Practical tools

Partnership cycle infographic - webpage version

To help navigate partnerships, the NCCPE have developed the partnership cycle. It contains 10 steps to effective partnerships, which help you consider the various aspects of what makes partnerships thrive.

updated on 12 Oct 2023
7 minutes read

Getting started

1. Scoping

Scoping needs and options is a critical first step. It might even be that working in partnership isn’t the right option for you.

Questions to think about

  • What do you hope to achieve from working in partnership?

  • What do you have to offer? What do you need?

  • Are there other ways you could get the support you need, e.g., through commissioning someone to do the work for you?

Top Tip

There are lots of ways to work with others and forming a partnership is only one approach. Some organisations won’t have the interest or capacity to work in partnership and would prefer a different arrangement.

2. Finding

Once you have confirmed working in partnership is the right choice for you, you need to find potential partners.

Questions to think about

  • Do you want to work with a local partner?

  • Are you looking to develop a short-term partnership for a specific project, or are you looking for something more sustained?

  • Does the partnership will need funding, and if so, how are you planning to secure that funding?

3. Building

Once you have found an organisation that is keen to explore a partnership with you, there is still more work needed to check in with what would work best. You need to invest time in exploring what would work for everyone involved.

Questions to think about

  • What do you both hope to get from the partnership? What are the mutual benefits of working together?

  • What are you both prepared to contribute and what will you need?

  • Is this the right time for the partnership?

  • Do both partners have the resources and capacity necessary?

  • And are there other people you should be involving?

Top tips and resources

A barrier can often be language – we all have our own jargon and sometimes we use the same terms to mean different things. 


Working together

4. Governance

‘Governance’ can sound formal and bureaucratic – but establishing ground rules and clarifying responsibilities and accountability is important to keep collaboration on track.

Key questions to think about

  • What are the governance structures the partners already work within? How are decisions made, and are there formal processes that need to be taken into account?
  • What formal processes do you want or need for your partnership? Is there documentation needed that would make you feel comfortable working together (for instance, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)?
  • What is the process for dealing with things that go wrong?
  • Who holds the budget? Who manages the relationship with the funder?
  • What about any intellectual property arising from the project?

5. Delivering

There are a lot of practicalities to think through to enable you to deliver an effective project that runs on rails.

You need to consider how the partnership will be funded – and you need to consider how everyone’s time will be paid for. And you need to agree ways of working – and the processes you need to put in place to allow things to work smoothly.

Key questions to think about

  • How can the partnership enable us to access funding for our work, engage new stakeholders, access new resources, or increase the reach of the project?
  • How will we access funding?
  • How will the project be costed, ensuring partners are resourced effectively for their work? What happens if we aren’t successful accessing funding?
  • How will we ensure we are communicating effectively together?
  • Are there unexpected outcomes, challenges, opportunities that need to be explored?
  • What does success look like and how we will ensure we are on track to achieve it?
  • Are we sharing successes and challenges appropriately, and addressing things that arise?
  • How are we engaging other project stakeholders?

Top tip

If you are seeking to develop a sustained partnership, start small and do something together which helps you work out how the partnership can work. If you are seeking a long-term partnership, it can be helpful to spend time getting to know one another before committing significant resource into a project.  

6. Reviewing

Measuring and reviewing results is really important part of partnership working. Evaluation should be planned from the start, both to inform what you do, review if and how you are achieving your aims, and to capture any outcomes or impacts (planned for or unexpected).

Key questions to think about

  • How will you evaluate your work?
  • What has evaluation taught us about the process of working together and the work we have done? 
  • What have the key benefits been for partners, stakeholders, project participants?
  • What have we achieved together that we could not have achieved alone?

What's next

7. Revising

Revisiting and revising provides an opportunity for you to reflect on what is going well and make improvements as you go.

Key questions to think about

  • What has worked well, what has been challenging, can these challenges be addressed?
  • Are there improvements we need to make in either the processes of working together, or the activities we are delivering?
  • What has changed as a result of working together, individually, for our organisations, for others? In what ways might we choose to work together in the future?

Top tip

Reviewing your activity can lead to insights to improve your work together. Commit to making improvements informed by evaluation to ensure that you keep on track. Schedule in regular review meetings with your partners to capture any issues before they become significant problems.

8. Sustaining / Ending

An important part of partnership working is to consider if and how you will work together again: partnerships are labour intensive, and it can be really productive to capitalise on what you’ve achieved by sustaining the partnership. But partnerships run their course too. Keeping in mind what everyone’s expectations are is important, so people don’t feel let down.

It is legitimate to work together for a short time, and then not continue the partnership – but important for both partners that you end the partnership well, rather than by neglect.

Key questions to think about

  • Do we want to continue working together and if so, do we still share the same goals?
  • If we are considering ending the partnership: Is there any learning that can be shared beyond the project team? Are all the partners content that everything that was promised has been done. Are the partners going to keep in touch, and if so, how.
  • If sustaining the project, consider whether this is to repeat what had happened before, or to scale up the activity.

Top tip

Partnerships are often funding dependent, so you may not be able to continue working together. Keeping in touch regularly will enable you to explore opportunities for funding that arise.

9. Scaling

If a project has worked well you should think about its potential to be scaled – either up (to deliver something bigger building on what’s been achieved) or down (to take part of the project and sustain it).

Key questions to think about

  • Why do we want to scale the activity?
  • Do we still share common aims for the project, and has anything changed that might affect if and how we work together?
  • How will we resource scaling the project? Could / should we involve more partners? Will scaling affect how the partnership works, and how we will manage this?

Top tip

If scaling your project, consider using your evaluation to inform next steps. And don’t forget you might want to imagine a new project together using the partnership cycle to reflect on if and how that could work


10. Communicating

The key to success or failure of partnerships is communication, and it needs to be a priority at every stage of the journey which is why we’ve placed it at the centre of the partnerships wheel.

Key questions to consider

  • How you will ensure you communicate well
    • Within your partnership team
    • Within your own team
    • With your stakeholders and publics?
  • What does good communication look like for the partnership team, the wider team, external stakeholders, e.g., frequency, formality, etc?
  • What are our preferred means of communication and are there issues about availability that need to be factored in?

Top tips

Agree a communication plan with key dates and schedule in regular catch up meetings with key contacts at the start.

Altogether, these steps make the partnership cycle.

Download the Partnership Planning Cards