Fall 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 3

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Partnerships: A Bicycle Built for Two


Partnerships: A Bicycle Built for Two

Riding a bicycle built for two is much the same as working in a partnership. The essence of success in both is cooperation, which can only be achieved when each partner accepts his or her role in the partnership. Both pedaling a bicycle and working in a partnership are a blending of expertise. Each person makes a contribution that's not necessarily equal, but provides just the right blend for accomplishing the task. Mutual agreements, and working or pedaling in harmony, are important ingredients. A partnership requires commitment, each partner working through difficult times as well as good ones. The same is true of riding a bicycle. Both parties are required to pedal equally, whether going uphill or down.

Partnerships are a powerful tool for solving community problems. The many forces operating in a community compel Extension to explore creative ways to help people solve their problems. The far-reaching changes we have seen over the past few decades have significantly, and at times dramatically, affected peoples' lives. Many times we can't control these changes, but we can become more aware of them, and thus help others prepare for them. Partnerships cutting across society provide multidimensional approaches to people and issues and can be effective in helping people deal with complex changes.

Partnerships are people talking to each other, sharing ideas, knowledge, and resources. They create linkages between people and organizations, allowing them to exchange information, share resources, and thus improve society. The amount of information being generated and transmitted around us makes partnerships beneficial as we acquire the information to help people.

Developing a partnership is a continual process that requires effective interpersonal relationships developed over a period of time. The unique capabilities of each partner create a dynamic synergy for problem solving. With each partner providing a different perspective, we have an exciting opportunity for people in the community to act as peers. At some time during the problem-solving process, each member is at the center by providing his/her special expertise.

As in any relationship, it's important that each party understand and accept the role, responsibilities, and expectations of the other. Misunderstandings that could have been avoided or resolved can be a source of unnecessary or destructive conflict. Human beings are territorial creatures, often going to great lengths to protect their turf and, when the opportunity arises, to expand it. Therefore, for a partnership to succeed, each partner must realize and appreciate the value of:

  • Negotiation and compromise.
  • Open and regular communication.
  • Openness in the decision-making process.
  • Agreed-on policies and plans.
  • Flexibility.
  • Use of creative problem-solving strategies.
  • Innovative input.
  • Managing conflict.
  • Mutual trust and respect.

The process of forming partnerships can be divided into two stages-setting the conditions for action and the action itself. Conditions for action start with the people who recognize that a problem or an opportunity exists and then look for a way to do something about it. In setting these conditions, certain criteria are often met:

  1. Sense of Crisis. Some of the most creative partnerships have developed during crises. The perception of crisis may not be a necessary condition for success, but it's often helpful.
  2. Positive Gain. The partnership should provide an opportunity for positive gain by all participants. A comprehensive approach should exist, allowing opportunities for all to contribute and benefit from the interaction.
  3. Limited Team Size and Selection. There must be some means of selecting and limiting the key players. All players need to have the skills, knowledge, and talents relevant to the situation, and at the same time provide variety and uniqueness.
  4. Clientele Impact. You need to consider how people will benefit if Extension becomes a partner.
  5. Leadership. The willingness to step in and take the responsibility for solving a problem is crucial to successful partnerships.

Many types of partnerships currently exist in Extension. Some address specific issues, while others are broad-based, with membership from different sectors of the community. The articles featured in this issue don't represent all the innovative partnership efforts that have been initiated, but they do try to establish the need for increased interdependence of public and private sectors to band together to solve community issues. We hope the examples in this issue will provide perspective on existing partnerships as well as insight into ways more productive partnerships can be established.

Partnerships are an integral part of any formula for Extension's success. Our challenge is to build a framework and set the direction for the continual use of creative and effective partnerships.

Patricia Jarboe Buchanan, Editor