OPINION: Partnerships are never easy

Just because you live together, and even share the odd domestic facility, does not mean you have a relationship. The seven children's charities that have recently landed a £500,000 grant from the Treasury to invest in shared premises and combined operations now have to figure out how to turn their courtship into something more than a marriage of convenience.

Closer collaboration between the charities - ChildLine, Family Service Units, I Can, The Place 2 Be, The Who Cares? Trust, Young Minds and the National Children's Bureau - could result in new and improved services for children as a consequence of their combined expertise.

But these charities would be the first to acknowledge that the road to full partnership working can be difficult. Shared premises and back-office mergers are only minor staging posts in the journey towards a deeper relationship.

Shared office space brings organisations into closer proximity but does not always result in better communication between them. It is not difficult to recall cohabiting organisations where interaction remains surprisingly stilted. Whether poor communication is symptomatic of relationship problems or at their root cause, it is rare to witness cohabiting organisations moving beyond self-conscious communication to achieve the kind of spontaneous creativity such partnerships aspire to.

Perhaps the way we work within our own organisations makes changes in patterns of communication difficult. Time-pressed schedules limit staff opportunities for the kind of unplanned communication necessary for creative working. The new dominance of email interaction increasingly discourages face-to-face contact.

Woe betide anyone who thinks that sharing the same office space and stationery cupboard automatically fosters closer collaboration. It is only when organisations change the way they communicate with each other that there are greater chances of building a deeper and more productive relationship.

Lisa Harker, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

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