I have been thinking about and working on building and supporting partnerships for the last decade. In this time, I have developed my understanding of the elements of different types of partnerships and collaborations that define them. So, what are the considerations for characterizing organizational partnerships?
Transformative partnerships are reflected in inter-relationships that are collaborative, not just cooperative. Recurring themes in productive partnerships are common needs, respect, communication, flexibility/agility/resilience between organizations. There are several dimensions of quality to consider in partnerships, including partnership composition, organizational structure, operational guidelines, & qualities of the partnering relationships.
There are several questions that gauge the quality of partnerships around mutuality, trust, and leadership.
Mutuality and trust: Do the goals and objectives of the partnership address mutual needs across partners? What are the perceptions of trust across partners? What steps have partners taken to build trust? What is the nature of most interactions between partners? How respectful is the partnership to differences in cultural and organizational norms, values, and beliefs? How transparent are the operations?
Leadership: Who are the leaders of the partnership? Who led the development of the initial partnership? Are there one or more persons taking leadership? What are their roles? Is there participation from the top levels of the organizations?
But what do partnership at different stages look like? Beginning stages are represented by articulated plans but no actions. The element is “on the radar” but there is no substantive progress toward effective implementation. The quality of the plans is inconsistent. Outcomes are not possible because no plans have been put into action. Plans may not provide adequate foundation for full implementation. Emerging stages are represented by clear and articulated plans with some initial actions setting the stage for implementation, but not enough substantive activity to establish implementation. The quality of the articulated plan may be very strong or may have some apparent weaknesses amidst other strengths. Outcomes are not imminent or predictable because high quality implementation has not reached a minimum threshold. Developing stages show clear, strong implementation is in place, although there are corrections for barriers, changes to plans or consistency/satisfaction across stakeholders might be mixed. Positive outcomes are evident but all goals are not fully realized or not on track. Transformative stages show such a clear, strong enacted plan. It can be considered a model for others to use. Positive outcomes associated with the partnership seem inevitable or highly predictable.
See my presentation for the Washington Evaluators for an expanded conversation about how evaluation practices can support transformative partnerships!