core business e.g. local government bodies.
Durham Learning City
Durham announced itself as a Learning City in 1994, with a launch to which high profile people from local organisations with an involvement in learning were invited.
However, it was unable to sustain the trust and investment of time/resources from its partners. It was not viewed by the community as having any relationship to 'me'. The relaunch of Durham Learning City reflected this learning, with a consultation conference focused on a broad range of professionals, to share preliminary aims and thus help shape future activity.
The drive for democracy and participation within local communities is beginning to be seen in the form of local area forums within local government structures, and residents becoming decision makers within major regeneration projects such as New Deal for Communities.
While there is a need for further research, information and communication technologies (ICT) do seem to be a tool which could greatly increase the opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions directly.
New Technologies West Berkshire Learning Partnership
Having made ICT a major priority for engaging the community in lifelong learning, West Berkshire spent 1999 reviewing the options and ways in which ICT could support existing partnerships and have developed a website as the first stage
in their work.
2.2 Share examples of participation practice
All projects welcomed the opportunity to hear about, and learn from, existing practice. The opportunity to hear what did and did not work is a valuable learning process. This provides ample chance for partners to reflect on replication issues within their own locality.
In Bristol local provider networks involving small community groups, as well as more conventional education sector bodies, meet regularly. They identify local needs and agree appropriate responses and who is best placed to deliver. Networks also share information and good practice. An umbrella statement of aims and objectives forms a protocol for these groups.
2.3 Build on existing good relationships within partnerships
Human capacity, trust and understanding take a substantial time to build within partnerships and are key to their success.
It is important to acknowledge the success of existing partners or sectors, and openly to consider ways in which this expertise and trust in partnership activity can be harnessed.
New partnerships may not always be required. Perhaps an existing partnership may consider broadening its scope and/or altering its structure to take on changing local context or external challenges.
The Council's goal is to widen participation and to raise achievement levels at all ages.
The means is community use of schools - to improve links with parents and employers, and to demonstrate the value of learning to the whole community. But the first step is to build a corporate partnership, to turn the links between council departments into a unified force to support schools. And at the same time ensure that a multitude of initiatives get joined up within the Council: Surestart, Education Action Zones and Single Regeneration Budget (SRB).
3 Lessons on performance
3.1 When does evaluation commence?
Many projects do not feel they are in a position to begin to evaluate their work - even at board level. They acknowledge the importance of it and admit they need to be able to list 'value added'. However, it is not a high priority.
Evaluation tends to happen only by external forces i.e. funding regimes, government or legal requirements. The 'voluntary' introduction of Learning Partnerships is a good example of the impact of external pressures to undertake evaluation upon local partnerships.
London's criss-crossing boundaries are an obstacle to coherent local government of education. But the White Paper Learning to Succeed is a force for change. Greenwich Learning Partnership is reviewing its role, membership and priorities. The key evaluation issue is the Partnership's role in raising achievement levels amongst the 30,000+ poor households in the Borough.
3.2 Use of a range of evaluation methods
Almost all activity undertaken within a learning community will have its own performance measures and outputs, determined by a combination of the funding body and the partners.
There should be flexibility for projects to create their own indicators, as well as using nationally or sectoral approved data.
Blackburn with Darwen
The key feature of the project was to identify baselines for both quantative and qualitative indicators.
This project built upon long-standing local partnerships and the availability of a common information dataset.
The partners were also able to share perceptions of how to measure quality in a way that would enable benchmarking with statistical neighbours elsewhere in the country.
Each partner shared resources and methods to establish baseline information: participation rates, curriculum mapping, community focused research groups, postal and telephone research with employers, local government indices, census population data, and desk research on past secondary data.
Partners - FE, LEA, Borough Council, Careers Service, TEC, Training Provider and WEA.
3.3 How to assess performance
Three of the ten projects used the evaluation framework to set internal targets and external benchmarking. This tended to be conducted as overlapping cycles of work, rather than in stand-alone phases.
Learning Towns out of Industrial Transitions aimed to identify measurable standards of performance that contribute to medium-term strategic goals for a Learning Town. The Project assessed the performance and contributions of partners in the context of: employment base, environment changes, qualification levels, learning opportunities
and National Learning Targets.
St Helens was invited and joined with Blackburn with Darwen - in a Benchmarking Club.
4 Practical Tips In Developing And Sustaining Partnerships
- Gaining or retaining private sector commitment to developing partnerships is a shared concern.
- Employers are keen to support specific projects. However most have little interest or time to be involved in the politics and processes in developing community/city wide partnerships.
- All partnerships share the need to ensure that funding is maintained.
- Guidance on funding approaches should be addressed in the very early stages of partnership development, focusing on key areas: secretariat/staffing, resources, publicity, delivery projects/services and research and evaluation.
- Funding structures and systems still encourage individual institutions to put their priorities first.
- Examples of existing practice are essential.
- All projects expressed a concern over 'partnership fatigue' and the issue of partnership sustainability.
- All projects stated that due to the rate of change, partnerships focus on outcomes first, and then begin to focus upon developing a strategic framework.
Potential causes of conflict:
- Inconsistent/poor attendance or lack of continuity of people at meetings.
- Meetings which do not have action outcomes.
- Decision-makers not delegating responsibility.
- Poorly-chaired meetings.
- Limited support/feedback of paid staff who are responsible for the day to day success of partnerships.
- Changing or different agendas not being acknowledged.
- Poor management systems for monitoring performance.
- Willingness of partners to be honest and to contemplate actions which may not always benefit their individual organisation.
Comments relevant to all forms of partnerships:
- Reviewing, as well as forming partnerships, is key.
- All partnership guidance needs to take account of the existence of current partnerships, build on their experiences and be aware of their effect on new ones.
- External consultancy can provide real help in brokering partnerships and should be considered by all at various stages of their development.
- Attention needs to be given to the specific needs of different kinds of partnerships at different levels: - strategic, operational and community based.
- All partnerships operate within an informal networking arrangement - it is important to ensure the connections are made appropriately.
- An absence of readily available and homogenous data makes comparative studies difficult.
- Resist the temptation to over-simplify existing partnerships within the community.
5 Research About Partnerships
Listed below is a summary of the growing literature on partnerships and regeneration as a guide for those involved in partnership activity.
There is overlap with the related fields of networks and clusters, and indeed, the three terms are often used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction.
Partnership tends to refer to bodies comprising representatives of a number of different types of agencies or organisations which come together to oversee or manage a joint activity. Partnerships are required for bids to European structural funds and to SRB. More recently, DfEE has proposed the creation of Learning Partnerships.
Networks tends to refer to organisations of the same type which are loosely linked to share ideas and experience. Learning City Network is a good example of this type, bringing together learning city and town partnerships from around the country.
Clusters tends to refer to organisations with similar purposes linking together in a defined locality to share ideas and experience. The term often refers to businesses, especially SMEs, which link up to improve their competitive position.
Competitiveness Through Partnership
First in series, TECs and Local Economic Development, summarises 19 national research and development projects funded by DfEE, including a number of the case studies from International Ideas and Innovation: Promoting Best Practice in Local Economic
Development (see below).
A Fruitful Partnership: Effective Partnership Working
1998, Audit Commission
International Ideas and Innovation: Promoting Best Practice in Local Economic Development
1997, Meridien Projects Limited, for DfEE
Deals with the role of TECs in local economic development through a series of case studies in the UK, US, France, Ireland and Italy. Includes useful analysis of seven different types of local economic development partnership, with defining characteristics and private sector role in each case.
Learning to Succeed
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Learning Towns, Learning Cities
Obtainable from DfEE Publications, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 6ZQ
Phone: 0845 6022260
Fax: 0845 6033360
Provides summaries of the activities of 19 learning towns and cities.
Local Partnership: A Successful Strategy for Social Cohesion?
1998, Michael Geddes, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin
Making Partnerships Work: a practical guide for the public, private, voluntary and community sectors
1997, A Wilson and K Charlton, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York
New Deal: Lessons from Local Partnerships in the UK
1998, Prof. Mike Campbell with Simon Foy and Jo Hutchinson, Policy Research Institute, Leeds Metropolitan University, paper presented to international conference on the Local Dimension of Welfare to Work, 18-19 November 1998, Sheffield, organised by OECD and DfEE.
Although the focus is on New Deal, especially at a local level, much of what is said can be applied generally to partnerships. The paper provides a set of messages which could be used as critical success factors or as a set of evaluation criteria.
"Practice, Progress and Value" Learning communities: assessing the value they add
1998, DfEE in collaboration with the Learning City Network, with a foreword by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, MP.
The Richness of Cities: Urban Policy in a New Landscape
1998, Sue Cara, Charles Landry and Stewart Ranson, Comedia in association with Demos.