The Partnership Cycle

The partnership cycle applies to all partnerships and provides a useful way to explore partnership development.

updated on 16 Oct 2023
7 minutes read

Working with Others

There are many different types of partnerships and many different reasons that you might want to develop them. Some partners will help you generate ideas or develop content; others will help you to design your engagement activity; some will be able to share their skills and knowledge to ensure your activity is a success and others may be prepared to put resources into the activity. Partners can also help you develop relationships with different audiences. 

You won't have to look too far to find relevant people to work with – colleagues in your own department, those in other areas of your institution (e.g., your widening participation, outreach, engagement, marketing or volunteering teams), community organisations, schools, museums, libraries, science centres, local councils and arts venues. There are lots of people who might want to work with you. However, before you get started, it is important to consider why you want to work in partnership – and why your partners might want to work with you. 

Getting Started: Scoping, finding and building relationships  

This phase is an opportunity to think about why you want to enter into a partnership; research potential partners; and begin to build relationships with possible partners. Partnerships can: 

  • Inspire great ideas: involving partners can help with the creative process. It can also be enjoyable working as part of a team. 
  • Add another dimension: colleagues from a different field of research might complement your PE activity, thereby adding more interest for prospective audiences. 
  • Share their experiences: working with people who have previously taken part in engagement activities can help guide you through unfamiliar processes and also assist with your own professional development. 
  • Provide essential insights: partners may have expertise in a host of relevant things, such as understanding the needs of your target audience, timings and logistics, and suggestions of others you could work with. 
  • Increase capacity: partners can help increase the amount of resource and staff time for a project. This is especially important for small organisations.
  • Provide an opportunity: many partners will be looking for people to contribute to their own events or activities. It may be that you could support what they are doing, rather than invent something of your own. 
  • Help you reach new audiences: partners may already have access to members of your target audience, such as schools, museums, libraries or charitable organisations. 
  • Provide a venue: if you need a physical venue, a partner may be able to help e.g. businesses, science centres, museums, libraries or other places of cultural interest. They may also help with hosting the event, access requirements, and advertising, and may be able to provide other equipment or resources. 
  • Provide expertise: partners can be crucial in providing certain expertise you do not possess. For example, if you want to build a website you may need partners with specialist technical knowledge – these could come from inside your institution or elsewhere. 
  • Strengthen relationships: working with partners can deepen and strengthen your relationships, as well as introducing you to new people and new ideas. This may lead to other projects in the future.

Working together: governance, delivering and reviewing

Partnership management begins long before the project gets off the ground. There are a number of things you should establish upfront, in order to avoid problems later: 

  • Invite involvement at the start, when you are developing your ideas. Partners may be able to advise you on potential difficulties, the logistics of certain aspects of your activity, and may have ideas that you might never have thought of. Getting partners involved at the start ensures that their needs and expectations are taken into account in any activity you plan. 
  • What's in it for me? Ensure you have a frank conversation with your potential partner about each other's expectations before you get started. Misunderstandings can lead to problems later down the track. Try using the MUPI Purpose Cards to prioritise the purposes of your partnership. This can help you establish a shared vision for the project. 
  • Establish leadership, roles and responsibilities early on. Agree on key points of contact for you and your partner. 
  • What happens if nothing happens? In the first flush of partnership it is hard to imagine anything will ever go wrong – but it is important to establish what happens if it does, or if you or your partners do not keep their end of the bargain. Is there someone who is taking responsibility for the project from their side and from yours? 
  • Plan, plan, plan. Once you have agreed aims and objectives, establish key milestones and deliverables for each partner. It is advisable to draw up written agreements to ensure everyone is clear (whether in the form of formal written contracts, or meeting minutes/actions which have been circulated and approved via email). 
  • And plan again. Timelines are invaluable, ensuring each partner knows what they are doing and when. Certain partners may have to complete their part before another partner can step in. A detailed plan will enable you to manage the process effectively. Ensure that responsibility for each step has been assigned to someone in the partnership. 
  • Be flexible. Try to stick to your aims and objectives, but remember to be flexible! Something always goes wrong so be prepared to roll with the changes. 
  • Review: monitor your progress continually and adjust where necessary. Work out what is working well, what is not working and whether milestones will be achieved. This is essential in managing your project and meeting your deadlines but will also inform you on the best way to manage partnerships in the future. 
  • Respect your partners’ needs: Take time to get to know your partners and their style of working. Respect differences in style and take their methods and constraints into account when planning their involvement. 
  • Credit where it’s due: Make sure that all partners are credited on any branding and publicity (and if you are using their company logo, find out about and adhere to their branding guidelines. Don't just grab the logo from the website – ask them for a high res copy).

Working together: revising, sustaining, ending, or sustaining

Considering what happens at the end of a partnership is crucial – there are lots of things to think about when it comes to the question of ‘what next?’ 

  • Reflect honestly: Meet together to reflect on the partnership and the project, keeping an open mind as to if and how you might work together in the future. Think about what worked well in the partnerships, what the challenges were, and whether you can find ways of addressing these challenges. 
  • Use evidence: Use the findings from your evaluation to look at the partnership, and if and how it supported the outcomes of the project. What has changed as a result of working together, individually, for your organisations, or for others? 
  • Explore the options: Take time to explore how you might scale up the project, and the pros and cons of doing this. Scope out different futures for your partnership and look at the implications of the resources needed.  
  • Consider any implications:  If you decide to keep working together, review the goals of the partnership – are they still shared? Do you still have the resource to work together in the same way? How might scaling up affect the current partners? 
  • Exit gracefully: if you don’t decide to keep working together in the same way, make sure your partnership ends in a way that doesn’t impact any of the partners. Make sure all administrative ‘loose ends’ are tied up.  
  • Keep in touch: even if you’re not planning to work together, are there other ways you can sustain this relationship for future opportunities? 

Staying in touch

Lack of communication is the most common reason partnerships falter. Effective communication can help to build relationships, keep things working well and make people feel included: 

  • Maintain regular contact with each of your partners. If things change, communicate these changes. 
  • Schedule regular opportunities to check in. This way, you will monitor progress while at the same time making your partners feel included and supported. 
  • Don't just circulate information to the person in charge – copy in all those involved. 
  • Schedule regular planning meetings, identifying a project board with key representatives, or using structured feedback mechanisms. 
  • Find out your partners' preferred methods of communication – do they love using online collaboration platforms? Do they prefer face-to-face meetings or emails?
  • What are their time constraints? Some partners may be out of contact at certain times, and may have capacity issues that you should be sensitive to.