The essence of good partnership working

We live in turbulent times. Many of the structures for partnership working are changing, evolving and in some cases disappearing. I’ve been pondering the impact of this and reflecting on what the essence of good partnership working really is.  
In many of the areas that I work with, Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) and the thematic groups that were often linked to them are being slimmed down. In most areas the voluntary and community sector (VCS) was part of the LSP and its related groups, often with places for elected representatives. Some areas felt that they had more influence than others, but they did at least have a seat at the table. With new structures such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, Health and Wellbeing Boards, and Clinical Commissioning Groups this isn’t necessarily the case. So how can partnership working between the statutory sector and the VCS flourish in this new landscape?
In December, I facilitated a workshop at the NCVO/ACEVO Localism Conference. As part of the session, we discussed the realities of partnership working. One of the themes from that discussion was that good partnership working can be complicated and messy because it is essentially about relationships. On the whole both sectors seemed to welcome some rationalisation of the myriad of partnership meetings. The potential downside is that arrangements become more ad hoc and dependent on people getting on personally and that there isn’t a forum for regular dialogue.
To me, this downshifting in partnership structures makes the Compact even more important. The Compact, as a set of shared principles, provides a framework for good relationships and for meaningful engagement between the sectors. It ensures that those principles are not just based on a good working relationship between two individuals (who may or may not be in post in 12 months time), but are promoted and embraced more widely. Now, more than ever, that matters.
Finally, if I had to sum up the essence of good partnership working these are some of the words I’d use: Mutual respect; openness and transparency; trust; regular dialogue; shared aims; creative thinking. Easy to write, much harder to achieve!
Are partnerships in your area changing (for better or worse) because of a downshifting in the structures that facilitated them?
We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this, and on the essence of good partnership working. Feel free to tell us your story; we may be able to share it as a guest blog or case study.

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