Partnerships

How do we create and support community partnerships?

Community partnerships are a form of collaboration, ranging from loose associations to formal unions.  Joint projects and resource-sharing have emerged when there is a concern common to many parts of a community - researchers collaborate to explore health issues, while coalitions of service agencies, voluntary organizations, businesses and schools find new and creative ways to work together to better serve their community.

How do partnerships further health promotion?

The overall health of our communities requires more resources than any one group can provide. Health promotion encourages the harmonization of multiple strategies to address complex community issues.  By connecting health practitioners, local programs and services, and combining experience and best practice across disciplines, we can achieve far more together than would be possible on our own.

In essence, community partnerships help to create a well-linked support system – improving health by expanding options and health equity for all.

What is an example of a community partnership based on health promotion?

Ontario’s Family Health Teams use community partnerships to promote healthy eating and active living among their clients with diabetes. Through partnerships with local service providers, including Diabetes Education Centres and Parks and Recreation, they can refer patients to affordable and inclusive exercise programs and healthy eating supports.

4 tips to build successful partnerships

Building a strong partnership is complex and does not always follow a predictable pattern. Every partnership evolves differently, and often moves between steps as it grows and develops.

  1. Connect people

The work of partnerships is the building of relationships.  The first step to building an effective and lasting partnership is bringing together skilled people who have some degree of commitment to the cause.  Many communities have online directories of community information and services available which can be a good place to start connecting with likeminded individuals and groups. 

  1. Build trust and vision

It is important for there to be a shared understanding from the outset about the purpose of coming together.  Diverse experiences and perspectives can lead to differences of opinion and fears of losing autonomy and control – to offset this, every partner’s knowledge and experience needs to be recognized and respected from the start.

Once trust is established, the focus should be on deciding a shared vision and common goals.  Consensus needs to be reached on a vision and what values will guide the work to achieve it – this gives the partnership purpose and a clear direction for initial growth, as well as cementing trust and understanding between partners.

  1. Collaborate for change

Decide how the partners will work together and explore options for leadership and participation.  Power-sharing is a vital element of any partnership, and a shared leadership arrangement encourages flexibility and accord while allowing the exploration of new ideas (and partners) to inform decisions.  At times it may be more efficient for one partner to take on a leadership role to maintain momentum, but it’s important that all members remain accountable for actions taken by the partnership.  

  1. Reflect and renew

Building a successful collaboration is a process, not a destination. Improving a partnership requires constant evaluation of results and output to ensure overall goals continue to be met. Just as importantly, the careful monitoring of internal dynamics to ensure that decision-making remains inclusive will go a long way toward sustaining the spirit of collaboration.

Where can you go for more information?

Health Nexus resources

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots: A Handbook for Chronic Disease Prevention through Community Engagement.
Toronto: Health Nexus. 2009.

How to’ series on Partnerships (2000)

The Best Start Resource Centre ‘How to’ series on Partnerships (2000)
A series of how-to guides designed for community-based agencies with helpful tips and suggestions on how to involve other groups:

Coalitions
Physicians
Workplaces
Youth

Other resources

Documents