See yourself as a partner - Guide to Community Partnership Development: Setting the stage for a successful community partnership

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Establishing a successful partnership depends on a number of circumstances, some under your control and others that require more flexibility and adaptation. Winning conditions can be captured through three broad actions: reflection, system thinking and revisiting attitudes and knowledge.


Putting the client at the centre of your discussions, decisions and actions

When trying to move clients into housing, ideally into permanent housing, as soon as possible, you most likely will need to rely on community resources to not only provide the housing but also provide clients with all the services they need to remain housed and live independently.

Ask yourself

  • What are the community’s strengths?
  • Which organizations in my community are very good at providing a specific service?
  • At serving a specific population?
  • What services will the client need to remain self-sufficient?
  • How can we move individuals into permanent housing?
  • What do we need to get there?
  • Who can help us get there?
  • What do individuals need to remain housed and meet her goals?

Understanding what works and what does not work in your organization

In order to be complementary to one another, organizations must be honest with themselves and take time to list or identify the work that they do best and the work that unfortunately does not produce the expected results. The goal is to avoid repeating the same mistakes. There may be another organization in your community that excels in this area, and that’s ok! Working together leads to better service provision.

Ask yourself

  • What is the organization’s current situation? (for example, staff, economic, service provision)
  • What does the organization do best?
  • What does not produce the expected results?
  • How can we avoid making the same mistakes?

Focusing on the positive

It is one thing to have a sound understanding of what does not work, but dwelling on it is counterproductive. Working in partnership also means shifting into solution mode. All kinds of resources are available: there is a role for every partner and a solution for every problem.

Ask yourself

  • What are the organization’s resources? (for example HR, financial, expertise, diversity, experience, other…)
  • Is the organization in solution mode or problem mode?
  • What external resources are available? Who could we go to for guidance or help?

Being receptive to change

Working in partnership often means considering new ways of doing the same tasks. An open-minded attitude is therefore essential. Receptivity to change should be radiated throughout the organization as a first step towards organizational transformation, which will be necessary to develop partnerships that will benefit clients. This may mean being receptive to revisiting your organization’s mission or values. Changing the organization’s mission or charter of values can be a good strategy to proclaim the new culture of partnership loud and clear. Working in partnership may also mean giving up some of the ways we used to do things. However, being receptive to change does not mean completely changing your work. The key to success is being able to adjust how we work in order to complete another organization’s work.

Ask yourself

  • Does the organization need to change its perception around how tasks are accomplished? If, so, is the organization ready to change?
  • Do some aspects of the organization need to change? If so, what steps that must be taken to transform the organization?
  • What changes should be made to the organization’s mission or culture?
  • How can we adjust our know-how and soft skills to complete another organization’s work?

Integrating the collaborative approach

In a world of scarce resources, community organizations sometimes compete for financial and other resources. However, moving beyond territorial behaviour and vested interests can only help to strengthen collective capacity. Working together or drawing inspiration from the work of competing organizations can help to fill the service-delivery gaps.

Ask yourself

  • How can we strengthen our collective capacity?
  • What can be the first steps towards working with others?
  • What are the inspirational organizations in your community or elsewhere? How would your work complement each other? Could they serve as a coach or mentor?

System thinking

Thinking of change in a systemic way

In concrete terms, this means understanding that an action taken here or there will inevitably have repercussions on the network organizations working with people experiencing homelessness. It’s like the butterfly effectFootnote 2! Partnerships transform systems for the better. Thinking in terms of systems means understanding the invisible intersections between the entities that make up the network. The system will not change simply because you want it to.

Ask yourself

  • What are the repercussions of the organization’s actions?
  • How are the competing organizations related?
  • Is the organization ready to move from intentions to action?

Making the right sales pitch: or highlighting the benefits of a partnership

As an organization begins seeking out partners, it is natural that some organizations will be more reluctant to invest in a partnership without a guarantee. This will be the perfect time to flaunt the merits of a collaborative effort, which not only fills the existing gaps, but also supports and reassures partners.

Developing partnership relations means sharing in a broader vision of the clients served and joining a larger conversation about their needs.

For example, when a property manager or landlord agrees to provide a given number of apartments, the partner organization can guarantee that the rent will be paid on time or that another tenant will be found if there are problems. These arrangements benefit everyone: the landlord who no longer feels alone in this undertaking, the client who will be relocated rather than evicted and the organization that fosters trust with property managers and landlords.

Ask yourself

  • Can the organization flaunt the merits of a partnership?
  • What mutual arrangements can be put forward?
  • Does the organization make efforts to foster trust between partners?

Getting actively involved

You have to choose to get actively involved—not simply go through the motions. An involved partner does not simply attend meetings. An involved partner participates and contributes to discussions and decisions, regardless of the role it plays. Every partner has something to offer, be it time, resources, support for a project or a voice. And, sometimes, what may at first be perceived as duplication, may actually be more of a complementary piece.

Ask yourself

  • How can I get more involved in the discussions?
  • What does the organization have to offer? Time? Resources? Support? Expertise? Infrastructure?
  • Is the perception of duplication true? Are we serving the same clients? Offering the same services? In the same location? On the same days?

Developing a community action plan

Partnerships begin with concrete, unified planning. This is how we create something that is meaningful for all parties. Regardless of its starting point or why it was created, the action plan remains the major impetus for action. Take time to consider all the details in order to ensure that partners recognize themselves in what is being proposed and get engaged in achieving the established objectivesFootnote 3.

Ask yourself

  • What elements should be included in the action plan?
  • What is the role of each partner?
  • How can we ensure that partners see themselves in the action plan?

Aiming for a common goal

Thinking systematically and developing a community action plan all depend on the identified objective. For example, in the context of the Housing First Approach, the ultimate goal is to provide “immediate access to permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, without requiring psychiatric treatment or sobriety as determinants of ‘housing readinessFootnote 4.’” Achieving this objective means agreeing on mutual and shared intermediate actions and having a clear understanding of what they look like or should look like.

Ask yourself

  • What actions should be planned in the short, medium and long-term?
  • What should our actions look like?
  • What is the purpose of the identified actions?

Communication and conflict resolution

Setting a common goal requires exploring potential areas of conflict and duplication. Knowing how and when to communicate therefore becomes very important. In order to find adequate solutions, we have to measure the gap between what is available in the community and what the client needs and have an honest conversation to identify the roles of each party. Lines of communications need to remain open (for example, regular debriefs). You may need to refer back to the initial goal, identify what has changed (staff, financial situation, or any new players) or what needs to change.

Ask yourself

  • What are the potential areas of conflict between partners?
  • What is the gap between client needs and available resources?
  • What solutions are possible in light of each party’s role?

Revisiting attitudes and knowledge

Cultivating and demonstrating leadership

Successful partnerships too often depend on a champion who captures the spotlight despite the many other stakeholders working behind the scenes. It is therefore necessary to nurture, cultivate and grow the local leadership to give everyone an opportunity to act as the group’s champion, to let others shine. Ideally, all members of the partnership should be able to demonstrate their sense of belonging and commitment to the group and clients. It is also important to foster this attitude in order to maintain partnerships with various levels of government and services (for example, police and paramedical services). Leading partnerships in slightly different ways can foster major transformations in the community. When you cultivate leadership in the community, and invest in capacity building, the less effective leaders become obsolete.

Ask yourself

  • Who are the community leaders in your area? Who are the backbone organizations in your community?
  • How can we include the most dedicated community partners?
  • Who is the best person in the community to: Encourage others to think differently? Communicate with a specific sector?

Taking advantage of training opportunities

Education is key! Even the most amazing leaders will be faced with resistance or antagonists. This is not a hopeless situation if we know how to provide your partners with the right information. Training opportunities come in many guises, including meetings with partners and clients that can help alleviate opposition by increasing the level of understanding and awareness of an issue or a situation. Workshops and seminars on specific issues also pave the road to success. These training opportunities allow partners, and potential partners, to take a step back, confirm that change is possible, and provide the necessary support despite the limited time and resources that are available to them.

Ask yourself

  • Which clients could be involved? How can we get them participating in a meaningful way?
  • What type of workshops could we develop for potential partners?
  • What are the potential oppositions and how can we overcome them?
  • What is your outreach strategy?

Being realistic

A successful partnership can result in wonderful experiences, but it is very important to ensure that partners don’t bite off more than they can chew. The danger of accepting work beyond one’s capabilities is that the promised work will not get done. It is therefore preferable to work effectively than to be overloaded with commitments that are impossible to meet. Partners should focus on what they are able to do well.

Ask yourself

  • What is the organization’s capacity to accept additional tasks?
  • What tasks could be compromised if new responsibilities were added?
  • What are the tasks that the organization can do well?
  • Are the additional tasks in line with the organization’s mandate?

Balancing autonomy and collaboration

Organizations that work as partners must essentially agree to co-operate in those areas at the intersection of duplication. Partnership is all about working continuously towards
a common goal while maintaining your autonomy in other areas without giving up the rest of your mandate.

Ask yourself

  • Where does the duplication with the other organizations begin and end? (for example, do you both need an outreach van or can you share?)
  • In what areas must the organization maintain its autonomy (HR, sharing staff or space)?
  • What part of the organization’s mandate should be reviewed and what part should be strengthened?

Being passionate!

This is the essential reason for entering into a partnership. Being a good partner means being able to give, share and let go because the client is at the centre of the decisions: as one community representative put it: “if you don’t have a level of passion about whatever it is, then there’s no point.

Ask yourself

  • What are the costs of letting go?
  • What are the advantages of giving (time, resources, support, etc.).
  • Do you consider yourself to be committed and enthusiastic?
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