An A to Z of partnerships and networks

This is a revised version of an A-Z originally developed in 1994. See also the Guide to Effective Participation which also includes an A-Z with a focus on community involvement. If you want to use any of the material, please contact me. David Wilcox <>


The lowest level of Government is the individual.

Accountability means knowing who is answerable to whom - often difficult in a partnership or network where paid staff have different employers, and activists a range of allegiances. To clarify accountability in practice consider:

• Who can stop someone doing something?

• Whose permission is needed for someone to act?

• Who pays them?

Think of accountability through a process of community involvement as well as representation, and in relation to specific projects as much as structures. See Terms of reference.

Action plans

Ideas won't keep, something must be done about them. Alfred North Whitehead.

Action plans answer questions of: what do we do next? who does it? with what resources? Action minutes after meetings should ensure something happens, and clarify accountability.


Activists is used here to mean those people active in local organisations and/or developing projects for community benefit, but who are not paid workers. While clearly key people to involve in partnerships and networks, there is a danger of the same faces dominating and being seen as a clique. To avoid this, and involve more people, do some networking and run workshops.


It might be termed the Law of Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved. C. Northcote Parkinson.

Agendas are the traditional means of planning a formal meeting, circulated with back-up papers. Workshops need a different approach, with charts, posts-its and other ways of stimulating interaction. See also Outcomes, Team building, Vision.

Agendas - hidden

The different interests in a partnership or network will have different aims, and agendas for achieving them. Success comes from finding where these agendas overlap. Conflict develops from lack of understanding or disclosure. The question is: ‘What are we trying to achieve - together?’ Finding the answer usually requires a process to develop trust, projects with priorities — and recognising that communities are not uniform but include many different interests

Aims and objectives

Aims are a written description of what a group or organisation is trying to achieve, and the objectives are the methods by which they may do that. The different interests in a partnership will all have their own aims and objectives — so focus on where these overlap. See also, Outcomes, Purpose, Vision.


You will need some in forming a partnership — to provide personal support and act as a sounding board; offer advice; host meetings; champion your ideas.

Asset base

If partnerships are to sustain their activities beyond a few years, they need to plan how to generate revenue after initial grants ends. Development Trusts general aim to create an asset base of land or buildings which may provide rental or other income.


Some of the main barriers to participation and partnership lie in the attitudes people bring to the process. Residents may lack confidence or feel action is not their responsibility. Officials may see getting the job done quickly as a top priority, even if it doesn't meet the needs of all concerned. Councillors may feel their power is eroded by sharing decision making with local people. Non-elected representatives may be uncertain of their roles. Help people to get to know each other and broaden their ideas through workshops, and socials.

See also Commitment, Ownership, Stakeholders.

Barriers to partnership

These may include

• One partner manipulates or dominates.

• Differences of philosophy and ways of working.

• Lack of communication.

• Unequal and unacceptable balance of power and control.

• Unclear, hidden or incompatible agendas.

• Some partners brought in late.

Address these through a process to build trust. See also Agendas, Control, Communication, Partnership building.


Partnerships are generally formed with the expressed intention of providing some wider benefit… but there is always a danger that they become inward looking. Who are the intended beneficiaries? Do they get a say through community involvement or representation?


The benefits of forming a partnership for the partners may include bidding for funds otherwise not available; pooling skills and experience; getting a new angle on a problem. Does this outweigh costs — and does it also benefit the intended beneficiaries?

Bids for funding

Funding bids are probably the main trigger for partnership formation. In preparing bids:

• Treat the bid as the start of business planning, if you are forming a new organisation.

• Aim for a mix of funding — not just one source.

• Think through aims and objectives independently of the bid. Meet your own purpose as well as your funder’s.

• Place the bid in a partnership-building process.


Think sideways! Edward de Bono.

Brainstorming is defined as 'a means of getting a large number of ideas from a group of people in a short time'. It is one of the most widely used workshop techniques, and useful when partnerships are trying to shape their agenda and tackle problems creatively.


After you have defined the problem or question:

• Throw up every idea you can. Don't discuss or reject any.

• Record ideas on a chart — one idea may spark off another.

• When ideas dry up, cross off those agreed as ludicrous.

• Look for common themes and possible solutions.

• Draw up an action plan.

Business planning

Any partnership which aims to keep going in the long term needs a business or development plan. For a non-profit organisation the plan will balance the costs and income of three parts of its operation:

• The projects, products or services provided by the organisation.

• The core staff, premises and equipment.

• Any fundraising.

The business plan should cover at least three years and show how fundraising and any income earned from projects covers the core costs.

See also Companies, Constitution, Fundraising.


Partnerships work because of people. You will need to find people prepared to champion the idea within potential partner organisations and in the wider community. Value these allies, and bring them together in socials as well as more formal events.


Partnerships usually involve change: seeing things from other people's point of view, respecting into other people's ways of doing things and changing your own. This can be threatening, but it can also be enormously creative. It can painful, but it can also be fun. Either way it takes time, which is why creating partnerships should be seen as process, not a structural fix.

Charitable status

A charity is not a particular form of organisation, different from a company or community group. Both may be charities, if they are accepted and registered as such by the Charity Commissioners. (In Scotland and Northern Ireland registration is directly with the Inland Revenue). To be registered as a charity an organisation must have appropriate objects.


Charitable status adds credibility to an organisation, provides some tax benefits, and enables it to apply to large charities for funding. In general charities can only make gifts to other charities. There are, however, restrictions on trading and members of any management committee have substantial additional responsibilities as trustees. Consulting a solicitor or organisation specialising in charity law will save you a lot of time and possible confusion.


These may be flip charts — pads of large paper used with an easel — or simply lining paper tacked to the wall. They are an essential tool of partnership-building, because they help you break out of committee mode. Committees need agendas and minutes — workshops need charts. In using charts:

• Stick charts up as you write them, so people can see early work.

• Offer the pen to others in the group.

• Keep charts or photograph them as a record.


Two complaints are often heard in community-based organisations: those on the outside maintain a small clique of people decides everything, and no-one else can get a look in. Those on the inside complain they are overworked and others are apathetic. To avoid this, if you are inside aim for transparency, and practice community involvement. Think about other people’s agendas as well as your own. If you are outside, look for some positive ways to engage… go for practical collaborations.


The centre line of partnership-building is gaining commitment. It depends on developing a shared vision, and some ownership of the ideas which are to be put into practice.


What is a committee? A group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary. Richard Harkness.

Committees of partnership organisations can pose particular problems because almost inevitably people come from different background, and probably haven’t worked together before. In order to overcome this, run workshops and organise socials to complement formal events

Meetings checklist

To improve your committee meetings, get members to agree to:

• Read papers beforehand and bring them to the meeting.

• Check what they don't understand and research background.

• Turn up at the right time and stick to the agenda.

• Think before speaking and listen to other people .

• Seek decisions on which all can agree.

• Record what needs to be done.

• Read the action minutes and take any action necessary.


Information is giving out; communication is getting through. Sydney J. Harris

Effective communication involves considering how your message will be received as well as how you send it: the meaning of any communication lies in the response you get. Obvious barriers are:

• Lack of clarity about what you want to get across.

• Jargon.

• Hostility to you or your organisation.

• Lack of credibility in the message or the person giving it.


Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same. George Bernard Shaw

Community is a term so widely applied that it is in danger of losing any meaning, like 'members of the public'. Aren't we all? It is more useful to think of a large number of over-lapping communities distinguished by the characteristics of their members, and the common interests which tie members together and give these characteristics a shared significance. Because individuals may belong to many different communities at the same time, different allegiances may people pull in different directions. There are likely to be competing and conflicting interests within communities. See also networks.

See also Stakeholders.

Community forum

A community or neighbourhood forum is a regular meeting of community activists and interest groups which may also involve local business, political, religious and social organisations. It may be useful for discussion of issues of concern to local interests, and for stimulating contacts and networking. A forum is not so good for turning discussion into action, where some complementary 'do it' organisation like a Development Trust may be needed.

Setting up a community forum

• Avoid domination by any one interest group.

• Consider splitting meetings into small groups so people have more chance to contribute.

• Seek an independent widely-respected chair.

• Make any servicing of the forum - developing agendas, recording discussion - as independent as possible.

• Don't make the forum the only channel for communication.

See also Networking, Small groups, Structures.

Community Involvement

Partnership bodies can be just as inward looking and autocratic as larger bureaucracies. In planning community involvement:

• Think beyond ‘the community’ to different interests.

• Consider the level of participation which may be appropriate. Be explicit about how much ‘say’ and involvement people may have.

• Meet people informally.

• Use a range of participation methods — print, events, workshops — if you are aiming for more than basic information giving.

Involve partners, and treat them as communities in their own right, and run internal workshops to gain commitment.


A particular form of company, the company limited by guarantee, is increasingly popular as an organisational structure for partnerships. Companies limited by guarantee do not have shareholders — instead their members agree to pay a nominal sum, often only 1, if the company fails. The rights of these members to appoint members of the governing body — the Board — are defined by the constitution — the Memorandum and Articles of Association. The company does not distribute surpluses as profits, but reinvests them in the company. If the members of the Board are unpaid, and the company has appropriate objects, it can seek charitable status.

See also Development Trusts and structures


A constitution sets out governing rules for an organisation. For a company it is the Memorandum and Articles of Association. Constitutions are important at the beginning, when a body is being set up, and when there is an argument about control. Generally:

• Clarify aims and objectives, vision, and an action plan before drafting the constitution.

• Avoid using the constitution to resolve disputes.

• Consult a solicitor with experience of non-profit organisations if you are forming a company.

Constitutions should come after you have decided what the partnership is going to do. In the meantime, you may need some interim arrangement to guide the start up process, like a steering committee.


A consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, and charges you by the minute to do it.

Consultants may be most helpful for partnerships if:

• They act as ‘process consultants’ to help groups through the partnership-building process, and/or

• They act as independent facilitators during that process

• They have clear briefs for specific project studies.

• They provide support and training around key issues.

It is a mistake to ask consultants to design partnership structures or programmes unless they work closely with all the key interests.


Consultation is the level of participation at which people are offered some choices on what is to happen, but are not involved in developing additional options. As such it is not a level of partnership.


Control in partnerships tends to lie with those who have the money, skills and administration — however well intentioned they may be in seeking to involve others. For that reason partnerships formed around existing organisations may seem very unequal to other participants. Ways around this include:

• Checking whether ‘partnership’ is the right label for what is being attempted. Would consultation or contract be more appropriate?

• Being explicit about accountability and terms of reference.

• Setting up formal partnerships when the aim is to share control.

• Dispersing control by creating a network structure around projects.

See Networks, Power, Structures


Partnerships do cost time, money and commitment if they are to work. Creating the partnership can take up to a year in the case of a formal structure like a development trust. They will need volunteer or staff time, and resources for projects. Will the costs outweigh the benefits?


It is difficult to provide a single definition for partnerships, which can vary considerably in structure and purpose. However, they generally bring together interests from different sectors towards a common aim; share risks, skills and resources; and seek to achieve mutual benefit and synergy. Partnership is more than loose cooperation, coordinating separate activities - or contracting for services.


Incorporated partnerships like Development Trusts which aim to regenerate neighbourhoods may face challenges over their accountability to local people, and calls that their governing bodies - the Board - should be democratically elected.

Some trusts do hold elections, either within the community as a whole, or among local organisations. However, there may be tension between this desire for representation and the need to appoint Board members who have the confidence and competence to run a company, and possibly also act as trustees. It is possible to have a mix of appointed and elected Board members. Plan effective community involvement to ensure some participative democracy.

Development trusts

The Development Trusts Association defines Development Trusts as:

"Community-based organisations working for the sustainable regeneration of their area through a mixture of economic, environmental and social initiatives. They are independent, not-for-profit bodies - often registered charities - which are committed to the involvement of local people in the process of regeneration and aim to be locally accountable in the work they do."

They should not be confused with community trusts, which are fundraising and grant-making bodies. Development Trusts are usually incorporated as a non-profit distributing company with several paid staff to work on projects. They often aim to develop an asset base to ensure their sustainability.


The term director may have two meanings in a Development Trust: first, a member of the Board who is a director under company law, and probably unpaid; second, the chief member of staff, perhaps termed the executive director. He or she will probably not be a member of the Board, and certainly cannot be if the Trust is a charity.

Electronic forums

Email or World Wide Web makes it simple (for those online) to engage in collaborative working or discussions without having to be in the same place, or on the phone, at the same time. Forums can be another tool of community involvement — but are no substitute for ‘real’ meetings.


Email transforms partnerships in two ways: first it enormously increases efficiency of operation through easy one-to-one messaging, and many-to-many electronic forums. Second, it challenges hierarchies and makes it easier to operate through equal-status teams. Since anyone can communicate with anyone else anytime, decisions don’t have to wait on committee meetings.


Partnerships are built as much through the relationships of people as formal structures; and the way to build relationships is by bringing people together. Events are the milestones in the process of creating a partnership; whether formal events like steering group and Board meetings, presentations or launches, or informal events like breakfast briefings, lunches or socials.


As opposed to face-to-screen…. F2f is used particularly by online people to remind themselves that sometimes the best way to communicate is to put one head in front of another, preferably in a convivial environment.


Facilitators are to workshops what chairpersons are to committees. They use charts, post-its and other techniques like brainstorming and SWOT to help groups establish priorities and develop action plans — rather than work through a formal agenda. You need both in partnerships.

Factors for success

These include:

• An agreed need that a partnership is necessary

• An agreed strategy with clear objectives

• Respect and trust between different interests.

• Compatible ways of working, and flexibility.

• Being effective at managing and delivering.

• Time to build the partnership.

Five Ws plus H

The simplest questions are the hardest to answer. Northrop Frye

A simple checklist to help you think of issues:

What are you trying to do, decide, explain?

When must you start and finish?

Why is it necessary?

Who needs to be consulted, involved?

Where is it happening?

H stands for How, which follows the Ws.


In planning any fundraising consider:

• What do you need the money for, and how much? Do a budget.

• When will you need it? Produce a Time Line.

• What will you do if you can't raise the total you need?

• Who is likely to fund you, and why should they support you?

• Will you need more money later when initial funds are used up?


Governance is the issue of ‘who is in charge — ultimately’. In an organisation or company it is clearly the management committee or Board. Governance and accountability is less clear in a network, which may raise concerns if the network is dealing with public funds and community concerns. This may be dealt with by transparency, community involvement and participation.

Joining up

Increasingly partnerships are formed to ‘join up’ the activities of different agencies. Government is a strong advocate of ‘joined up thinking’. The test of effectiveness is whether a partnership can go beyond joined up writing (of bids) through joined up talking and thinking to joined up delivery. See projects and teams.


A launch can be useful both externally internally:

• It provides a formal start line if used at the beginning, when you can outline the overall process and your stance to others.

• It is a good time to attract media coverage.

• It is an opportunity for social contacts.

• It is a deadline for making decisions and preparing materials.

Legal advice

Consult a solicitor if you are forming a company and/or seeking charitable status. However, do choose one who specialises in this field… it can be a false economy to take ‘free’ advice.

Management committee

The management committee is the governing body for an organisation, to which staff are accountable. In a company it is the Board of directors. It is important to strike a balance in composition: little will be achieved if everyone on the committee has to learn how to manage an organisation. However, a committee which has no representation of key interests may well find itself in difficulty. Networks may operate as ‘self governing’ groups, in which case community involvement and participation will be particularly important.


News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising. Lord Northcliffe.

The media is mainly in the business of interesting and entertaining its users, and of selling itself or advertising. It is not there as a public service to promote your ideas or project. Journalists judge what is news against 'news values' which generally include:

• Conflict (where's the row).

• Hardship (how many hurt, who is in danger).

• Oddity (that's unusual).

• Scandal (sex, corruption).

• Individuality (what an interesting person).

• Disclosure (we can reveal).

Local journalists have a more relaxed view than Lord Northcliffe, but you do need to consider what's in the story for them. In producing a press release, make sure you have answered the Five Ws plus H.


Meetings are at the heart of partnership building processes, whether social get-togethers, committees, workshops, or public meetings.

Meetings checklist

For effective meetings, consider:

• Style of the meeting. If it is to be a creative workshop rather than a committee, make sure people know that in advance.

• An accessible venue (public transport, disabled access).

• Child care (crèche, financial assistance).

• What information and notice is appropriate beforehand. Provide papers with options for formal meetings, but only an outline for a workshop so that people are spontaneous.

• Any aids you will need: charts, projectors etc.

• The layout of the room, and scope for breaking into small groups. Avoid a platform and lecture-style seating

• Good management of the meeting itself, and follow-up: see Action plans, Committees, Public meetings, Workshops.


Partnership organisations may have wide (public) or limited membership, which may or may not have rights to elect the management committee or Board. If you do plan a membership, consider what benefits you will offer and the costs of providing any services.


Any partnership undertaking substantial work has to consider whose banks account holds funds, and who can sign the cheques. This consideration, more than any other, is likely to determine the structure of a partnership. The account could be with an existing organisation, or that of a new partnership company. ‘Networky’ partnerships may be able to manage by different team using different organisations as fund holders.


We are all members of networks — of friends, family, work, acquaintance, hobbies — and communities can be seen a lots of interlinked networks. Online communication makes it much easier to develop and sustain networks, and richness of connections they offer. Because of this, partnerships are becoming more ‘networky’. Networks place more emphasis on connections between individuals than partnerships formed by bringing different groups or organisations together. One model for a ‘networky’ partnership is linked project teams.


Networking is the important business of making informal contacts, chatting, and picking up further contacts. It is the way to learn:

• What issues people consider important.

• The sort of ideas and language they find familiar.

• Who are the key people and organisations — the stakeholders.

Networking is important before other more formal information-giving like producing leaflets, staging exhibitions and holding meetings. National networking organisations may also be able to provide you with local contacts, and similar projects elsewhere. Online communication has added another dimension to networking because it is possible to keep in touch more easily and cheaply.

Not invented here

The opposite of ownership, and one of the most significant barriers to participation and partnership. People are far more likely to participate effectively in partnerships if they play a part in developing ideas and action plans. Networks may enable people to maintain their own territories - but still require some shared commitment.


Online is where you are when you are connected to the Internet…. a global network of computers enabling you to use email, World Wide Web and other tools increasingly essential to partnerships. See email, WWW , virtual teams and networks for why. The UK Government has set targets for all citizen dealings with Government to be online by 2005. That means all inter-organisational dealing are likely to be online too. If you are not online, you will be out of the loop.


Outcomes is used here to describe those general results of plans and actions which you are seeking to achieve. Thinking in terms of outcomes which you may see, hear, feel as well as the more abstract aims and objectives should help clarify what to do to achieve what you want. For partnerships to work well, the outcomes sought by different parties must dovetail to some extent.


Outputs are the measurable results of projects or programmes — homes built, people who have completed training — and are dear to funders who want to know what they are getting for their money.


The more you let yourself do, the less others let you do. Friedrich Nietzsche.

The stake that people have in an idea, a project or an organisation is fundamental to their commitment. For that reason, early brainstorming workshops, where everyone has a chance to contribute ideas, are important.

See also Control.


Participation is used here to describe a process by which individuals, groups and organisations are consulted about or have the opportunity to become actively involved in a project or programme of activity.


All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. George Orwell.

Partnerships are formal or informal arrangements to work together to some joint purpose. In my view:

• Informal partnerships work best when the project is specific and clearly achievable.

• Where the task is complex and long term it may be necessary to create a more formal structure for decision-making .

• It is difficult to tackle a wide range of issues through an informal partnership. It is better to treat this as consultation, or form a network where different groups tackle different projects.

• Simply setting up a partnership structure doesn’t solve the problems. You still need to clarify joint purpose, values etc.

Partnerships do not have to be equal — but the various parties do need to feel that they are involved to an appropriate degree.

Partnership building

Partnerships, like relationships, take time to develop. Are partners after the same thing (outcome)? Do they have the same idea of what is important (values)? Do they trust each other? It may be helpful to think of developing a partnership as a four-stage process:

• Initiation: something triggers the idea of a partnership.

• Preparation: the initiator plans how to involve others.

• Action: the partnership is formed.

• Continuation — or separation.

Post-it notes

A great technical aid to collective decision-making, and an improvement on basic Brainstorming. When running workshops give people pads of Post-its to write their ideas on, then stick them on a chart and move them around into groups.


Issues of power and control are central to the development of partnerships. For example:

• Do all key interests have an equal ability or opportunity to participate in developing in the partnership if they wish?

• Who designs the partnership building process; to whom are they accountable?

• Who sets the timetable and controls the funds?

• Who makes the final decisions?

The rhetoric of partnership can often be used to disempower people if it is used - consciously or unconsciously - to mask these fundamental questions. Partnerships should aim to increase the 'power to' of partners while avoiding imbalances of 'power over' that are unacceptable to some partners.


Used here to mean paid workers involved in local organisations and/or projects for community benefit.


One effective means of clarifying the purpose and values of a partnership is to brainstorm project ideas, and then as a group to prioritise what is most important, and what has to be done first.

Private sector

Businesses, large or small, are as much part of any community as local residents and are key partners for partnerships like Development Trusts for several reasons:

• Trusts need business skills among both staff and Board members.

• Companies may be able to offer help in kind of premises, equipment and staff time. Occasionally they may offer funding.

• The private sector will be an important partner in developing Trust projects and programmes.

• In the long term local businesses are the key to local prosperity and a healthy local economy.

Public meetings

It is a general error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare. Edward Burke.

Although widely used, public meetings are not the most effective method of involving people. While they may be useful giving information, and gaining support around a clear-cut issue, they are poor vehicles for debate and decision-making. Classic public meetings with a platform party can easily be dominated by a small number of people, and become stage sets for confrontation.


If you do hold a public meeting:

• Ensure good preparation and publicity.

• Research and focus on local concerns.

• Keep any presentations short with opportunities for response.

• Consider breaking into small groups for some of the time.

• Choose someone independent and locally respected as chair.

• Ensure the venue is easily accessible.

• Build on the results and report back on progress.

• Make a public meeting the last thing you do in a process - not the first - after networking and workshops.


The creation of a partnership should be seen as a partnership building process — not simply formalisation of a structure. During that process partners have to work on a multitude of practical tasks, and also develop trust in each other and a shared style of operation.


Projects are what partnership do in order to achieve their desired outcomes. In order to turn the statements of purpose into reality, concentrate on developing projects ideas, prioritising and forming teams to carry them out.


'If one does not know to which port one is steering, no wind is favourable.' Seneca.

A statement of purpose is a summary in a sentence or two of your intention — your aims and objectives. Statements of purpose may start out as broad intentions like 'we aim to create a better place to live and work'. They become meaningful when the aim is followed with statements of how: for example 'by providing advise and support for practical environmental projects'. There may be a number of these 'how to' statements which are objectives. If they are measurable, they become targets.

See also Aims and objectives, Outcomes, Vision.


The conventional way to address accountability is to elect or appoint people from different interest groups to the partnership or other structure. This may not be appropriate where the focus is on delivering a number of short-term projects through a network approach. Instead aim for community involvement to ensure those interested havea say and/or play a part.


Unfortunately there is often an inverse relationship between the extent to which organisations say they want to work in partnership, and the extent to which they practice what they preach. In order to challenge an excess of rhetoric, ask exactly how interested parties can participate. Is there any shared control? Does power to act lie with only one partner? Who benefits? One advantage of a constitution is that it makes these issues explicit.


Partnership consultant Drew Mackie offers the acronym SCOPE as a way of summarising criteria for choosing a structure

Sustainability: will any inititative be able to keep going long enough to do the job.

Clarity: is it evident to all just who is doing what and why.

Purpose: is that clear, and does it have general support.

Ownership: will any new arrangements command the support of communities, local organisations and the agencies.

Effectiveness: will the new arrangement get the job done.

Use SCOPE to review any proposed structure.

Small groups

Large meetings and committees are usually unsatisfactory for working through difficult issues. Take some time to break into groups and report back. Keep the group between 3 and seven or eight in size. Avoid formal group leadership…encourage all to participate, with someone recording ideas on a chart.


Among the committee meetings and workshop sessions allow time for social events where people can get to know each informally. Celebrate success, keep each other cheerful during tough times.


Stakeholders are those with an interest, because they will be affected or may have some influence.

Stakeholder analysis

In order to think through the role of stakeholders:

• Consider who the key stakeholders are.

• Put yourself in their shoes: how are they likely to react ?

Steering committee

Steering committees are groups, often with wide representation, responsible for the direction of a project. In order to ensure all parties play a part:

• Clarify accountability and terms of reference.

• Run some sessions as workshops, rather than formal committee meetings, and develop agreed action plans.

Consider whether you need a committee to 'steer' others - or whether to go for a flatter self-governing structure. If you want to bring in more people, they may be better seen as advisors.


Successful partnerships are not created solely by choosing the right structure, any more than marriages are made just by marriage vows. Partnerships should be founded on a clear purpose, trust, and appropriate projects — and that takes a partnership-building process over time. If you are planning a big programme where a number of interests want a real stake over a long period, go for a company. If you are planning a number of short term projects, consider working through an existing organisation. Bear in mind

• Whoever holds the cheque book controls the project or programme. Should this power to lie with an existing organisation, a new one - or several project-related groups?

• Staff will ultimately follow the directions of whoever pays their wages.

• Information is power, and whoever produces papers, agendas and writes the minutes controls formal meetings. Reduce this problem by running workshops with independent facilitators, followed by more formal decision-making

The acronym SCOPE (sustainability, clarity, ownership, purpose, effectiveness) should help you make a choice on structure.


How things are done can be as important as what is done in partnerships. Are operations transparent, or do things seem to be run by cliques? Are meetings formal committee style, or is there a flip chart in the room (and used)? Being open doesn’t mean being ineffective… but nor does ‘everyone must have a say’ achieve results. Strike a balance.


Forming a partnership may not be easy — but keeping it going may be tougher. For that reason Development Trusts, and other formal partnerships that employ staff, properly put a lot of emphasis on business planning and creating an asset base. In order to achieve their social objectives they need first to create a viable non-profit business. There is, of course, a danger that the desire for a sustainability overshadows the original purpose…. and the partnership expands its activities simple to stay in business. In some circumstance it may be more appropriate to plan for a time-limited initiative working through existing organisations.


SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It's a good technique to start planning a partnership.

Using SWOT

When you are clear what your aim is:

1 Brainstorm issues under each heading. Strengths and weaknesses relate to internal matters for the group or organisation, opportunities and threats to the external. Divide up a chart, and ask people to fill in and stick on Post-it notes.

2 Draw up a summary and discuss how to build on your strengths, do something about your weaknesses, make the most of the opportunities, avoid or eliminate the threats.

3 Turn these conclusions into project ideas and prioritise for an Action plan.


One of the main reasons for a partnership is to make 2 + 2 = 5. This may come by getting more funds or other resources than partners can alone; matching skills; or creating innovative ways of looking at problems.

Take stock

At the start of a partnership-building process take stock by carrying out a SWOT analysis, identifying stakeholders and clarifying your aims and objectives.

Team building

Team building is the process of helping a group develop shared aims and objectives, values and a plan to put them into action. People working together are better able to get to know each other than, for example, members of a management committee meeting every month or two — so team-building workshops can be particularly important for partnerships. I suggest, if possible, bringing in a trainer who specialises in team building to plan a programme. If not, an ‘away day’ with a facilitator to work on simple techniques like Brainstorming and SWOT can achieve a lot.


Instead of creating lots of sub committees, consider setting up project teams with a mix of appropriate skills and a team leader to chase progress. If the teams include people from different organisations or groups, and then network together, you have a ‘flat’ partnership. Someone has to coordinate — but that can be done by running workshops and online discussion with team leaders.

Terms of reference

Any committee, group or team needs clear terms of reference covering:

• The purpose and membership of the group.

• Who services it.

• How often it meets — and for how long.

• The topics or issues the group covers.

• The powers of the group to make decisions.

• What funding it has, if any

The outcomes expected.

• To whom it reports.


It takes time to save time. Joe Taylor.

Everything takes longer than you think — even when you know it does. Drawing a timeline is a simple technique to set priorities among activities and events that must be completed in creating a partnership or carrying out programme.

• Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper.

• Graduate it into appropriate blocks of time (days, weeks, months). The first mark is NOW, the last the completion date.

• Think of all the tasks to be completed.

• Place the tasks on the time line in the order of when they have to be done, and which are the most important to do at a particular time.

Trading company

Charities cannot engage in income-generating trading unless it is pursuit of their objectives. They can, however, set up subsidiary trading companies which covenant profits back to the charity. If you are considering this type of arrangement consult a solicitor and an accountant experienced in the field. While the option may appear attractive, many charities have found trading companies problematic. Unless well run, they can cost more than they earn.


If partnerships and networks are using public money and/or aiming to work in the public interest, their activities should be open to scrutiny… they should be transparent except where matters are necessarily confidential. This may be achieved through planned community involvement and participation. The move towards online communication will increase demands for transparency because it is so easy to disseminate information through email and Web sites.

Trust - confidence

Trust is an essential foundation for all aspects of participation and partnership. It comes from working together and through that discovering shared values and ways of doing things. In order to develop trust:

• Draw out and deal with any suspicions from past contacts.

• Be open and honest about what you are trying to achieve — and about any problems.

• Be prepared to make mistakes — and admit them.

• Meet people informally.

• Deliver what you promise.

Trust — holding in trust

Trust is a term rather loosely used for different types of organisations. When lawyers use 'Trust' they may mean a legal arrangement created through a Trust deed in which trustees are bound to use funds provided by a benefactor to assist beneficiaries. Trust is also used in the title of various partnership organisations like Development Trusts and community trusts. Here it does not a have a strict legal meaning, but usually implies that the organisation is a charitable company or has charitable purposes.


If a Development Trust or other partnership is a charitable company, the Board of directors will also be trustees - that is, they will have responsibilities under the Charities Acts as well under company law. These responsibilities are wide ranging, and trustees should be well briefed and offered training in their role.


In any assembly the simplest way to stop the transaction of business and split the ranks is to appeal to a principle, Jaques Barzun.

Values are statements of what we consider important. Since they may be emotive, political, and difficult to express, they are frequently hidden. However it is difficult to understand each other or reach agreement if we are unclear about values. For example, council officers faced with a tight project timetable may be frustrated by a community group which insists on numerous meetings, held in the evenings, leading to the appointment of a representative steering group. The officers value cost-effective delivery of 'product' acceptable to their political masters and the Government; the group values openness and democratic process. In groups where there may be underlying differences of values it is often most productive to concentrate first on what there is in common by discussing outcomes — what you would like to happen at the end of the day — and how you can get there.


You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were, and I say 'Why not?' George Bernard Shaw

The idea of a vision of the future seems to me rather broader than purpose , because it places more emphasis on values and approach — how you do things as well as the result you achieve. Vision may be a helpful term if you are using participation techniques that encourage people to create pictures of what they want, or develop models. Partnerships need vision — and visions.

Virtual teams

Once people are online it is possible to form virtual teams — that is, groups who work together through the use of email and other Internet tools as well as phone and face to face.


Workshops are meetings at which a small group, perhaps aided by a facilitator, explore issues, develop ideas and make decisions. They are the less formal and creative counterpart to public meetings and committees.

See also Brainstorming, Charts, Post-it notes, Small groups.


WWW = World Wide Web, which is the means by which pages of text, pictures, sound, video can be displayed anywhere in the World using the Internet. The Web means that even small organisations can have a presence online. Increasingly, organisations will be expected to use the Web to make all key information available to their client groups, thereby increasing their transparency.