MHCC Logo

The 7 Stages of Partnership Development

Introduction

Partnerships are unique arrangements, and every partnership experience is different, with its own culture and internal dynamics. Partnerships are only as good as the ground work built to support them, so this information resource aims to help you establish organisational partnerships with strong foundations. This resource presents partnership development as a structured process, from initial concept development right through to formulating agreements and proposal writing.

  • Who are the right stakeholders to partner with?
  • What is important to consider when entering into a partnership?
  • When is the best time to do this?
  • Where do I start?
     

This resource will be beneficial to individuals who are: initiating a partnership; representing an organisation in partnership; brokering a partnership. The information will assist you to:

  • gain an understanding of the partnership development process
  • learn more about joint-venture development and planning
  • and to drive your partnership forward
     

There are 7 stages in total, each focusing on the different stages involved in establishing a formal partnership from creating a vision to strategic planning, to building governance structures and agreements. 
 

Each stage will investigate four main topics:

  • Stakeholder concerns and decision making factors
  • The role of the partnership broker
  • Key concepts and tools available
  • How these tools aid decision making and planning
     

We look at the major decision making factors of each stage of the process to give you a better understanding of the internal dynamics of the partnership and actions required to drive the process forward. The tools we present will help you answer the big or difficult questions of each stage through evidence-based analysis and systematic reflection.
 

What is a partnership or partnership venture?

A partnership is an agreement between two or more stakeholders to coordinate with each other. Partnerships are a unique way of working; a type of strategic relationship or alliance. Sometimes it's about an exchange, such as an output or resource from your organisation, or even skills and know-how. Other times it's about mutual understanding, about the end goal and agreeing to work with each other to achieve this.
 

Organisations can benefit from partnerships in two ways: increased efficiencies and or increased effectiveness. Simply put, a partnership may allow you to save costs and resources, become better at what you do and/or achieve something that cannot be done alone. Whilst partnerships are not new, terms such as coordination, collaboration, cooperation and networking are often used interchangeably. This can cause confusion as these terms refer to specific and very different concepts.
 

The term collaboration is most commonly used when referring to partnerships, yet few partnerships are entirely collaborative. In reality, partnerships are combinations of three different types of strategies, working to achieve coordination.
 

Three strategies to achieve coordination are:

  • Networking
  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
     

Being unclear about expectations and the strategies most appropriate for your partnership is the greatest risk to success. Understanding the difference between networking, cooperation and collaboration is crucial as they determine the nature of the engagement between stakeholders and the type of commitment and resources required.

 

Networking is a type of relationship that is fluid and sporadic in nature, usually immediate or short-term focused. Stakeholders exchange information but have separate goals and operations. These partnerships are usually understood as information networks.

 

Cooperation is when stakeholders align efforts towards a common goal, but resources and operational decision-making are not shared amongst partnering stakeholders. Stakeholders therefore have operational autonomy and can choose to go about working in their own way but agree on the end goal. These partnerships are usually understood as cooperative alliances.

 

Collaboration differs from networking and cooperation, as not only do stakeholders agree to exchange information and work towards a common goal, but resources and decision making becomes shared amongst stakeholders. It is a more intensive process of working together and requires strategic and operational integration. In this way, these relationships are often understood as collaborative teams.

 

Stage 1: Create and communicate a shared vision (expandable sections???)

Do you have an idea for a partnership in the back of your mind?

In this stage we start at the very beginning. We'll be looking at the process involved in creating a clear vision for a partnership and ways to share this with others. This includes conducting an initial scoping, developing a concept paper and a listing of potential partnership stakeholders.

Key decision making factors at this stage

At this early stage, the key decision making factors are about deciding if your idea is something you really want to go ahead with. The more you tease out your idea and consult with relevant stakeholders, the more confident you will be about making this decision.

When you've refined your concept, scoped out the issues, identified your resources, and decided you want to go ahead with the venture, consider the most persuasive way to articulate your vision, attract potential stakeholders and inspire action. Start thinking about which strategies for coordination - cooperation, collaboration and networking - would be suitable for your venture. In stage five we will look more closely at how to build partnership strategies, but you should be at least aware of the differences between each strategy and what they mean to your venture.

Role of the broker and stakeholder identity

There are many roles within a partnership that stakeholders can take on board. Every partnership will set different responsibilities and duties for these roles. Let's look at two important roles that exist within all partnerships.

The initiator of the partnership is the person responsible for floating the original concept or creating the vision.

A broker is defined as the go-between or a middleman that sets up the partnership. The broker role builds relationships between stakeholders, facilitates negotiations, mediates conflict or dispute, records and documents information and drives the development process forward.

Sometimes the initiator is also the broker. But the broker role can also be assumed by another stakeholder with the skills and motivation to drive the concept forward. Otherwise, an external consultant could be brought on board.

Whatever your decision, an active step must now be made to appoint a broker. Whether it is the initiator, an internal stakeholder, or an external broker, roles should be assigned for at least this phase of the project and be open to review in the next phase of partnership development.

Refining your idea

You may be presented with many opportunities to initiate a partnership venture but how do you know which ones to follow? Pre-planning will help you decide which opportunities to pursue with confidence. The following tools assist you to refine your idea and work out if your intuition can be supported by evidence.

Creating a shared vision

A vision is the starting point for any strategic action created by the initiator. It is a statement of a situation you desire, written in the present tense. A vision statement is important because it will give you a foundation to build upon. It also helps you be very clear about what's important to you.

When establishing a partnership, it is important that it become a shared vision. A shared vision is one that all stakeholders identify with. Sometimes words carry differences in meaning across sectors and stakeholders. The key to a shared vision is finding the right words that draw out the commonality between stakeholders rather than highlight individual specialisation.

Scoping study

A scoping study is a preliminary needs analysis in which you, as the initiator (or broker if one exists at this stage), compiles and draws on the information at hand to gain an awareness and understanding of potential needs and gaps. You're also testing some of the assumptions you've made about your sector and the issues you want to address. The findings from your scoping will be useful as a baseline for more in-depth research, or to inform the functions of the partnership.

Achieving your strategic interests through partnerships

Before you start to bring people on board, consider the big picture of what might be involved in a partnership and how it will achieve your organisation's strategic interests. 

  • What values are important to you and your organisation?
  • What do you want to achieve through this initiative?

Reviewing your organisation's strategic plan is a good place to start. Look through each objective and see where your idea for a partnership achieves what your organisation has set out to do. Because partnerships are based on the concept of mutual value, also consider how your venture may achieve the strategic interests of others.

Preparing a partnership development framework

A partnership development framework is a breakdown of the major tasks or steps that are involved in initiating a partnership. You won't be able to develop a complete project plan at this stage, but consider what your overall process will be, what resources you have at your disposal and how much effort you will need or can give to get things going.

You may already have a great idea, but do you have the support you need to carry it through?

Working out whom to approach

So if you have decided that your idea is a good partnership opportunity, how do you work out whom to approach? First, you want to work out:

  1. What types of stakeholders you need; and
  2. Who is complementary to you?

Conduct a mapping of your existing networks. For example:

  • Who are your existing partners, donors, information providers and advisors and how could they support your venture?
  • Do you need to expand your networks to include new stakeholders?

In some instances there may be little or no choice about your partners. In order to access some funding sources, it may be necessary to work with stipulated stakeholders and it's also important to identify who's critical to your venture. 

At this stage it's definitely useful to consider which attributes might make up a good partner? Or by contrast, which attributes would definitely not make up a good partner?

Writing a concept paper

A Concept Paper isa proposal of your initial concept as well as a framework to guide further investigation. It should capture the interests of stakeholders and identify potential benefits of the venture which you would have identified in your scoping study.

A concept paper will serve as a communication tool and summary of your ideas. You can use this to sell your idea to stakeholders and bring them on board as partners. It will demonstrate that your concept is well considered and that you are serious about making it happen.

Initial communication strategy

A communications strategy is a series of steps that clearly and effectively gets your message out to the right people. 
First impressions count, so getting the 'right' message out there the first time is important. 

  • What audience is best for your message?
  • What is the best method of communicating this to your audience?
  • Do you have their contact information? How will you get it?

Shift away from a spray all approach and don't be afraid to target specific audiences in different ways. You'll find that your message will travel further when you understand which wavelength they are on and how to engage them. 


Stage 2: Building an evidence base to support your vision

In this stage we'll look at the process of building an evidence base to support your vision.

Gathering data and analysing information, identifying needs, gaps and opportunities, will not only assist with the planning process, but also support you to develop well considered arguments for a partnership venture.

We'll look at what is involved in putting together a research framework, conducting a needs and gaps analysis, understanding your operating environment and setting priorities.

Key decision making factors

Let's assume that interested stakeholders are unlikely to commit resources or even identify with your venture until an evidence base has been developed. What are your key arguments in support of this venture? How can you demonstrate need and that a partnership is an appropriate response?

The major decision making factorsat this stage are about working out:

  1. what you need to know;
  2. what sources or type of information you have access to; and
  3. who needs to know it

Role of the broker

In order to work through this stage effectively a broker must be appointed. The broker is responsible for identifying research tasks, keeping things on track and driving the process forward. 

Remember, the brokering role can be assumed by the initiator, an internal stakeholder or an external consultant may be brought on board.

Writing a research brief

The first step is to work out what information you'll need to build a strong case that supports your vision. What are the obvious questions that you'll need to answer? Map out your key arguments, spelling out your hypothesis or the things you want to test to see if they are true.

The amount of research you'll need to do will vary depending on what you're researching and what it's for. You may need to conduct a number of studies on different aspects of your idea. These studies may then be used in a report or proposal, or to help you design an appropriate response.

A research brief provides a summary, rationale and structure for your intended research and will help you work your way through the abundance of information and stay on track.

Be clear on exactly what it is that you want to investigate before you start the process. You may discover things that could alter the path you start on, but creating a research brief and setting out your methodology will give you focus, structure and take into consideration your resources so that the information you gather is both meaningful and useful.

Collecting data

Selecting the most appropriate methodology for your research will depend on what you want to know, how you want to use the information and your constraints and limitations. Always think about how you will use your research before you start so your study is relevant and complete.

Consider your audience when you are planning this out. Some arguments are best made with quantitative evidence, such as statistics or financials. However, some arguments are best made with qualitative evidence, such as a case studies or personal accounts. You might need a bit of both to make your point.

The data or information you collect may also depend on what resources you have available.

  • Do you have the capacity to conduct your own research?
  • Does the information already exist?

Sector / external analysis 

A sector or external analysis is a study of the external environment and factors that can significantly influence organisational and / or project operations. This tool is commonly used in strategic management planning to gain a big-picture snapshot of the most important things you should take into consideration. For example, understanding recent policy or technological developments within your environment can give you a good idea of trends and priorities that will drive change forward.

A sector analysis examines the following:

  • The situation
  • The operating context
  • Recent developments
  • Policy
  • Donors, funding availability, and economic sustainability
  • Constraints and challenges

Alternatively, you might wish to conduct a PEST analysis, looking at your environment in terms of the Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors.

Needs analysis

A needs analysis is a study of the current status and needs of a specific target group in order to determine and understand unmet needs. This analysis will help you uncover specific needs and the factors that contribute to or impact them.

Getting to understand what drives needs and how needs impact behavior is one of the most valuable pieces of information when designing a response.

Gaps analysis

A gap analysis is a study of the gaps between existing responses and the needs of a specific target group. Responses by organisations may be in the form of programs or projects, products, services, policies or ways of working. A gap analysis tells us which needs are not being met. Gaps can also come about when existing responses are ineffective.

To perform a gaps analysis, ask yourself:

  • What is the current state of things?
  • What are the needs of the target group?
  • What is your desired state for the future?

Gaps that you have the capacity to respond to are termed opportunities. The goal is to use the gaps analysis to figure out where the opportunities lie for your partnership venture to have an impact. It will help you determine whether or not your opportunities are strong or weak, real or imagined.

Setting partnership priorities

Setting priorities is a process of identifying the most important issues or activities that you want to address. Setting priorities is about narrowing your focus and ordering the importance of needs or gaps you want to address. For every gap there may be a number of needs that can be met, so this process is as much about stating what you want to do as it is about acknowledging what you don't want to do.

Knowing what your priorities are will make it easier to identify stakeholders who may be complementary to you or that have some influence within your networks. It will also make it very clear what the partnership venture will focus on, making your arguments more succinct. Remember to record your decisions and findings carefully, as you will be building on your priorities in stage five when we construct a model for your venture and plan strategies to achieve them.
 

Stage 3: Determining stakeholder readiness

In this stage we'll focus on determining how ready your organisation is to enter into a partnership and the suitability of other stakeholders. 

Finding partners that you trust and who complement what you do is crucial to partnership success, although much easier said than done. A lot of partnership building tools break down this stage into questions about your organisation and perceptions of stakeholders. We'll look at some that critically assess readiness and suitability, as well as identifying the risks involved in entering into a partnership.

Key decision making factors

Decision-making at this stage moves away from defining and researching your concept, and looks more closely at stakeholders. You'll find your decisions pivot around three key questions:

  • Who are these organisations?
  • What value is there in partnering with them? and
  • Do I trust them?

Role of the broker

The role of the broker is to identify and confirm which organisations will become partners and which will play a role in peripheral networks. Keep in mind that at this stage there may be a number of stakeholders curious about the venture, but a partnership does not yet exist.

The broker will work to build strong working relationships between stakeholders. Stakeholders will look to the broker for clarification of roles and responsibilities, as well as motivation for investing time and effort.

What is readiness?

Is this opportunity right for me now? Am I ready?

It's not uncommon for partnership ventures to be driven by funding opportunities or to be inspired by a great vision. These are of course necessary to enable a partnership to form and be successful.

However, a partnership approach is a unique way of working and requires particular conditions, resources and capabilities to be effective. Organisations aren't always ready to partner at the drop of a hat, so determining your own readiness will help you work out what your organisation can do to become ready.

Organisational readiness assessment

The organisational readiness assessmentidentifies to what extent your organisation is prepared and able to work in partnership. It identifies both internal organisational strengths and weaknesses, and prompts decision-makers to work out how adaptable your organisational culture is, and whether your ways of working and resources will support a partnership venture.

A readiness assessment may ask:

  • Is your organisation willing and able to share and learn from other organisations and groups?

Look at the different components of your organisational culture: attitudes and beliefs, behaviours, systems and structures. 

  • Do your managers and staff positively engage in the sharing of information and learning, and do they demonstrate initiative and enthusiasm when it comes to internal improvement?
  • Are there processes and systems in place to facilitate the sharing of information?
  • Does the organisation allow staff and managers time to reflect upon learning, and test and try new ways of working?
  • Are staff and managers rewarded? - are there incentives for reflection and trying new ways of working?

If working effectively in a partnership requires the ability for organisations to share and learn from other stakeholders, how well does your organisation score?

Determining the suitability of stakeholders

Once you've considered your own readiness, you can use the partnership readiness assessment to determine an appropriate match. Identifying the right partner is extremely important - not all organisations are well-suited to work with each other, and that's OK.

A partnership comprised of stakeholders that are not well-suited or without organisational readiness can become costly and counter-productive. Problematic partnerships can lead to distrust and compromise your willingness and readiness to enter into future partnerships.

So, determining suitability is the process of comparing what you want from a good partner against the knowledge you have gained of those you are considering a partnership with. This is a great way of critically looking at potential partners at an organisational level, beyond your personal relationship with their negotiators.

Partnership readiness assessment

 The partnership readiness assessment measures the suitability of stakeholders with your organisation. It will prompt you to ask systematic questions to ensure a good fit between organisational cultures, processes and goals. For example:

  • Does the prospective stakeholder have skills and competencies that complement those of your organisation, and other stakeholders?

When answering this question, consider what you know to be true and what you perceive to be true. Sometimes, we may actually know very little about each other. So,

  • ask questions;
  • cross check your answers with a third party; and
  • ask more questions.

Don't wait to get to know each other after you establish a partnership venture. Take the time now and invest resources into building understanding and confidence in each other.

Risk assessment

What is the risk of entering into a partnership? What do we mean by risk?

When thinking about entering into a partnership, risk largely pertains to the likelihood of stakeholders acting outside the interests of the whole group, known as opportunistic behaviour, and the potential gains and losses of doing so.

A partnership distributes power and authority over decision-making and manages the exchange of resources differently to an organisation. It is a compromise between stakeholders, struck because all parties recognise a win-win situation. A shift in this may result in one party gaining more at the expense of others. For a partnership, when this happens it becomes a lose-lose situation, as all stakeholders are no longer able to benefit from the deal.

A risk assessment will assist you to identify the impact of entering into a partnership and the associated risks that arise from uncertainty and operating in often rapidly changing and unstructured environments. Being aware of this will help you to identify when you are likely to gain and when you are likely to lose.

Say for example, stakeholders identify that one of the opportunities for a partnership is to increase referrals by coordinating local services. It would require a collaborative team that regularly exchanges information and establishes and manages an integrated information system across all partner organisations. However, one of their weaknesses is that stakeholders are largely time poor. 

  • What are the risks associated with entering into a partnership together?

The immediate risk in this case is that stakeholders lack adequate resources, both time and human resources, to participate collaboratively and sustain ongoing partnership commitments.

  • How will this effect the operations and potential for success?
  • Is it a low risk or high risk?
  • How could you minimise this risk?
     

Stage 4: Establishing partnership dynamics

Once you have assessed your readiness and acknowledged interest in establishing a partnership, a partnership can be developed.

In this stage we will look at some of the tools that shape the unique culture that develops amongst stakeholders as they begin to identify and work as partners.

  • What is acceptable and unacceptable stakeholder behaviour?
  • What are the rules to respect when negotiating?
  • What are the signs and signals of trust and distrust between stakeholders?

We'll look at how dynamics are set and shaped to give you the best foundation for your partnership venture.

Key decision making factors

The next step is to clarify goals and align thinking. It is about building the foundations of trust between stakeholders and creating common understanding. The partnership will develop meaning for particular behaviours and set the boundaries for negotiations.

  • What behaviours are you looking for?
  • What does it mean to act cooperatively and collaboratively?
  • What does it mean when a stakeholder works against this?
  • How do you work out if intentions are genuine?

Decision making will focus on working out how stakeholders should behave as partners and build the foundations of trust.

Role of the broker

The role of the broker at this stage is to create momentum and to drive the partnership forward. The broker is likely to be actively involved in building relationships with and between stakeholders, organising stakeholder meetings and recording discussions and outcomes.

This is an active time for the broker and stakeholders are likely to look to the broker for leadership, clarification and reassurance that they are heading in the right direction.

What are partnership dynamics?

 It is natural for stakeholders to initially hold back until more concrete details about the partnership's functions have been established. You may be unfamiliar with each other and have no prior working history to call upon for reassurance. If this is the case, proactively working through the following process will help you build more confidence and get to know each other better. Think of this stage as setting good partnership habits.

Fielding expectations from every stakeholder may involve several discussions, reflection and re-negotiation. It may at times seem like a slow or repetitious process, but by explicitly stating what you want and what you expect from each other will help you build common understanding and the beginnings of a partnership. With common understanding, you are more likely to avoid misunderstandings and the frustration that comes from repeatedly going over goals and expectations.

Establishing partnership intent

Establishing partnership intent is a tool that identifies and builds common understanding and agreement between stakeholders about the intentions for a partnership venture.

By identifying and agreeing upon intent at this stage, stakeholders are able to sort out and align broad expectations. This exercise is less about getting the intent 'right', than it is about establishing agreement.

Intent may relate to whatever the partnership will aim to do, or attitudes and beliefs it wishes to uphold.

For example, your partnership may aim:

  • to improve coordination amongst services to avoid duplication; or
  • to work in consultation and collaboration with community members.
  • After the group agrees on intentions, you should consult with your organisation to ensure that both the decision-makers and doers are on board.

Establishing partnership attitudes

Establishing partnership attitudes is a process of identifying attitudes that are important and common to all stakeholders that everyone wishes to uphold. This exercise encourages you to describe the culture that you desire, or may need, to maintain a strong and sustainable partnership.

By setting partnership attitudes, you are setting boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. 

For example:

  • All stakeholders act as willing partners - to not compete against each other 
  • To be transparent and honest with each other - to not hide anything to the detriment of the partnership or to undermine other stakeholders
  • Commitment to the tasks and follow-through on actions

If two stakeholders have historically offered similar products/services to the community and, until now, identified with each other as direct competitors for funding or service users, it is likely that each organisation will be instinctively protective of their resources and capabilities.

Internal policies, procedures and ways of working within these organisations may not lend themselves easily to working collaboratively.

  • Are expectations upon stakeholders to cooperate or to collaborate?
  • Are all stakeholders aligned in thinking?
  • Do you have full support from your organisation?
  • What does this mean in terms of change?
  • How will you manage resistance to change?
  • Are your partnership attitudes in-line with your partnership intent?

A partnership map

A partnership map is a tool designed to assist stakeholders describe the nature of the partnership, relationships between each other and strategies for coordination.

This is largely a visual tool that allows stakeholders to illustrate the internal relationships or plot multiple strategies. Once completed, risk assessments can be compared against partnership strategies to ensure all factors have been considered.

Stakeholder resource mapping tool

A stakeholder resource mapping tool identifies and categorises stakeholder resources, capabilities, functions and /or products, so that complementary links can be drawn. 

This mapping tool will identify resources available to the partnership where value may be created through coordination. The exercises involve working out:

  • What does each stakeholder bring to the partnership?
  • Are resources distributed equally or fairly amongst partners?

You might realise that you have more resources than you thought. Alternatively, you may find that after conducting this exercise, you are missing key resources. If this is the case think about expanding your networks and seeing who else you might approach.

Internal partnership assessment and SWOT test

An internal partnership assessment is an analysis of the internal capabilities and performance of the partnership. 

  • What can the partnership do?
  • How well can it do it?
  • What resources are available to support these capabilities?

Think about your internal partnership assessment in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

The next step after this is to draw upon your external environmental analysis and evaluate the position of your partnership.

  • What are the strengths the partnership should maximise?
  • What external opportunities should the partnership pursue?
  • What are the weaknesses within the partnership?
  • How is the partnership vulnerable to threats?

This is called a SWOT test.
 

Stage 5: Creating a blueprint for your venture

In this stage we get down to the details of your partnership venture.

Strategies are to planners like blueprints are to architects. Stakeholder decision making is now about developing creative solutions to fill the gaps, meet the needs and address the priorities. 

  • What will your partnership do?
  • How will it work?
  • What are the outcomes, deliverables or outputs to work towards?

We'll look at building a model of your partnership, and figure out the details.

Key decision making factors

Decision making will centre on working out how contributions from all partners fit together in sync. If we think of organisations as a complex layering and interweaving of systems and processes, developing a partnership requires re-engineering or re-plotting of these processes so those organisations connect-up with each other in the right way.

Stakeholders will be working out exactly what parts of their organisations and processes need to link with other stakeholders, how these links will be created, and what will come from them.

Role of the broker

Each stakeholder brings a unique way of working to the table. There may be many ways to achieve the same task but stakeholders will need to model ways of working that complements the partnership. The success of the partnership will depend on stakeholders finding the best fit rather than simply transferring or mimicking established ways of working.

As a broker, be aware of the potential for conflict, misunderstandings and disagreement throughout negotiations.

  • Are stakeholders essentially talking about the same thing - going round in circles?
  • Is there frustration brewing between stakeholders?
  • Are power dynamics shifting towards the gatekeepers of particular knowledge or holders of resources?

If this arises, and at some point it is likely to, go back to what the partnership agreed upon in stage four.

  • What is the intention behind setting up this partnership?
  • Are behaviors in-line with the partnership's attitudes?
  • Are stakeholders advocating a win-win or a win-lose arrangement?

Identifying objectives and outcomes

To identify objectives, start with your priorities. Objectives are statements about the future commonly written in the past tense, or as if they've already been achieved. For each priority you want to come up with a list of outcomes that satisfy your vision for the future. Once you have done this for all your priorities, discuss which priorities and objectives can be feasibly addressed by the partnership venture.

It's important when writing objectives to have a timeframe in mind: 12 months, 2years, 5 five years.

When coming up with objectives, ask yourself:

  • What is the activity?
  • Who will benefit from this - who is our target group?
  • How will the activities benefit the target group?
  • Can we achieve this within the timeframe?

Once these questions have been answered, consider:

  • How will I measure these outcomes - what are my indicators?
  • What are my milestones or checkpoints that let me know I'm heading in the right direction?

Strategising

The next step is to build strategies for each objective.

A strategy is a set of broad activities - a plan of action, to reach your objective. It's possible to have a number of strategies for each objective.

For a partnership, there are two components to a strategy. The first part of the strategy looks at the business or operational activities of the venture. The second part of the strategy looks at how the partnership will respond as a unit to achieve coordination - either through networking, cooperation, or collaboration.

When coming up with strategies for your venture, start with the business strategies and then consider what partnership approach is most suitable or necessary to achieve it.

Resource allocation mapping

You may have already conducted a sort of preliminary resource mapping when identifying stakeholders in stage one and in stage four. Now it is important to get specific about what stakeholders are willing to commit and the conditions that surround their commitment. This tool will be particularly useful when used later on, in conjunction with agreement-building.

Resource allocation mappingplots what resources are available and how they will be distributed throughout the partnership to achieve particular objectives. For example, human resources may be shared between stakeholders in the partnership and the allocation map will indicate where they will be positioned.

In the very least, if the partnership is seeking donor funding, it is worthwhile to plot how funding will be distributed across different functions and stakeholders.

Model development process

A modeldescribes how something is structured, organised and / or operates. It can also describe the environment and factors that influence the subject that is being modeled.

Service or business modelling connects together objectives, outcomes, strategies, processes, constraints, resources or relationships with stakeholders in a visual diagram.

A model is often a visual representation of this description, such as a series of drawings, flow charts, diagrams and or tables.

A set of symbols and directional lines demonstrate different facets and relationships within the venture.

Process mapping and modelling

Process mapping captures the business processes within the venture and how stakeholders interact along this process. Each activity that makes up a process is plotted out to see exactly what interaction is needed by whom at what stage.

When you join processes from two or more organisations together, this change can have a ripple effect, disrupting the flow or logic of other processes. By mapping out major partnership processes it will identify any practical implementation and or resource constraints that need to be addressed as a partnership or by stakeholders individually.

Sustainability modelling

Sustainability modelling is used to work out if particular functions or processes are sustainable. Sustainability modelling is often used to illustrate physical tasks and the exchange of tangible resources but can also be applied conceptually to intangible resources such as knowledge, skills and relationships.

Commonly, organisations look for economic or financial sustainability. If your venture seeks some part of it to be sustainable, drawing a diagram to show how resources flow and how sustainability is achieved is essential.

Value chain

Value chainisa tool used to categorise what the partnership will do into a chain of activities or business functions indicating what efforts are adding value to the output produced.

Identifying your value chain will help you determine your primary business functions from your secondary business functions and where resources should be invested. It will also help the partnership identify what activities should be done by the partnership and what could be outsourced, or even fulfilled by another stakeholder.
 

Stage 6: Governance planning

In this stage we will look at developing group decision-making and governance structures for the partnership, entry and exit protocols and dispute resolution procedures.

As discussed in Stage 3, a partnership distributes power and authority over decision-making and manages the exchange of resources differently to an organisation. It is a compromise between stakeholders, struck because all parties recognise a win-win situation. A shift in this may result in one party gaining more at the expense of others. Good governance structures are the foundation for consistent management accountability and maintaining the win-win situation.

Key decision making factors

At this stage, decision-making is all about determining who will make decisions on behalf of the partnership.

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders?
  • What are the levels of decision-making?
  • Who has the authority to make decisions?
  • Who is accountable for what?

It is likely that some of these issues have been discussed and determined in stage three, so go back to your agreed intent and partnership attitudes and review any decision-making protocols you may have already established.

Role of the broker

The role of the broker is to work with stakeholders to ensure workable governance arrangements are established.

Stakeholders will rely on the broker for clarity about agreements. Therefore, an essential part of the broker's role is to ensure that appropriate records are being kept. If you are the broker, be aware of how decisions within the group are being made. A detailed and accurate record of decisions and the process by which they were made is very important. 

In addition to this, the broker's unique role here is to help partners create a system which holds them accountable to their own organisations, as well as accountable to the partnership. Partnership governance and accountability is therefore very different to organisational governance and understanding this difference is an important aspect of planning for partnership.

What is partnership governance?

Governance is about the way decisions are made within the partnership: structures, policies, roles and responsibilities. It draws together core elements of power, authority, responsibility and accountability.

Governance relates to decisions that:

  • Grant individuals power and authority to make decisions;
  • Define roles, responsibilities and expectations of individuals; and
  • Verify and review performance

As your partnership evolves, the critical task is to balance the need to create formal structures of governance while supporting healthy informal processes that allow for flexibility and innovation. Excessive bureaucratic procedures will weigh the partnership down, whilst on the other hand, inadequate governance structures will make it hard for a partnership to maintain managerial and operational consistency.

Levels of group decision making

There are many different types of management structures and levels of decision-making such as: boards, partnership groups, reference groups, steering committees, working groups and project teams.

The names assigned to management structures are not really important - what is important is that all partners understand the function of these structures, freely agree to them and foster the partnership's collective interests. 

Roles, responsibilities and structures

Partners need to be clear about the roles, responsibilities and expectations within the partnership. A good way to approach this is to ask:

  • Who is responsible for the task?
  • What are they responsible for?
  • Who are they accountable to?
  • What happens if they fail to meet their responsibilities?

Take care that distributed responsibility does not translate into reduced accountability.

Entry and exit protocols

Ultimately partnerships come to an end because they have either met the needs of their beneficiaries or the opportunity to coordinate no longer exists. Sometimes a partnership ends because stakeholders no longer share a common vision and cannot work together.

It is important that during the phases of partnership development stakeholders take time to discuss exit strategies. This is to ensure that when the partnership ends or a partner decides to leave, it can occur amicably with shared understanding. A win-win situation is one that protects stakeholders from taking advantage of each other. When it is time for the broker or a stakeholder with a defined role to move on, various strategies should also be in place to facilitate this change.

Dispute and conflict resolution

Despite the best intentions for your partnership to work well together, there will be times when conflict occurs. People usually differ on what they think needs to be done or how it should be done. The challenge is for a partnership to be able to resolve disputes quickly, fairly and openly.

When conflict does occur it's up to members to work towards a "win-win" situation that will result in the best outcome for all concerned. If some stakeholders benefit at the expense of others, a win-lose situation occurs.

A win-lose situation is both competitive and anti-partnership, ultimately undermining any mutual gain. Although there are degrees of acceptable losses and gains in any relationship, characteristically, unresolved win-lose situations end up as lose-lose situations where neither party is able to realise the full value of the partnership.

Accountability and managing ongoing relationships

Accountability of decision making refers to: 

  • Compliance - being held to account
  • Transparency - giving an open account
  • Responsiveness to stakeholders - taking account

Partnership accountability works across different levels:

  1. Individual accountability of partners to their stakeholders;
  2. Partner to partner accountability (accountability to each other); and
  3. Accountability of the partnership to the partnership's stakeholders and beneficiaries

Accountability ensures actions and decisions taken by the partnership are subject to supervision or review to ensure the initiatives meet stated objectives and respond to the needs of the community they are serving.

Partnerships are inclined to have less well-established systems for accountability than individual organisations, as we assume that accountability will flow on from each partner intuitively. We also assume that experienced managers are accountable and will act in good faith to meet these requirements. Therefore, accountability within partnerships is more often implied than explicit. Be aware that such assumptions can leave a partnership prone to risk.

Even though each stakeholder will be familiar with accountability requirements within their organisation, each organisation's requirements will differ and accountability is now across 3 levels. Being upfront and as clear as possible will ensure that all stakeholders understand what they are accountable for and who they are accountable to.

Reporting and recording mechanisms

Building and maintaining your partnership's "memory" is vital. Record-keeping is a key partnering skill because records are fundamental to building partnerships and strengthening relationships.

Partnership records ensure:

  •  transparency;
  •  certainty of commitments; and
  •  the history of the partnership is captured as it develops

When developing reporting and recording systems, you should take into consideration who is responsible for:

  • reporting,
  • recording, and
  • accessing information

In addition to this, also consider who has access to and ownership of this information.
 

Stage 7: Agreement writing

This stage is about creating agreements for the partnership. We'll look at the benefits of an agreement, its function within a partnership and the difference between agreements that are legally binding and non-legally binding.

Key decision making factors

There are countless templates available to guide agreement writing and it can be difficult to know what sort of agreement your partnership should develop and why. Decision-making is not about which agreement to select, it is about determining the function or purpose of the agreement, identifying what information should be contained in the agreement and how the agreement will be used to support the partnership.

Role of the broker

The role of the broker at this stage is to support agreement building by ensuring a fair and transparent process. Sometimes agreement writing can be done in a way that may seem obscure or intimidating. Agreement writing should be neither. In fact, it should bring confidence to the partnership that all stakeholders are entering into the partnership with the same intentions and expectations.

Debunking the myths surrounding agreements

There are many myths about agreements. The three most common are:

  • I need a specific agreement to formalise the partnership, for example a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Heads of Agreement, Service Agreement, or Partnership Agreement
  • The agreement I am using is not legally binding
  • If the agreement is not legally binding, it is not useful

Firstly, there is no exact type of agreement that you must by law use in your partnerships, unless for example the partnership seeks to create a separate legal entity, such as a new company. However, most community partnerships are not set up in this way.

Secondly, the name of the agreement does not itself determine whether or not it is legally binding. Therefore, an MOU may in fact be made legally binding if the contents of the agreement satisfy the conditions of a contract. 

 Thirdly, there can still be significant value in non-legally binding agreements. Agreements are more than just something for the shelf or for when things go wrong.

So why use agreements even if they aren't legally binding?

Non-binding agreements can still be extremely useful to a partnership as they can act as:

  • planning devices;
  • a way to ensure appropriate sign-off and buy-in from decision makers;
  • a record of commitments; and
  • formal acknowledgement of the partnership; and
  • direct decision makers to consider important issues from the outset

Using agreements to support your partnership's functions

Agreements can be used at different stages of the partnership development process. When working out what agreements you might need, think about how you may use these agreements to support the partnership and the stakeholders involved. 

Signing-off on such agreements signals that all parties are aligned in thinking, behaviour and intention.

Legal and non-legal considerations

A legally binding agreement means that there is an agreement of terms and conditions under a written or spoken contract between two or more parties to behave in certain ways. The terms and conditions of such a contract can either prohibit or define appropriate behaviour. A breach of terms in a legally binding agreement can cause legal repercussions.

Under Australian common law, what determines a contract as legally binding are 6 characteristics:

  • Agreement - where one party makes an offer and the other accepts it;
  • Consideration - where one party gives something in exchange for something from the other party;
  • Intention - where both parties have the intention to create legally binding relations;
  • Capacity - where both parties have the legal capacity to enter into the contract;
  • Genuine consent - where both parties agree to the contract of their own free will; and
  • Legality - where all parts of the contract are legal

It is best to seek legal advice before, rather than after entering into a contract to ensure you understand the conditions and the nature of the agreement.

Using incentives and disincentives

Buy-in from stakeholders when an agreement is made may be strong, but as time passes and circumstances change, this may fluctuate and or decrease. Ensuring that all parties stick to the agreement is important but can sometimes be difficult, particularly if there are many stakeholders involved or the environment is rapidly changing and unpredictable. Agreements, therefore, are particularly useful when built upon incentives and disincentives that can weather times of change or uncertainty.

Incentivising performance is about providing some sort of reward or inducement to motivate stakeholders to stick to the agreement. Disincentivising non-performance is about the consequences or penalty if there is a breach of agreement. The key to developing effective incentives and disincentives requires an understanding of what stakeholders value.

Always ask yourself: 

  • Why are they in it to begin with?
  • What do they stand to lose?

Building agreements

Agreements can be verbal, in writing or may be implied by the conduct of the partners. Whenever you make an agreement it is a worthwhile exercise for partners to sit down together and draft, in plain language, how they want the partnership to work. Generally, writing it down and obtaining sign-off by stakeholders ensures that the terms are clearer and less dependent on individual memory, or prone to emotional reactions from stakeholders.

As a rule of thumb, for each section or clause of your agreement, consider:

  • To whom does it pertain?
  • What activity must they perform?
  • When should it happen?
  • How must it happen?
  • To what standard?
  • Who decides in the end?
  • What happens when there is a breach?

Agreements as living documents

The content of your agreements should be relevant and up-to-date. Over time the needs of the partnership and its stakeholders may change. The best way to keep your agreements useful and current is to periodically schedule agreement reviews. Set a process in place for initiating reviews, agree upon decisions made and amend relevant records accordingly.