Angela Morgan explains why learning to trust potential partners is essential for the development of strong third sector services
In the third sector, we know that working together is the key to success. But there are lots of challenges to overcome, and perhaps the biggest is learning to trust your partners.
It reminds me of a wonderful scene in Annie Hall where Diane Keaton and Woody Allen are talking to each other and what they are really thinking pops up on the screen. Joint working can be much the same if the outside and inside conversations don’t match; you can have all the paperwork and strategies you like but you have to trust the other people in the partnership for it to work, and that can be difficult to do.
I heard someone say recently that partnership is an unnatural act between unconsenting adults
One partnership started after a conversation I had with the police seven years ago when a senior officer asked me how his colleagues could access our service. After a lengthy process we accessed money to develop a pilot, we persuaded folk in government and an independent charitable trust to support us and we delivered a service to help young people move on from offending behaviour. That project, Includem IMPACT is now a success and has contributed hugely to harm reduction in Glasgow.
However, to begin with, this project threw up a vast array of anxieties: “could we trust our partners to deliver what they said they would?” “Is it their own agenda they’re following rather than ours?” “Will we compromise our relationships with young people by working with the police?”
A very helpful piece of work by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health helps explain that it is essentially through the processes of actually doing something together that relationships are built and trust is established. For example, once our workers had trained police officers to knock on a door in a way that didn’t appear like a police raid and once the police knew we could support young people with the most complex and pressing needs, the partnership actually started to work very well.
Once we were both confident with each other, we started to share intelligence – and gradually we have worked through the grey areas and worked together to benefit our communities.
Management is also important for any partnership. We set up a joint-governance group including health, police, local authority and government representatives to strategically oversees the project. This provides a shared stake in the success – or failure – of the project.
So what can we learn for this? What can we do in terms of time, respect, honesty, stickability and brokerage? What about the concept of hard-to-reach partners? I’m sure we can all think of those! Are we ourselves a hard to reach partner? These are questions worth asking.
Ultimately, we are all human. I heard someone say recently that partnership is an unnatural act between unconsenting adults, and I always get a laugh at conferences when I tell people that the German for partnership is partnerschaft. But, I respond to this with a picture of a whirling dervish. Dervishes are able to spin and not fall over by holding their thumb out and focusing on it. In our world, our thumb is that young person. If we can focus on them, all of us from our different perspectives and backgrounds, and wherever we ourselves are spinning, can make sure that we face the right direction together.
Angela Morgan is chief executive of Includem, which offers intensive support to young people at risk and/or excluded from mainstream services.