Partnership working must focus more on needs of beneficiaries, says report

James Rees of the Third Sector Research Centre says there is uncertainty about what type of partnership works best

James Rees
James Rees

Charities and voluntary organisations are not doing enough to prioritise the views and needs of beneficiaries when considering partnership working, a new report suggests.

Partnership Working, published today by the Third Sector Research Centre, says service users’ views are too often being excluded when objectives for partnership are being set or assessed for impact.

It says partnerships are driven more by financial pressures than the needs of beneficiaries.

The publication is based on assessments of five sample areas, including housing association mergers and the formation of an association between two large, unnamed charities.

It concludes that organisations considering partnership to deliver public services should move away from an emphasis on economies of scale and give greater priority to economies of scope.

Researchers also found that voluntary partnerships were more likely to be successful because they were better at fostering trust between partners.

"Our conclusion would be that while there is theoretically no necessary conflict between competition and collaboration, in practice partnerships have tended to work more effectively when they are underpinned by voluntary, trust-based relationships rather than by imposed or mandated partnership forms or by competitive arrangements that undermine trust," it says.

James Rees, co-author of the report, said: "There is widespread recognition in public and third sector organisations that we all need to get smarter about the way we do things. But there remains significant uncertainty about the type of partnership arrangement that is likely to be successful.

"The private sector might be better at doing some types of partnership because of the single bottom line, but public services deliver multiple bottom lines. Trust, user engagement, co-production and relationship approaches are needed to deliver value in these spheres."

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