8. Building Effective Partnerships
8.1 Effective partnerships will be crucial to the success of the University for Industry and in the operation of the national network of Local Lifelong Learning Strategic Partnerships. Guidance should be given to ensure these initiatives add value to local provision and are closely coordinated.
8.2 Partnerships have a particular contribution to the development of learning cultures. They can help to widen participation, increase demand for learning and link together measures designed to strengthen local capacity and democracy.(29) For these reasons we welcome the recent protocol on cooperation agreed between the Further Education Funding Council, Local Government Association and TEC National Council, and supported by others, to establish Local Lifelong Learning Strategic Partnerships. These Partnerships should be closely linked to the proposed UFI Learning 'hubs' and consortia. They could also benefit from experienced gained in the operation of partnership agreements pioneered under the BBC 'Web Wise' initiative.
8.3 At their best, in bringing together like-minded organisations, effective partnerships are able to stimulate the pooling of resources and effort, encourage innovation and develop more flexible and varied provision for learners. At a minimum they can still constitute useful forms of accountability and structural and financial control. However, not all partnerships are effective, or can even become so, nor do all forms of successful collaboration require the creation of partnerships.
8.4 Many bodies which could make a marked difference to lifelong learning, by acting in concert, have spent the recent past developing their own individual strategies, often in response to an explicit policy drive of mutual competition and institutional single-mindedness. For them, learning the habits and good practices of collaboration will be part of the cultural changes we are advocating, including acting as bridges and connecting points in a society characterised by increasing fragmentation, isolation and individualisation.(30)
8.5 In this last regard, it has also to be said that the whole process of partnership and collaboration would be made easier if there were fewer rather than more bodies to consult and involve. Part of the secret of building effective partnerships entails making strategic, and sometimes quite difficult decisions, about who exactly should be drawn in to the immediate circle of partners and who might better serve the partnership, and be better served by it, by having other connections to it.
8.6 The role of government in partnerships is especially important in the implementation of its lifelong learning strategy. This entails not simply government's interest in securing closer collaboration between those agencies in the field with responsibilities for lifelong learning, as spelt out clearly in The Learning Age. It also entails Governments own unambiguous commitment to partnership both within government and between government and the other main players. From the discussions we have had, and tracing the development of policy so far in this field, we do not doubt the enormity of the challenge that this will present to government itself. Making progress here will be yet another element of the culture changes we are advocating, if the promise of the vision in The Learning Age is to be effectively carried through into practice. We do not presume to say precisely how best this should be accomplished. But, at the very least, it will require that effective liaison and coordination be systematically established within a number of departments of state, as well as between them.
8.7 The responsibility for fostering and evaluating partnerships between government and other partners should also be clearly designated. Without national and local champions, determined and licensed to overcome the usual boundary problems, partnership for government risks being a rhetorical flourish or something which merely requires everyone else's commitment.
8.8 Across the board, it will be necessary for those involved with the delivery of effective partnerships to develop new skills and competences and a sense of focus. Above all, they will need to be clear about the specific goals and purposes of particular partnerships and to ensure that these are expressed with clarity and are understood and shared by the other partners involved. In our working papers, we have set out a range of different types of partnership, a checklist of the features of effective partnerships and some guidelines on determining the appropriate level and membership of partnership for particular purposes. Much will depend upon local circumstances: there is no one model applicable for all circumstances.
8.9 In our working papers, we have identified a limited number of 'big issues', which all partnerships and intending partners should consider. They are:
8.10 A particular challenge for partnership will be the involvement of learners and potential learners themselves. Although this will not always be possible, it should always be striven for or considered. In any case, the voices of providers should never be taken as a surrogate for those of the learners themselves whose point of view and expression of their own needs is too often missing.
8.11 If learners and potential learners are to make an effective contribution to partnership, they should be properly resourced to do so and their role and rationale for their involvement should be understood by all concerned. At a very minimum, a systematic review of their experiences should constitute a principal element of properly functioning quality assurance mechanisms. Still better if the learners themselves are involved in a dialogue with providers to clarify their needs, discuss the curriculum, consider appropriate methods of delivery and explore progression routes, including those with other partners.
29 This section is based upon working paper Effective Local Partnerships for Local and Regional Partnerships for Lifelong Learning, NAGCELL working group convened by Professor Naomi Sargant.
30 See, for example, Michael Bichard 1998 Better Government for older workers depends on effective partnerships.
KR7 We recommend that government:
SR17 The Secretary of State could arrange for:
SR18 As part of a wider dissemination strategy and as a contribution to the campaign we propose, a series of consultation conferences on partnership should be held, making use of the materials which we have already assembled and drawing upon good practice.