Partnerships are a key part of any strategic approach to engagement. Whether the partnerships are focused on providing access to new audiences and participants for your work, offering venues for activities, sharing expert advice or input, or are the focal point of the engagement e.g. in collaborative research – it is important for public engagement professionals to know how to develop, maintain, sustain, and manage them well.
Elsewhere, we provide comprehensive guidance to the principles of partnership working and guides to working in partnership with a range of organisations. Supporting the development of strategic partnerships, as well as supporting researchers to develop their own partnerships, is a vital part of the support you should aim to offer. Here are some key things you should investigate.
Consider who you are currently working with and why
Many partnerships arise from one-off funding opportunities, or personal connections. You can end up with lots and lots of short term partnerships, and it is worth stepping back to consider what these all add up to: how well are they serving your partners’ needs? Are there some partnerships which have significant potential which just need scaling up? And who aren’t you currently working with who you could or should be, given your strategic goals?
Having a small number of strategic partners can be valuable in developing your strategy and approach; gaining valuable insights and advice; exploring longer term plans and investments and how they might be realised; building trust; co-designing your work together; advocating for this work; capturing longer term impacts; and stimulating new ways of working. But there is a balance to strike between investing in and consolidating existing partnerships, and being open and accessible to new organisations who may want to work with you.
Partnerships can also take many forms – from equal partnerships who come together to design and deliver a joint piece of work, to partnerships where one organisation is providing a service to the other. It is fine to have a range of partnership types – but helpful to be explicit about what each of the partners can expect from the relationship.
Organisations wanting to work with universities find it hard to find the right person to speak to – so consider how you can make it easy for people to find routes in. You might want to run networking events for external organisations and academics, or offer a web portal that clearly explains what you offer and how people can get in touch. It also helps if you are participating in the local community, getting involved in things that are important to local people and making informal connections with potential partners of the future.
Keep in touch
Organisations that partner with universities often reflect that they feel the university is only interested in the partnership when there is funding, or when they need something e.g. evidence for a Research Excellence Framework impact case study. Once you have established a partnership, make sure you keep in touch with the organization – even when there is no project you are working on. This helps people stay connected, and helps people feel valued. Remember to invite your partners to key events, whether it is awards ceremonies, engagement showcases, or university celebrations.
Value the work
Partnerships that are mutually beneficial tend to work better than those that favour the needs of one of the partners. However, realising the value of a partnership can be tricky. The outputs and outcomes of working together may extend beyond those formally recorded – for example skills development in the project team, new networks, increased understanding, or new ideas that have emerged from working together. It is important to try to capture some of this value, but even more important to evidence that you value the work you do together. This might be through awards, or keeping in touch. It might be about how you talk about the partnership in public. It might be as simple as saying ‘thank you’.
The University of Brighton Community University Partnership Programme is one of the longest established partnership programmes in the UK.
The university was funded by UKRI as part of the SEE-PER programme to develop an incubator model (Ignite) for finding and fostering new partnerships including seed funding, and to develop tools and frameworks to support productive collaboration
This project report, which tells the story of the project and the lessons learned
Seven partnership projects were funded and these films describe how they worked and what they achieved
How working with champions can help mobilise change.