We had a great class discussion last Tuesday about Milena Parent & Jean Harvey’s management model for community-based sports partnerships. In particular, a highlight for me was hearing about the real-life experiences, challenges & opportunities that classmates had working in partnerships: Truly, it seems, working with partners can be simultaneously some of the most rewarding experiences one can have in sport/ recreation, and yet also the most frustrating!
For me, the topic of partnership is so interesting, as it represents (arguably) one of the best ways to make a broad impact in a wider community. As John Kania and Mark Kramer write in “Collective Impact,” “large scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination” (2011, p. 36). In other words, organizations that work with partners have a much greater potential to make a long-lasting impact on organizations than working alone. Indeed, for this reason, Parent & Harvey note partnerships have increasingly become commonplace in sport management (2011).
Yet, partners often come from different places, with different agendas and ways of working. In my experience and as seen from our class discussion, “getting on the same page” can be quite the challenge. Thus, what Parent & Harvey (2009) do is quite innovative in creating a Partnership Model for community sport where “no [such] clear model” had previously existed (p. 24). As of their writing in 2009, they were certainly pioneers in the field, but for this blog post, I will explore an alternative partnership model that has been developed since their article.
A Reminder of Parent & Harvey’s Model
As we discussed Parent & Harvey’s Partnership Model model in class in some detail, I will not go through it too much, although have shown it below as comparison (2009, p. 27):
A Different Partnership Model: Collective Impact
Writing in 2011 in the “community development” field, Kania & Kramer developed another model which has created much buzz: The Collective Impact model, cited over 1,000 times according to Google Scholar. This is also actively used in many organizations as a guiding framework with which to work with others. Indeed, in my own work/ volunteer experience working with Halifax Recreation and the community, non-profit sports organization, Halifax PLAYS, the Collective Impact model was frequently used to set standards whenever working with other partners.
How does the model work? First, Kania & Kramer make a strong case for why organizations should shift from an “isolated impact” framework which competes with other social causes (e.g. for funding) to a “collective” framework which works with others in the community to maximize one’s impact. As one example, the authors acclaim the contributions of Strive, a program in Cincinnati which “brought together local leaders to tackle the student achievement crisis [in that area] and improve education throughout greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky” (2011, p. 36). Although initially made of disparate organizations with varying goals, an approach similar to the one they describe in the collective impact model allowed these different groups to effectively work together to find tremendous success in their joint goals.
The second contribution the authors make is to lay out, similar to Parent & Harvey, the ideal five conditions for collective impact, which are nicely summarized in the graphic below (published in the Collective Impact Forum website, 2014; developed form Kania & Kramer, 2011, and also discussed in Hanleybrown et al., 2012):
Similarities & Differences of the Two Models
In truth, there are many similarities between the models: For instance, both frameworks talk about the importance of shared goal-setting/ getting on the same page, and give importance to the need for consistent evaluation: Here, Kania & Kramer’s “Shared Measurement” is very similar to Parent & Harvey’s “Evaluation” components. Similarly, the two models agree on the importance of communication and having “mutually reinforcing activities,” although Parent & Harvey’s Partnership Model is more detailed in how they break things down. As well, with both models, there is also emphasis on how different parts of the models all feed back into each other.
That said, there are some key differences between the models: First, the Collective Impact model is simplified, likely as its audience is largely non-profits or other organizations, whereas the Partnership Model is designed as a way to consolidate research on partnerships, hence tailored to a more academic audience. As well, the two models have some differences in how they recommend structuring partnerships: The Partnership Model notes the importance of “structure,” “power balance, “leadership” and clear roles (Parent & Harvey, 2009, p. 27), but the Collective Impact framework goes even further. Here, a very specific way is prescribed for most effective partnerships, namely establishing a “Backbone Organization” which could be a partner itself or another created party which is directly responsible for the ultimate management and coordination of the partnership.
Why I Like Collective Impact & How It’s Been of Use
While I think the Partnership Model is great, the Collective Impact framework is one that I have used before, and that is “tried and tested” for me. Indeed, in one notable case, I recall a partnership in Halifax that involved several organizations with a goal to improve physical activity levels at a school in North End Halifax, a poorer part of the town: Here, the local school board, Halifax Recreation (the municipality, Halifax PLAYS (where I served as president), Sport NS, & 12+ other sport organizations all came together to introduce youth in the North End to new sports.
However, at first, the partnership had challenges, as each partner was looking for something different: the school board wanted its gyms used more by the community, Halifax Rec was looking to implement more programming, Halifax PLAYS pitched the idea and looked at the project as a way to diversify the population it served, with Sport NS’s organizations were more interested in increasing overall participation in their particular sports. As well, there were no clear standards of measurement at the start and an unclear leadership structure, although everyone was contributing. That first year, although there were many successes, outcomes were not as promising as hoped.
With such initial challenges, we (Halifax PLAYS) suggested the Collective Impact framework as a way to structure the partnership. With this, a much clearer structure was set for the partnership, as seen by our “getting on the same page” the next year:
- Common Agenda: After some debate, organizations agreed to a shared goal of increasing the number of affordable sports options for the North End.
- Shared Measurement: Registration rates/ trends for individual programs would be carefully analyzed, with retention/ long-term participation helping judge success
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities: The school board gives space, Halifax PLAYS provides contacts and advertising, sport organizations come and visit, Sport NS serves as a key liaison, and HRM Rec manages registrations & staff.
- Continuous Communication: We are always talking to each other & keeping everyone updated. This was especially important at the start and continues today.
- Backbone Support: HRM Rec takes over the role as the key organizer, managing registrations, having key responsibilities for measurement, arranging staffing support, scheduling the various sport organizations that come visit & much more. The recreation coordinator of a local center is identified as the key contact point.
The result? Although there are still challenges, the partnership in its second year has proven more successful, with a much clearer direction. HRM Rec’s explicit assignment as the Backbone Organization has been most key, and has arguably created the biggest difference in the partnership: Simply, from a leadership standpoint, the first year had unclear roles, with folks unsure of who to go to in a time of crisis. With HRM taking more explicit leadership the second year, there is much clearer responsibility. Hence, the Collective Impact framework has helped greatly to strengthen our partnership. Since then, I have also used this framework for other projects, and found it very useful.
At the end of the day, whichever frameworks you might prefer, I think some kind of structure is important in partnerships, to establish a firm sense of how partners should work together: With so many different goals & ideas from different organizations, it can be easy to get lost without that structure. As we all develop partnerships of your own in future work, I hope you will also consider using these, or other, frameworks!
A Last Note: Acknowledging Christina’s Recommendation of Another Framework
As a final note, although I have not looked into it as much, want to also relay another book recommended by Christina which looks at partnership frameworks. I have not looked at this in as much depth, but the book explores 21 different collaboration success factors, and is Collaboration: What Makes it Work (2001) by Paul W. Mattessich.
Thank you for passing this on, Christina, & am hoping to check it out!
Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work Webinar Presentation. (2013). In Collective Impact Forum. Retrieved from: https://collectiveimpactforum.org/resources/channeling-change-making-collective-impact-work-webinar-presentation.
Hanleybrown, F., Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Winter 2012). Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, p. 1-8. Retrieved from: https://ssir.org/pdf/Channeling_Change_PDF.pdf.
Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (Winter 2011). Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, p. 36-41. Retrieved from: https://volunteer.ca/content/ssir-collective-impact.
Mattessich, P.W. (2001). Colloboration: What Makes it Work. Saint Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.