Creating Partnerships

This section is designed to be read in conjunction with other material on this site - listed below - which deals with collaboration between different interests involved in urban and rural regeneration programme (renewal or revitalisation are terms also used).

The term 'partnership' is now widely used where more than one organisation or interest is involved in, for example, an urban or rural regeneration programme. It may be too widely applied to situations where one powerful organisation is doing no more than consult with others, or mask fundamental differences of approach and objectives that will later lead to conflict.

Building Effective Local Partnerships (Local Government Management Board) offers as a definition:
A partnership is an agreement between two or more partners to work together to achieve common aims.

If you want to use any of the material, please contact me. David Wilcox <>

Introduction to Partnerships

This Introduction - below - deals with:

Some of the topics are covered in more detail in other material on this site.

Successful partnership

The following factors for success emerge from surveys of partnerships, and workshops of practitioners involved in creating and running partnerships:

Failed partnership

The following are characteristics of failed attempts at partnership, or warnings that something is going wrong:

Drawn from workshops and sources here

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Making neighbourhood renewal work – in theory

A report by Marilyn Taylor, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in March 2000, argues that effective Neighbourhood Management in the future will depend on the following principles:

A summary of the report is at

But is it working in practice?

Another Joseph Roundation Foundation report, by a team at Goldsmith’s College, explored the experiences of residents involved in urban regeneration projects and found all far from well on the ground. They concluded:

‘Communities are diverse and local interests may conflict with each other. If the community is seen as homogenous then only the most powerful voices will tend to be heard.

‘Residents felt there was a gap between the rhetoric that demands community participation in area regeneration programmes and the realities of work on the ground.

‘The study did find examples of good practice, but residents also had major criticisms to make. Too often, in their view, the mechanisms for effective community involvement had been inadequate, with too little time for effective consultation. Many commented that there had been insufficient support and not enough training (a conclusion shared by many professionals).’

Summary available at

Participation consultant Drew Mackie reaches similar conclusions in an article ‘Dancing while standing still’

He says: ‘Two problems have emerged:

‘Communities are under increasing pressure to become involved. This can put a strain on the time of community activists and the community itself. "I participated last week!" is becoming a frequent refrain as communities are consulted on matters of health, transport, housing, education, planning, economic development, etc. The quality of such consultation is necessarily variable and many bodies are consulting because they have to, not because they believe in it.

‘Consultation itself does not guarantee delivery. A proper community involvement programme will involve the delivery agencies so that false expectations are not raised and delivery becomes part of the process. Communities are increasingly complaining that their involvement has not resulted in better delivery. "Why should I bother when nothing happens?"’

Participation and partnership

It may be easier to develop an appropriate approach to partnership if you have a simple theoretical framework for thinking about the wider issues of participation. These ideas are developed in detail in the Guide to Effective Participation.

Sherry Arnstein, writing in 1969 about citizen involvement in planning processes in the United States, described a ladder of participation.

1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Both are non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support by public relations.

3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback.

4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual.

5 Placation. For example, co-option of hand-picked 'worthies' onto committees. It allows citizens to advise or plan ad infinitum but retains for power holders the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice.

6 Partnership. Power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared e.g. through joint committees.

7 Delegated power. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.

8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme e.g. neighbourhood corporation with no intermediaries between it and the source of funds.

Arnstein's ladder of participation suggests some levels are better than others. I think it is more of a case of horses for courses different levels are appropriate in different circumstances.

Five stances

The key issue is what 'stance' you take if you are an organisation initiating or managing a process of participation or partnership building.

I suggest thinking of five levels or stances which offer increasing degrees of control to the others involved.

Information: The least you can do is tell people what is planned.

Consultation: You identify the problems, offer a number of options, and listen to the feedback you get.

Deciding together: You encourage others to provide some additional ideas and options, and join in deciding the best way forward.

Acting together: Not only do different interests decide together what is best, but they form a partnership to carry it out.

Supporting independent community initiatives: You help others do what they want perhaps within a framework of grants, advice and support provided by the resource holder.

The 'lower' levels of participation keep control with the initiator but they lead to less commitment from others. Partnership operates at the levels of Deciding Together and Acting Together.

Information is essential for all participation but is not participatory in itself.

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Apparently easy answers to partnership

When local authorities, private sector bodies, and indeed voluntary organisations, are faced with tight timetables and firm guidelines it is difficult to think through the complexities for participation and partnership. There is a strong temptation to go for a quick fix and hope to sort things out later. Here are a few health warnings on different forms of partnership.

Set up a forum

A forum may seem an easy way to get a wide range of interests together and act as a sounding board, but should it be labelled a partnership? For example:

Create special interest fora

Rather than putting all interests together, give them each a forum. But then:

Appoint community representatives

Instead of creating more organisations, give community representatives seats on the decision-making bodies. However:

Set up a Community Development Trust

Development trusts are non-profit-distributing companies, which may seek charitable status. They have their own staff and are governed by a Board including a range of interests. They are described in more detail elsewhere in the information sheets but they may not always be the most appropriate form of partnership.


Form a steering group of all interests

A steering group would have more say than a forum, but not control resources like a Development Trust. It may seem a reasonable compromise, but consider:

Run a Planning for Real exercise

Instead of relying solely on formal structures, using workshop techniques allows participation to be taken to residents and others. Planning for Real is one powerful technique which allows participants to build models of the neighbourhoods they want, and develop action plans. It provides more active involvement than public meetings or fora. However:

Get the money first, worry about partnership later

Dress up funding bids with token representation, then bring people on board when the money is there. This may be convenient for the bidding body however:

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Guidelines for partnership

Here are some guidelines which may offer you a way of deciding what sort of partnership you may wish to create, and how to make a start.

  1. Clarify your own aims and objectives in forming a partnership. What are you trying to achieve, and how will you explain that?
  2. Identify the stakeholders the key interests who can help or hinder the project or programme and put yourself in their shoes. Who holds the power?
  3. Consider who you really need as partners, and who would really want to be a partner. Some stakeholders may simply want to be consulted.
  4. Before approaching potential partners, make sure you have support and agreement within your own organisation about working with others.
  5. Make informal contact with partners to find out about their attitudes and interests before putting formal proposals.
  6. Communicate with your partners in language they will understand, focusing on what they may want to achieve.
  7. Plan the partnership process over time. For example, a new organisation may well take a year to set up.
  8. Use a range of methods to involve people workshop sessions as well as formal meetings. Be sociable.
  9. Encourage ideas from your partners. Ownership leads to commitment.
  10. Be open and honest.
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Strategies for Partnerships and Participation

These guidelines were developed in 1999 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation at the request of the UK Government’s Department for Transport and the Regions. They provide guidance for Single Regeneration Budget bids:

Getting started

Involving communities in partnerships

Creating strong local organisations with their own assets

Developing an infrastructure to build and sustain community organisations

Monitoring progress

Report at:

Back to Partnerships at Partnerships Online

Prepared by David Wilcox October 23 2000