A Framework for Evaluating Partnerships
One of the groups that I’m on is reviewing its progress to date, so I thought that might be a good opportunity to dust off and update my framework for assessing partnerships.
It has 5 top level categories: Aims, results, context, capacity and process. The main ones, those that relate to the operation, are ‘capacity’ and ‘process’. ‘Context’ is about all things outside the immediate system that impact on the partnership. The ‘aims’ section is about the partnership knowing where it is trying to get to, while the ‘results’ section is an assessment as to how far it has got. I will briefly describe each in turn and what lies beneath them.
The aims include the desired results but also a number of other things. The desired results include aims, objectives, vision etc. but should also take account of the degree of commonality of aims and the extent to which they overlap between members. It’s also important to remember the difference between the formal aims and actual, often unstated, interests and objectives of individuals and organisations. Other things to consider under this heading are the role of the group, more specific tasks and how it is going to achieve them.
The results, are the most direct assessments of the partnership. They include the extent to which the aims were fulfilled and what difference it has made to physical and mental health and wellbeing. As well as the total of wellbeing another important dimension is equality and distribution of outcomes. The evaluation could also consider how far the outcomes were attributable to partnership working and what could have been done without it. You could also ask if it has added more than the sum of its parts (could those individuals working on their own have achieved more?).
The context includes all those things outside the immediate system that could have impacted on the partnership. It could be things like national level rules, targets, structure and finance. It could be the geography and infrastructure within which the partnership work. There may also be elements of history – things which have happened in the past – that influence how the partnership can and does work.
The heading of capacity includes the nature of the partnership – structure governance, membership etc. – and the resources available to it in terms of capacity of individuals, finance, infrastructure and so on. Governance includes the structure, terms of reference, roles and accountability, internal working procedures and relationships to other bodies and partnerships. The nature of the partnership organisations includes their infrastructure, leadership, culture, organisational arrangements and the roles of particular professions. The capacity of individuals includes their awareness, commitment, knowledge, skills and power. It will also be useful to consider particular roles, both formal such as of the chair and secretary, and informal ones, such as the person who provides a driving force or those who facilitate joint working in practice. Capacity also includes resources such as finance, access to ICT and so on.
The process heading includes operations, collective capacity and trajectory.
Operations includes all aspects of the mechanisms by which people work with each other. That covers the ways in which people interact such as in meetings, through IT or collective planning. It is also whether the best and most appropriate techniques have been used such as efficient and effective meetings, problem solving sessions and ways of getting the most out of all participants.
Collective capacity includes the way people work together and how they can become more than the sum of their parts. Group dynamics are particularly significant as is the nature of people’s relationships and the development of trust. This includes how to get the best out of all members and how to manage conflict resolution.
Important insights into the success, or otherwise, of the group can be gleaned from considering its trajectory over its lifetime. That could include feedback loops, such as ‘success breeding success’ or conversely, failure to achieve objectives leading to disenchantment and gradual disengagement from the group. Some of the factors considered under ‘context’ may be important here, such as re-organisations imposed on particular partner organisations or how much finance is made available.
Of course, this is not the only available approach to evaluating partnerships and there are various different ways of dividing up the areas to consider. I have experimented with various ones and no doubt will modify this framework in the future.
In the meantime, however, it is something to work with. The next step is to develop an approach to facilitate the evaluation.