Three golden principles to power-up your collaborative practice
What makes a great collaboration? Marianna Hay and Lisa Baxter draw out lessons from a range of partnerships.
In this article, Take Note and the Centre for Cultural Value will distil the learnings and perspectives from their flagship projects – Partner Up and Collaborate – into three golden principles which will:
- support and strengthen your own collaborative practice;
- sustain your work with partners for the long term;
- ultimately maximise your collective impact.
Led by Take Note, Partner Up was a unique funding and strategic support initiative that encouraged unlikely allies to join forces and deliver ambitious creative projects with communities. Whereas, Collaborate is an initiative of the Centre for Cultural Value, funding innovative collaborative research projects between cultural sector practitioners and academics.
Throughout this article, we will reference resources that you can use to help you implement these principles, including pointing you to specific tools from the Take Note Collaboration Guidebook.
Principles of collaboration
Clarify your “Why”
Articulate what you collectively want your collaborative partnership to achieve and why you each believe it is needed. Driving towards a shared vision for your collaboration will strengthen delivery of the work and enhance each partners’ individual commitment and motivation.
Partner Up applicants did this by completing a Collaborative Impact Map together (an ‘Impact Map Introduction’ and ‘How To Create an Impact Map’ is available in the Take Note Collaboration Guidebook p.18-27) which helped outline their shared vision and outcomes. Consider also how the group’s collective ambition feeds into each partner’s own organisational objectives.
“This process enabled us to rise above our limited perspectives, build something together and connect through a common vision that kept the driving force of the project alive. We were coming together for a common cause.” Partner Up applicant
The Centre for Cultural Value structured the Expression of Interest and Grant Application Forms to support the co-creation of shared processes and goals that were mutually beneficial.
In addition, the cohort indicated that being genuinely curious about each other’s perspectives and motivations, and valuing the differences between them, enriched their thinking. One partnership embraced “creative collision” as part of this process, playing with possibility rather than entering into the partnership with preconceived ideas.
Setup is key
Allocate additional time, resources and capacity at the start of a project to set it up well. Involving all partners in the project planning and set up is key to building solid foundations for the partnership.
Partnerships involved in Partner Up and Collaborate suggested taking the following approach to support successful collaboration and smooth delivery:
- Take the time at the start to plot out each partner’s roles and responsibilities.
- Recognise and pay careful attention to each partner’s capacity and what they can commit to, to prevent problems further down the line.
- Budget fairly for each partner’s individual input.
- Acknowledge and address any power dynamics at play.
- Agree communication modes and when the best time is to contact each other.
“We had to always bring our focus back to what we were trying to achieve – different partners had different priorities that ran alongside this project’s intended outcomes – the approach helped us maintain focus.” Partner Up grantee
“One thing that’s been really interesting is our awareness of the different value of time for different people and ensuring that it’s recognised. This is really important.” Collaborate grantee
Completing a partnership agreement to which everyone contributes and signs is a crucial step in creating a culture of shared accountability, clarity and commitment from all involved. You can download Take Note’s partnership agreement template (with further information about what to include detailed on pages 46-47 of the Guidebook).
Give the partnership as much love as the project
Find time to discuss how you want to work together, set out your shared values and create an environment of open communication and mutual trust. Make sure you come back together at regular moments throughout the project to reflect on the partnership strengths and challenges. Take Note’s Collaborative Values tool (pages 36-38) and Partnership Health Check tool (pages 50-52) from the Guidebook can support you with this.
The Partner Up and Collaborate projects found that allocating as much time and resource to the partnership as the project itself was key and represented a significant departure from their usual project focused delivery mode. Partners used this time together to reflect on the collaboration and its successes and discuss challenges or ways in which they could improve their work together.
“We learnt how important it is to take time to think about expectations, understanding of ideas and different ways of working and cultures”. Partner Up grantee
Collaborate partners talked about how cultivating a culture of care and authentic communication was vital in bringing out the best in the partnership by creating a safe space in which feelings, concerns and doubts could be openly shared.
Use this “non-delivery” time to identify what learning you might take forward into future collaborations. Think carefully about how partnership meetings are run, and by whom (including considering having an external or more objective third-party facilitator involved in partnership management, especially for bigger, more complex partnerships). Collaborate, for example, requires a process of reflective practice for all the research partnerships which focuses on process as much as on delivery.
The power of collaboration
We understand the pressures that organisations, charities, community groups and individuals are under and the additional complexities working with others can bring. Yet, by adapting and embedding these simple golden principles into existing ways of working, you can enhance collaboration in your work for now and for the long term, for the maximum possible impact in your communities.
Take Note and “Partner Up”
Partner Up was a unique funding and strategic support initiative, led by collaboration and partnership pioneers, Take Note. Partner Up encouraged unlikely allies to join forces and deliver ambitious, innovative and impactful creative projects with communities.
From 128 applications, two projects – – were chosen to receive Partner Up’s two £30,000 grants. Both projects represented bold alliances between arts, humanitarian and community support organisations using performance, dance and film to bring about social change in the areas of mental health and human rights, connecting grassroots organisations with partners operating at national and international levels.
For further information and for a more in-depth analysis of these recommendations, Take Note will be publishing the full evaluation of Partner Up in September 2023.
Drawn from the findings of Partner Up, Take Note is also creating a new resource specifically for funders that will complement and serve as a companion to The Collaboration Guidebook. ‘Funding Collaboration: A Blueprint’ sets out a new approach and model for collaborative grant application design and will offer funders a tried and tested grant application process that better supports collaborations and partnership working.
The Centre for Cultural Value and “Collaborate”
Collaborate is an initiative of the Centre for Cultural Value, a national research centre based at the University of Leeds, funding collaborative research projects between cultural sector practitioners and academics.
As the name suggest, collaboration is at the core of the programme and projects need to demonstrate a clear focus on a strong, mutually rewarding working relationships, which achieve clear benefits and insights for both parties. To date, the Centre has funded 11 research projects and through reflective practice with the cohort, learned some valuable lessons and what constitutes excellent collaborative practice.
Marianna Hay is a social entrepreneur working in the field of arts for social impact. She is Co-Director and Co-Founder of Take Note and Founding Director of the award winning youth music charity, Orchestras for All.
Lisa Baxter is a researcher, trainer and creative facilitator. She is the partnership manager on the Collaborate fund.
Photo credit: Craft Council – Leather Making Workshop with Deborette Clarke (© Gene Kavanagh)