The power of the collective

Researcher Sarah Davies introduces our new Powerful Partnerships Resource Library - a collection of case studies, practical tools and research exploring strategic partnerships.

14 May 2018

It is widely acknowledged that there is great value in coming together, working together, to achieve more. No man is an island. It takes a village to raise a child. A problem shared is a problem halved, as they say.

Problem-solving through partnerships is at the core of A New Direction’s (AND’s) work. As a strategic London-wide Bridge organisation, they know that greater, richer cultural opportunities can be facilitated in partnership with others; addressing place-based challenges, tackling social issues and education priorities, and reaching more people across London. AND’s origins begin within the context of Creative Partnerships (2002 to 2011), and additionally the organisation has over 10 years of supporting broader partnerships between the arts, business, local authorities and youth and education sectors in London and beyond. Since the Arts Council put Cultural Education Partnerships in the frame (first piloted from 2013), it has been the Bridges’ role to help move the agenda forward, supporting more local areas to radically improve cultural education provision and engagement for their children and young people. This increase in provision will be an outcome of true joint work of value. But what does it take for new strategic partnerships to achieve joint work of value?

Collecting, connecting, assembling

In exploring this question across Cultural Education Partnerships' work, as well as Creative People and Places and other creative educational programmes, AND has reinforced the development of partnerships with a strong body of research and materials, working with thinkers and innovators to create resources to support collective action. These materials are now brought together to create the Powerful Partnerships Resource Library – a collection of case studies, practical tools and research, from 2013 to the present day, curated thematically to explore the main stages of development of strategic partnerships.

The words ‘powerful partnerships’ indicate a grand ambition: through powerful partnerships, there is greater joint work of value. The title of this Resource Library is a direct reference to the Powerful Partnerships Framework, co-authored with Convey and A New Direction for London’s Cultural Education Partnerships in 2016. It includes collaborative self-reflection activities and a set of 13 values or ingredients of success; powerful principles that reinforce joint work of value. Each resource in this Library is anchored to the framework and its ingredients.

AND has observed that partnerships typically go through 5 stages of development and believe the process to be cyclic. The resources are mapped thematically across these stages: Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver, and Do More. Interspersed throughout these stages are a selection of Powerful Partnerships ingredients which it is hoped will increase and support joint work of value.

Collective knowledge and sharing learning

Working together is not just something that AND supports; it is how AND learns. Through working with innovative researchers and sharing learning widely, AND increases collective knowledge for all.

Since 2012 the Connected London programme has provided an opportunity to identify and explore many of the values and ingredients for partnerships, informing the Powerful Partnerships Framework. This has been an opportunity to work across London to support the coming together of different sectors, each with a drive to increase young people’s agency in making choices about arts and culture in their lives. Much of the resources in the Library derive from this programme, where new and ambitious approaches to collectively addressing local challenges were explored. Researchers Convey and Innovation Unit produced a host of resources including practical tools, case studies and in-depth reports to capture learning from the programme and foster wider understanding of the thinking and techniques that were applied.

The joint-investment programme, London Cultural Education Challenge (2015-2018), has further enabled AND to observe the 5 stages of partnerships at work. Thinkers and researchers including Alchemy developed supporting materials for new partnership projects within this programme, a number of which are held in the Resource Library. The knowledge from this programme will inform and support those successful applicants in the next phase of AND’s Challenge London programme from 2018 to 2022.

Additionally, AND’s connection with the Arts Council’s Creative People and Places Programme (CPP) between 2013 and 2017 has seen ‘powerful partnerships’ emerging at a local level across multiple sectors across England. AND was commissioned to manage the national evaluation programme for the first phase of CPP. There is much learning to share from CPP’s place-based work and the Resource Library holds relevant CPP research commissioned by AND. This includes a report exploring the nature of successful governance and consortium working and two thematic learning pieces around sharing the power of decision-making with beneficiaries.

Finally, concurrent to these programmes, AND has worked with King’s College London since 2016 to explore principles of ‘cultural learning ecologies’, with the ambition to support young people to achieve greater autonomy in their cultural learning. The outcomes of this research partnership create an opportunity to consider a different approach to planning for creativity and cultural learning in an area. This important report is included in the Resource Library.

The power of collective conversations

Like any archive, collection or library, The Powerful Partnerships Resource Library is not complete – there are gaps which lead to compelling questions about process. That these questions remain open is key to initiating a collective conversation: there is no single ‘right’ way to do things, but the more we share, the more we learn.

If you are a place-based local partnership, working to increase cultural education, we hope this library of resources will be helpful to you. We aim to continue to add new resources as our thinking develops over time and we welcome input and feedback from others. If you wish to join in the debate and offer up your partnership tips and tools, please do get in touch with Senior Partnerships Manager, Corinne Bass:

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Sarah B Davies is an arts researcher commissioned by AND to curate the library of partnership tools and resources to support the development of strategic partnerships.