In 2016, an international group of partnership broker trainers convened in Wales to reflect on the key principles involved in partnership processes. The gathering followed a 20 year journey initiated by Ros Tennyson and Michael Warner who wanted to promote professionalism and integrity in cross-sector partnering.
In a time when collective impact and social innovation have become terms easily shared and increasingly understood, skills in cross-sector partnering have become more vital. Given the trend toward multi-stakeholder collaboration, it’s helpful to know there is a body of knowledge and experience that has been maturing for more than 2 decades.
I first became aware of the Partnership Brokers Association while working with Social Innovation Generation (SiG). SiG itself was a unique Canadian partnership, founded by the McConnell Foundation and developed alongside MaRS in Toronto, The University of Waterloo and the PLAN Institute in Vancouver. In December 2017, SiG reached its sunset and in so doing, reflected the 10th of the Top 10 principles developed by the Partnership Brokers Association: Be willing to let go and hand over the partnership brokering role when the time is right.
It was strange to many that SiG would end. Over the course of the partnership, many networks and collaborations had been developed and the spectre of institutionalization loomed. Perhaps there’s a understandable expectation for organizations to become more fixed, especially as they develop a more confident view of who they are and what they can achieve. But it was an expectation never proposed by SiG’s founders and it was wise to recognize that what had brought them together had shifted; new arrangements and resources were necessary to continue to foster a healthy social innovation ecosystem.
If we look at the attributes of partnership, I see many in the SiG partnership when it first launched:
- A common purpose - to foster a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada
- Shared and individual interests - institutional work and concurrent partnership projects
- Contribution of resources of different types - research, networks, finances, policy experience
- Co-creation of solutions - illustrated in the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, social lab education and ecosystem development
- Sharing of risks and benefits - often in the form of reputational capital
- A commitment to mutual accountability
- A principled approach of working together
As the SiG partnership itself wound down, SiG National’s Executive Director, Tim Draimin wrote:
“SiG has accelerated its 2017 partnerships to assist the birth of key future-focused resources before our denouement. At the same time, there are various visions and multi-institution conversations about potentially spring-boarding “SiG(s) Next”. Such possible successor activities, whether branded as SiG or not, would address remaining ecosystem gaps and challenges while supporting continuing efforts to catalyze, develop and mainstream social innovation.”
It was important to the SiG founders that the partnership wrap as thoughtfully as it had begun, providing oxygen for ongoing activity. When I participated in the Partnership Brokers Training in February 2018, it was interesting to reflect on the qualities of partnership I was privileged to observe so closely over several years. Yet I was also aware that without practice, without attention to the characteristics and principles of partnership development, these skills can quickly become rusty.
Do you develop working relationships where risks and benefits are shared? Do you recognize your work in the attributes I listed above? This October, the Partnership Brokers Association will host their Level 1 Training Course in Toronto. A masterclass in cross-sector collaboration and facilitation methods and practices, it can help energize and deepen a practitioner’s approach to working relationships. It certainly offered fresh insight to my practice.
Much was written about the SiG partnership in its legacy book launched last November - including a healthy dose of what not to do. If you have a story to share about your partnership practice and experience, consider joining the newly launched GTHA Partnership Brokers Community of Practice. Our next meeting will take place on November 14. Email me to find out more about the community of practice. If you’re interested in the October training, reach out to Mary Pickering at The Atmospheric Fund, the Partnership Brokers Association’s Toronto partner.