Building and Sustaining Community Partnerships for Teen Pregnancy Prevention: A Working Paper. 1. Administrative Structure & Governance Processes

06/01/1998

Establishing internal administrative structures and governance processes is essential in partnership development(78) and typically occurs in the first three to six months,(79) although in some cases these efforts take up to two years to accomplish.(80) Some have noted that community partnerships are often in a constant state of development, even years after formation.(81) The forms the organization takes are variable; the crucial element is that there are formally defined structures and processes.(82) Where public and private organizations or diverse organizations come together, structures and processes should reflect all participants.(83) Members' rights, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined.(84) Contracts,(85) memoranda of understanding,(86) or letters of agreement(87) are suggested as methods of formalizing relationships. Failure to clearly establish these can lead to conflict.(88) Further, the degree of members' participation is related to their sense of satisfaction; formalizing members' commitments and assessing their compliance with these partnership obligations increases their commitment.(89)

Other clearly defined structures are also essential in partnership development; yet the structure should be flexible and adaptable to changing conditions.(90) Many partnerships utilize a committee or task force structure organized around community sectors identified for change-for example, schools, criminal justice system, health care providers.(91) However, committees should include members from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, and committee leadership should reflect partnership diversity.(92) There should be regular and frequent meetings of all participants.(93) Meetings should be orderly and clearly directed, with minutes, agendas, and the like.(94)

In many partnerships, one or more of the members assume the role of "lead agency" or project manager, with responsibility for monitoring and coordinating group activities and maintaining accountability.(95) This centralized authority contributes to the successful development of some partnerships.(96)

Organizational processes must also be formally developed and clearly defined. Decision-making procedures are vitally important. Decisions should be made in a nonhierarchical and participatory manner, in which no one group or member dominates.(97) Non-hierarchical decision-making and problem solving are a defining element of inter-organizational networks.(98) Smaller and single issue coalitions tend to have more consensual decision-making; larger, multi-issue groups tend to use a working consensus method-for example, two-thirds of members.(99) By distributing decision-making equally among members, "members develop ownership of the process and its outcomes."(100) Member-led decision-making reduces obstacles and facilitates agreement in some partnerships.(101)

Because partnerships involve members from different disciplines, of different races, genders, and cultures, and with different levels of status or position within their own organizational hierarchy, creating equality and satisfactory working relationships among them is often difficult. "Managing people (or in our case, organizations) with different views of the world is the major inter-organizational problem of our day."(102) Partners need to develop mutual respect, understanding, and trust in order for the association to develop.(103) Allowing time at the start for members to learn about each other, including cultural and communication differences and agendas, to test boundaries, to evaluate others, to develop relationships, and to forge new alliances is helpful.(104) Cultivating patience and a willingness to learn and compromise are also important.(105) In partnerships involving schools, which are frequently the site of interventions suggested by researchers or funding sources, it is particularly important for school staff at all levels to support the program. This is facilitated by involving all of the school community, from the beginning, in developing the program and training those who will deliver the intervention.(106) In partnerships involving governmental and non-governmental agencies, differences in the complexity of organizational structure and the timing of decision-making can create problems in collaboration.(107)