Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy and
productive community partnership:
1. Create a positive and motivating
A motivating mission statement saying what the community partnership
wants to accomplish will help the group when challenges arise. Having
an unclear purpose or set of goals might send the group in unplanned
and unwanted directions. The partnership’s mission statement and
goals may need to be refined as time goes on. For example, once
work begins on the issue, the group may find that what it originally
believed to be the best course of action has changed. Remain flexible
to restructure as needed.
2. Establish strong management and leadership.
It is crucial to select a leader or a steering committee to lead
your efforts. This is especially important for larger groups and
helps establish responsibilities, timelines, and next steps. Unclear
or unrealistic expectations can result in frustration, lost motivation,
and miscommunication. Over time, leadership can be shared or rotated
as needed. Leadership responsibilities include:
- Encouraging participation from all members.
- Structuring fair and productive group interactions.
- Negotiating among organizations and individuals
with different agendas.
- Maintaining enthusiasm through good and bad times.
3. Respect the community.
It is critical to respect and value the community’s cultural beliefs
and to involve many different community members from the very beginning
of the partnership. You need to learn as much as you can about the
community and its culture. The community needs to have substantial
input into the assessment process, selection of priority issues,
and program content and methods. Any program selected to address
the priority issues should include components of the community’s
core cultural values. Not including key community leaders and members
creates mistrust and causes alienation. Think about how to generate
community interest and support and how to handle controversial issues
in a respectful manner. It takes time to establish credibility and
gain the trust of the community. “Hanging out” with community residents,
asking questions, and using key informants are important ways to
ensure that you gain a real understanding of, and respect for, the
community’s beliefs and experiences. Do not take on highly controversial
issues until working trust has been established. In addition, do
not allow a vocal minority to dictate policy or action; all sectors
of the community need to be engaged.
4. Establish clear ground rules and
Establishing ground rules for how to conduct meetings, create records,
make decisions, and work with the media will avoid future confusion.
Members of the partnership can take turns leading or hosting meetings,
if appropriate. Because differences in opinion are inevitable, create
an open environment in which people feel comfortable expressing
themselves. Early on, establish processes for addressing disagreements
and reaching resolution. Neglecting to do so can cause problems
when disagreements arise.
5. Create a clear action plan.
As action plans are developed for improving ........., be specific
about who will do what, how it will be done, and by when. Not assigning
responsibilities or deadlines for action can cause confusion and
project delays. Periodically review your action plan and analyze
its effectiveness. If your plan has not been effective, consider
what factors have contributed to its limited success and rethink
future strategies. If your plan has been successful, assess what
factors contributed to this success.
6. Validate and respect members and
As in all group processes, relationships are critical. Problems
can arise when individual group members are territorial, have conflicting
loyalties, or have difficult past or current personal relationships
with other members of the group. Respect each member’s personal
and professional obligations and ensure that the partnership’s expectations
are reasonable. Allow time for meaningful discussion so that all
people feel they are being heard. Respond actively to concerns when
issues are raised and determine what needs to be done next. Validate
members’ feelings and beliefs to help keep them motivated.
7. Address administrative barriers.
Administrative barriers such as inadequate staff support or funding
may cause tension, making the community partnership less productive.
Recognize the relationship between administrative barriers and project
work, discuss those barriers, and do what is possible to address
them. There may be times when your group needs outside guidance
or resources to address issues or problems; ask for and accept help
8. Encourage group cohesion.
It is important to keep people motivated about the partnership’s
efforts. Encourage the formation of relationships both within the
group and with the larger community. Failing to have fun and celebrate
successes will make members feel that the group’s work is “just
another meeting” and may contribute to lower levels of commitment,
motivation, and enthusiasm.
9. Set realistic expectations and goals.
A common problem for community partnerships is frustration and impatience
in meeting short- or long-term goals. Sometimes it is better to
meet small goals successfully than to set goals extremely high.
Build on your successes as you strive to achieve the next set of
goals. Conduct periodic reviews of your accomplishments and set
explicit, achievable goals for each meeting. Over the long run,
you will need to decide whether your group has achieved purpose
and should disband or whether your efforts should continue and your
organization be made permanent.