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The term 'partnership' is now widely used where more than one organisation or interest is involved in a regeneration programme. It may be too widely applied to situations where one powerful organisation is doing no more than consult with others, or mask fundamental differences of approach and objectives that will later lead to conflict. Building Effective Local Partnerships offers as a definition:

'A partnership is an agreement between two or more partners to work together to achieve common aims'.

This section deals with:

  • The characteristics of successful and unsuccessful partnerships.
  • The difference between partnership and other forms of participation.
  • Some apparently easy answers to partnership
  • Guidelines for creating partnerships

Successful partnership

The following factors for success emerge from surveys of partnerships, and workshops of practitioners involved in creating and running partnerships:

  • Agreement that a partnership is necessary.
  • Respect and trust between different interests.
  • The leadership of a respected individual or individuals.
  • Commitment of key interests developed through a clear and open process.
  • The development of a shared vision of what might be achieved.
  • Time to build the partnership.
  • Shared mandates or agendas.
  • The development of compatible ways of working, and flexibility.
  • Good communication, perhaps aided by a facilitator.
  • Collaborative decision-making, with a commitment to achieving consensus.
  • Effective organisational management.

Failed partnership

The following are characteristics of failed attempts at partnership, or warnings that something is going wrong:

  • A history of conflict among key interests.
  • One partner manipulates or dominates.
  • Lack of clear purpose.
  • Unrealistic goals.
  • Differences of philosophy and ways of working.
  • Lack of communication.
  • lUnequal and unacceptable balance of power and control.
  • Key interests missing from the partnership.
  • Hidden agendas.
  • Financial and time commitments outweigh the potential benefits.

Sources: Building Effective Local Partnerships, The Partnerships Handbook

Participation and partnership

It may be easier to develop an appropriate approach to partnership if you have a simple theoretical framework for thinking about the wider issues of participation.

Sherry Arnstein, writing in 1969 about citizen involvement in planning processes in the United States, described a ladder of participation.

 Ladder of participation


1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Both are non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support by public relations.

3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback.

4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step - attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual.

5 Placation. For example, co-option of hand-picked 'worthies' onto committees. It allows citizens to advise or plan ad infinitum but retains for power holders the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice.

6 Partnership. Power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared e.g. through joint committees.

7 Delegated power. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.

8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme e.g. neighbourhood corporation with no intermediaries between it and the source of funds.

Arnstein's ladder of participation suggests some levels are better than others. I think it is more of a case of horses for courses - different levels are appropriate in different circumstances.

Five stances

The key issue is what 'stance' you take if you are an organisation initiating or managing a process of participation or partnership building.

I suggest thinking of five levels - or stances - which offer increasing degrees of control to the others involved.

Information: The least you can do is tell people what is planned.

Consultation: You identify the problems, offer a number of options, and listen to the feedback you get.

Deciding together: You encourage others to provide some additional ideas and options, and join in deciding the best way forward.

Acting together: Not only do different interests decide together what is best, but they form a partnership to carry it out.

Supporting independent community initiatives: You help others do what they want - perhaps within a framework of grants, advice and support provided by the resource holder.

The 'lower' levels of participation keep control with the initiator - but they lead to less commitment from others. Partnership operates at the levels of Deciding Together and Acting Together.

Information is essential for all participation - but is not participatory in itself.

Apparently easy answers to partnership

When local authorities, private sector bodies, and indeed voluntary organisations, are faced with tight timetables and firm guidelines it is difficult to think through the complexities for participation and partnership. There is a strong temptation to go for a quick fix and hope to sort things out later. Here are a few health warnings on different forms of partnership.

Set up a forum

A forum may seem an easy way to get a wide range of interests together and act as a sounding board, but should it be labelled a partnership? For example:

  • Will the different interests be able to develop a common vision - or will they simply argue for their individual priorities?
  • How representative will the forum be? Will it just represent large, well-organised groups?
  • Will the implementing organisations be bound by forum decisions?

Create special interest fora

Rather than putting all interests together, give them each a forum. But then:

  • Are they a self-selecting group?
  • Who decides the issue or area to be covered?
  • How will an overall vision be developed?
  • Will it be possible to support and service all the fora: what resources are available?
  • Will there be sufficient interested people with time to spare?

Appoint community representatives

Instead of creating more organisations, give community representatives seats on the decision-making bodies. However:

  • Who will choose the representatives and on what basis?
  • Will they have the same support and access to information as others on the committee?
  • How will they discover and express the views of community interests?
  • What checks will people have on their representatives?

Set up a development trust

Development trusts are non-profit-distributing companies, which may seek charitable status. They have their own staff and are governed by a Board including a range of interests. They are described in more detail elsewhere in this guide - but they may not always be the most appropriate form of partnership. Consider:

  • Do you have the time and expertise to create and run a company?
  • Will funding be available to pay staff in early years?
  • Will there be ways in which the trust can earn income to maintain operations in the longer term?

Form a steering group of all interests

A steering group would have more say than a forum, but not control resources like a Development Trust. It may seem a reasonable compromise, but consider:

  • Will the members expect more power than implementing bodies are prepared to give?
  • Will the different interests have sufficiently similar styles of working to operate together?
  • How will steering group members be selected, and how will they relate to their 'constituents'?
  • Will they able to deliver, or will they just be another talking shop?

Run a Planning for Real® exercise

Instead of relying solely on formal structures, using workshop techniques allows participation to be taken to residents and others. Planning for Real is one powerful technique which allows participants to build models of the neighbourhoods they want, and develop action plans. It provides more active involvement than public meetings or fora. However:

  • Does running the exercise imply that the results will be adopted? Are budgets sufficiently flexible for this?
  • Will a development worker be available to support groups which form around the ideas developed?
  • Will there be time for ideas to be worked through?
  • Who will implement?

Get the money first, worry about partnership later

Dress up funding bids with token representation, then bring people on board when the money is there. This may be convenient for the bidding body - however:

  • Will it then be possible to gain the commitment of other partners whose support, skills and funds may be needed?
  • Will local groups challenge rather than support plans which have been developed without them?
  • Will the funder see through the ploy?
  • Will plans be flexible enough to respond to local needs and demands?

Guidelines for partnership

Here are some guidelines which may offer you a way of deciding what sort of partnership you may wish to create, and how to make a start.

  1. Clarify your own aims and objectives in forming a partnership. What are you trying to achieve, and how will you explain that?
  2. Identify the stakeholders - the key interests who can help or hinder the project or programme - and put yourself in their shoes. Who holds the power?
  3. Consider who you really need as partners, and who would really want to be a partner. Some stakeholders may simply want to be consulted.
  4. Before approaching potential partners, make sure you have support and agreement within your own organisation about working with others.
  5. Make informal contact with partners to find out about their attitudes and interests before putting formal proposals.
  6. Communicate with your partners in language they will understand, focusing on what they may want to achieve.
  7. Plan the partnership process over time. For example, a new organisation may well take a year to set up.
  8. Use a range of methods to involve people - workshop sessions as well as formal meetings. Be sociable.
  9. Encourage ideas from your partners. Ownership leads to commitment.
  10. Be open and honest.

Next section: creating a trust