Tapuwa Bofu

Tapuwa Bofu

Senior Community Development Officer, LDAT program
May 10, 2017

Creating effective partnerships: issues and considerations

two women and two men having community meeting at wooden table with laptop

Dealing with any social problem requires effective community partnerships. And this is no less true when tackling the harms caused by alcohol and other drugs (AOD).

People misuse drugs for different reasons. From alcohol, to crystal methamphetamine (or ‘Ice’), people often consume these substances as a way of coping with a range of unaddressed personal issues including mental health problems, to socio-economic disadvantage and lack of opportunity, to childhood trauma.

Reducing AOD harm needs us to identify and address these causes. This in turn requires organisations from varying sectors across the community to work more effectively together.

Since late 2016, a number of organisational partnerships have formed under the auspices of the recently launched Local Drug Action Teams (LDATs) program. They are a diverse group, and include health professionals, welfare services, local government representatives, local chambers of commerce, schools, local police and community members – all coming together towards a common goal.

Why partnerships work

Building these links between people and organisations enhances and strengthens the capacity to create change in communities.

Setting up effective partnerships can assist with the planning, delivery and administration of activities and projects which in turn means that available resources are used more efficiently.

Other benefits of effective partnerships are:

  • reduced costs through sharing of resources and information;
  • improved quality of projects and activities (creating better outcomes for communities);
  • allowing for diverse thinking and an opportunity to share the workload;
  • creating motivation to develop and undertake the work; and
  • enabling the ongoing development of relationships between partners.

However, there are a few issues to consider when developing partnerships.

What do we mean by ‘partnership’?

Partnerships and linkages involve a range of interested parties depending on the needs of the community. These could include health services, health professionals and Primary Health Networks, local government and councils, teachers and schools, employers, sporting clubs and community groups.

The differing needs, available resources and diversity of issues facing communities means that there is no single type of partnership that will suit them all.

This means that Local Drug Action Teams, for instance, will need to establish their requirements and capacity, and decide what type of partnership will work in their local community based on the issue that they’re wanting to address.

These partnerships and links can be as simple as two services agreeing to exchange resources and information, or more complex arrangements such as a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Points to consider

Setting up an effective partnership involves working together to establish guidelines and protocols that are realistic, useful and agreeable to all parties. This can help clarify roles and responsibilities and ensure the efficient use of resources. The individual requirements of each partnership will dictate the specific issues that must be considered, but the following outlines some of the general issues.

Effective and open communication

Open and effective communication between all of the involved groups is an essential part of any partnership.

  • Consult with all involved parties: Regular meetings and consultations can provide feedback about what people are expecting from the partnership and help to maintain the momentum, involvement and enthusiasm of the participating groups. This includes consultation to ensure needs and expectations are being met.
  • Get to know the parties: It’s essential for the groups involved to have the opportunity to get to know each other well in order to build trust and improve communication.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities: Partnerships may be undermined or frustrated by confusion if people are unsure about their role in the partnership. It’s essential that each member is clear about everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
  • Sharing: Set up mechanisms whereby all parties are encouraged to share information, resources and facilities. Regular meetings, and a shared language and set of agreed guidelines and procedures, can help to develop a well-functioning team.

Develop guidelines

Developing a set of guidelines for the partnership can aid communication and clarify the roles and responsibilities of those involved. Depending on the type of partnership, these guidelines may outline a range of issues including: referral pathways between services, how to facilitate ongoing consultations and discussions, and potential for sharing consumer information, privacy, and consent.

Ongoing evaluation

Once the partnership has been established it is important to consult regularly with the involved parties to ensure the partnership is achieving its purpose and meeting everyone’s needs.

Be practical and realistic

While developing the goals, guidelines and protocols for a partnership, ensure they are practical and realistic. For a partnership to be effective the parties involved need to understand their roles and responsibilities and also be able to achieve them.

Research has found that the main indicators of successful community based partnerships were based upon commitment, coordination and trust.

The active participation of group members and the use of joint problem solving as a conflict resolution technique are also recommended as the preferred approach.1