Collaboration: invest time and energy at the start, and the rest will follow

Emily Webb and Marianna Hay

By Marianna Hay and Emily Webb, Co-directors at Take Note

At Take Note, we’ve spent the last two years developing a new framework for cross-sector collaboration with arts-for-social-change at its heart. In the wake of COVID-19, it’s clear that working together is more essential than ever. As we face ever-mounting shared challenges, we need to meet these together with renewed collective strength and support.

Projects supported to date by Take Note have combined food poverty with hip-hop, NHS services with mindful photography, foraging with contemporary dance. Through working with these innovative and impactful partnership groups we’ve seen how cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches can be a powerful tool in our collective arsenal.

This work has repeatedly demonstrated the importance of setting up the vision, expectations and responsibilities across multi-sector partners with absolute clarity and openness right from the start.

Investing enough time to do this – and to do it well – is not easy and requires high levels of commitment from everyone involved. But prioritising thoughtful, thorough set-up that involves all stakeholders ultimately increases the potential for the project’s success and impact.

This process aligns partners in the change they want to make right from the start. It gives space to recognise and anticipate any potential challenges that may arise during the process and find shared solutions. It provides a space to discuss how to ensure fair and equal distribution of resources, skills and capacity from each organisation involved in the project’s planning, delivery and evaluation.

Taking time to focus on and set out the shared vision and outcomes for the Gloucester based hip-hop and food poverty project – Connect, Collaborate and Create – for example, helped ensure that the range of over-stretched, grassroots organisations involved in this project (including food banks, community centres and youth groups) were focusing and deploying their limited capacity and resources most efficiently and effectively. The process also helped other organisations represented in the partnership who were new to this kind of arts-based intervention (e.g. the police) to clearly understand the project’s aims and ensure their contribution added real value and maximum impact: “It has made me think about the project on another level  – the way in which we’ve developed the Impact Map has really made me understand what’s important to other people in the group…and it’s a really good way to ensure we are all doing our bit” PCSO Borg-Littleton from the Barton Neighbourhood Policing Team

Based on the evidence we’ve collected from the grassroots collaborative projects that we’ve supported, we recommend these simple practical steps at the start of any project:

Set up clear communication channels:

  • Agree how and how often you’ll be in touch
  • Give open and honest feedback
  • Make sure everyone knows who to contact and where to find information

Set a shared vision and goals:

  • Create a collaborative Impact Map (or Theory of Change) for your work together
  • Check back regularly with your initial outcomes
  • Talk to each other if your vision starts to change

Write a partnership agreement:

  • Be realistic about what you offer and clear about each partner’s responsibilities
  • Follow through on your commitments
  • Shout if you can’t do what you agreed to and find solutions together

Take Note is co-developing – with partners across the UK and beyond – a Collaboration Kit of tools to help with setting up, following through and evaluating partnerships. More information about this open-access kit and upcoming opportunities for partnership project funding will be announced by Take Note on 16 September 2021. See the Take Note website for more details.

About Take Note

Take Note is a catalyst for collaboration, set up to facilitate, support and fund stronger, more impactful, more strategic collaborations delivering arts-for-social-impact projects. Through partnerships, experimentation and evidence-building, they deliver Connect Labs for grassroots community projects. Take Note is developing a rigorous, accessible approach to collaboration for the whole social-change sector and in 2022 will make their ‘Collaboration Kit’ available to all.

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