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Queensland Stay On Your Feet® - Toolkit Phase 2 - Partnerships

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In a good practice approach to falls prevention, the idea that key stakeholders need to work together as partners is fundamental and often repeated. But what does being a partner or being involved with a partnership actually mean? What is a good partnership? Are there guidelines or tools available that will help encourage long term and productive partnerships?

What is a partnership?
The term 'partnership' is now widely used to describe more than one organisation working together in a project/program to achieve common goals [184]. Partners aim to achieve something together that they could not achieve alone [183]. Partnerships should be considered a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.

Why do we need partners to help reduce falls in older people?
Falls prevention activities need to be multi-strategic and multi-sectoral because whilst the health sector may be responsible for caring for, and helping those who have had a fall, the causes of that fall generally lie outside the influence of the Health sector. Falls happen at all times and in all places including in homes (impacting housing design), in community settings (impacting public space planning by local councils), in the workplace (impacting occupational health and safety) and during leisure and recreational activities (impacting sport and recreation).

Working together with partners is important, as no one agency has the resources and expertise to adequately address falls prevention in older people alone [181]. To address the wide range of risk factors for falls in older people, stakeholders with an interest in a particular risk factor need to be engaged in a partnership to achieve mutual outcomes. The health sector cannot do all the work required by itself. All related agencies, groups, government departments, private sector agencies and community based organisations that work with and/or provide a service to older people need to be drawn into a range of collaborative partnerships to collectively work to improve the health and welfare of older Australians.

Key stakeholders

One source has noted that "the highly complex, dynamic, multi-causal, multi-level, multi-sectoral nature of contemporary social problems also mean that they are resistant to interventions designed by any single profession or government single professional group, community group, organisation or government sector possesses the expertise or resources to design or implement a comprehensive multi-level and multi-sector solution" [187].

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Different types of partnerships

A partnership can vary or change in its nature and way of operating depending on the degree to which partners interact and trust each other. Partnerships range from networking through to collaboration [182].

Networking involves the exchange of information between stakeholders for mutual benefit. Networking can also establish trust and roles between stakeholders [182]. For example, the Southern Area Population Health Service hosted a local "Stall the Fall" workshop in 2006 as a catalyst for generating activity and interest around falls prevention. Attendees included health professionals, peak ageing agencies, and non-government and domiciliary services. The networks established as a result of this workshop continue to inform current falls prevention work in the area.

Coordinating involves exchanging information and altering activities for a common purpose [182]. For example, the local council now includes information about falls prevention for older people as a regular column in its newsletter.

Cooperating involves exchanging information, altering activities and sharing resources. It requires a significant amount of time, high level of trust between partners and "sharing turf" between agencies [182]. Queensland Health's Tropical Population Health Network health promotion officers are actively involved with senior safety groups which include organisations such as local government, government and non-government health services working with seniors and senior's groups. These partners work together to develop, implement and evaluate project plans that address safety issues relevant to older people.

In addition to the other activities described, collaboration includes enhancing the capacity of the other partner for mutual benefit and a common purpose.
Collaborating requires the partner to give up a part of their 'turf' to another agency to create a better or more seamless service system [182]. Queensland Health’s Central Area Health Service has established healthy ageing partnerships to deliver multi-strategic and multi-sectoral projects/programs. The partnerships bring together key stakeholders from community, government and non-government sectors [185].

For more information on the different types of partnerships.

What can partnerships do?
Partnerships can be involved with a wide range of activities and priorities, including:

  • sharing information
  • networking
  • managing cases jointly
  • co-locating services and providing resources
  • providing technical support, information and training
  • providing funds for specific activities/programs in other sectors
  • jointly sponsoring programs
  • forming coalitions
  • developing joint policies
  • formalising agreements
  • developing legislation/regulations [186].

What makes a successful partnership?Certain success factors combine to create a productive partnership. Identified success factors are:

  • agreement that a partnership is necessary
  • respect and trust between different interests
  • the leadership of a respected individual or individuals
  • commitment developed through a clear and open process
  • the development of a shared vision of what might be achieved
  • time to build the partnership
  • shared mandates or agendas
  • the development of compatible ways of working, and flexibility
  • good communication, perhaps aided by a facilitator
  • collaborative decision-making, with a commitment to achieving consensus
  • effective organisational management [184].

Failed partnershipsCharacteristics of failed attempts at partnership, or warnings that something is going wrong, often include:

  • a history of conflict among key stakeholders
  • one partner manipulates or dominates
  • lack of clear purpose
  • unrealistic goals
  • differences of philosophy and ways of working
  • lack of communication
  • unequal and unacceptable balance of power and control
  • key interests or groups missing from the partnership
  • unclear, hidden or incompatible agendas
  • some partners bought in late
  • financial and time commitments outweigh the potential benefits [184].

Guidelines for partnerships

The following guidelines will help you determine what sort of partnership you would like to create, and how to make a start.

  • Clarify your own aims and objectives in forming a partnership. What are you trying to achieve, and how will you explain that?
  • Identify the stakeholders whose key interests can help or hinder the project/program and put yourself in their shoes. Who holds the power?
  • Consider who you really need as partners, and who would really want to be a partner. Some stakeholders may simply want to be consulted.
  • Before approaching potential partners, make sure you have support and agreement within your own organisation about working with others.
  • Make informal contact with partners to find out about their attitudes and interests before putting forward formal proposals.
  • Communicate with your partners using language they will understand, and focusing on what they may want to achieve.
  • Plan the partnership process over time. For example, a new organisation may well take a year or more to set up, so you will need to be patient.
  • Use a range of formal and informal methods to involve people. Be sociable.
  • Encourage ideas from your partners. Ownership leads to commitment.
  • Be open and honest [184].

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The Partnership Analysis Tool

This tool helps you work with key stakeholders and assess, monitor and maximise the effectiveness of their involvement in your project/program.
The Partnership Analysis Tool for Partners in Health Promotion

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Last updated: 7 August 2012