Practical Advice for Managing Collaborative Partnerships
Having worked in a number of partnerships for over a decade, I have come across best practice in managing collaborative partnerships which I bring together in this article. The partnerships I have been involved in have been on undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degree programmes with some being joint delivery or with charitable organisations and overseas partners. The particular type of partnerships include franchises, validated degrees and articulation agreements.
The top 4 practices I provide as advice for those managing partnerships are as follows:
- Share expertise and be free within your framework
Although there should be a legally binding agreement for most partnerships, in reality, many partnerships I have been involved in and the best ones I have witnessed are where the partners work together providing additional support beyond the limitations of the agreement – what I call freedom within a framework. Where there is a close cooperation between staff members of the partners and sharing of resources such as library or other resources, this helps the partnership to flourish for both. In my view, both partners bring unique benefits to the partnership and there is no ‘junior’ or senior partner in the partnership.
This can be facilitated practically by both partners sharing details of their services and capabilities. I am struck by how little information is shared on precisely what the other partner offer in terms of services such as staff/CPD training opportunities.
- Communicate at all levels
Both partners should provide confidence to each other through early dialogue and frequent communication. In my experience however, the communication does not take place at all levels. That is, communication should occur at the levels of programme link tutor, institutional link tutor, operational/departmental, and senior management. The link tutor is another term for a contact person. Above all, both partners should be honest with each other about concerns or issues that need to be discussed.
The success of a partnership often depends on the professional services support teams (e.g. quality/partnership department) as well as academic interaction, but one can often be a weak link.
Additionally, if there the partner is overseas then it is understood then efforts should be made to understand the cultural differences. Increasingly this is being harmonised as we understand more about overseas education.
Practically, have a clear organisational chart showing responsibilities for where the partnership is managed in your institution and for which aspects such as legal, marketing, student experience matters, etc. Also have a clear Annual Operational Calendar shared between both partners which can indicate key dates and activities involving both partners whether this be the provision of updated policies and procedures or annual reports. Further, why not have formal, schedule partnership meetings with set items to discuss on, say, a quarterly basis?
- Plan together
By definition, partners should work in unison, like a life or business partner! However often partners do not always inform each other of their strategic plans or more importantly shifts in those plans. If for example, as an awarding body, you are consolidating into certain international territories and exiting from others, if this impacts the expansion plans of your partner then you need to make them aware in advance.
Practically, in decision making protocols, include consultation with partners as requirement. In the above example, how many partners consult each other on their strategic objectives? This is rarely done. This fosters an intimate understanding of each other. The formal monitoring and evaluation of a partner may include an option to provide an update of any new strategic business plans.
- Have sound quality assurance arrangements
Ultimately, underpinning every partnership must be the assurance that standards are being maintained. The whole partnership process should indeed be governed by a collaborative partnership procedure. This is usually the ultimate responsibility of the awarding body, but often some delivery partners can be delegated some duties such as designing the course in the first instance. Make it clear through some sort of flow chart.
I advocate that the delivery partner should operate consistently within the awarding body’s policies and frameworks unless explicitly agreed that the delivery partner would operate differently in some aspects. However, for various reasons the delivery partner may have its own business and quality policies, in which case it can operate a ‘shadow regulatory framework’ side by side to the awarding body.
In conclusion, both partners should take the time to understand each other, as the real work begins once the partners sign on the dotted line. The partnership should be enjoyed and celebrated, as they are often the only way many young people gain access to education.