What makes an effective partnership? Andrew McCoshan, EPALE Thematic Coordinator for Quality in Adult Learning, offers some tips based on his own experience.
One of the rewarding things about being involved in a European project is building and maintaining the partnership that will deliver it. So how do we make sure our partnership is a success?
For sure, there are no easy answers. But there are also some “essentials” that should be given attention to maximise our chances not just of surviving transnational partnerships, but of building a set of lasting relationships with people and organisations.
Here's my list. What would you add?
1. I can do this, what can you do?
It is almost self-evident that in any partnership knowing who is responsible for doing what is vital. But it’s especially important in a transnational context to be very clear and explicit regarding what each partner is expected to achieve because language and cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings. A partnership also contains a wealth of knowledge and skills, so finding out what those are and matching them to project tasks will be beneficial.
Tip: Don’t just assume everyone knows what their role is because they signed up to the partnership – get partners to discuss their skills and roles during the opening period of the project and clarify any misunderstandings.
2. Solid partnerships are deep partnerships… and depth takes time plus good personal relationships
The informal personal and social aspects of partnerships are just as important as the formal ones. Opportunities to get to know one another play an essential role in building the personal relationships which can act as a “glue” to bind the partnership together. They are also very important in getting to understand the various cultures and values present in the partnership.
Tip: Commit time and effort to organising opportunities for partners to get to know one another alongside the formal aspects of the project.
3. The world is a village
True, but villages don’t function just by chance: the villagers need plenty of opportunities to communicate with one another on formal issues, as well as the informal get-togethers just noted. Partners will probably vary quite a lot in terms of their experience in transnational working and in their language abilities. They need opportunities to contribute and to establish a shared understanding of goals and the progress required.
Tip: During project meetings, use tour of table approaches to gather inputs so everyone has a chance to speak.
4. It wasn’t my fault!
Every partnership will experience conflicts, mistakes and perhaps even crises from time to time. It’s important that the partnership has a plan to deal with such unfortunate situations. Participatory project management approaches that ensure the involvement of all partners can help here, especially in light of diversity in cultures and values.
Tip: Make sure you have an explicit discussion at the start of your project of how the partnership will handle mistakes and conflicts.
5. Small is beautiful … sometimes
Depending on the nature of your partnership, you may need to select a small steering group of key partners who will meet regularly and support overall coordination. Indeed, in general this can work well – it enables decisions to be made quickly. But such things need to be agreed in advance.
Tip: It’s important that everyone knows why you might have a small steering group and agrees it from the start.
6. What did she say?
English tends to be the common language used in European transnational partnerships and whilst people may have very high levels of understanding in general, technical terms can be quite another matter. Even apparently straightforward terms like ‘learning’ have different meanings in different countries and contexts.
Tip: Write and agree on a glossary of terms.
7. If I have to go to another meeting…
Let's be honest, no one ever wishes they could go to more meetings. And transnational partnerships are no exception. Obviously it's important to go through formal matters to check progress etc. But educators aren't in education to sit around tables!
Tip: Why not use the didactic experience of partners to think of creative new ways of running your partnership and especially its inevitable meetings.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 25 years. For more than 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant and an ECVET Expert for the UK. He has also been the expert on quality for the ESF Transnational Learning Network on mobility for disadvantaged youth and young adults.