Leitrim County Development Board with Fermanagh Local Strategy Partnership
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Partnership Theory


It may be easier to develop an appropriate approach to partnership if you have a simple theoretical framework for thinking about the wider issues of participation. (These ideas are developed in detail in the “Guide to Effective Participation” by David Wilcox, available on (www.partnerships.org.uk/guide/index.htm.)

In this section we will look at the Participation Ladder (very like the 5 Levels of Partnership Involvement) and the Life Cycle of a partnership.

Partnerships that may not be – the participation ladder

In real partnerships the partners have some equality, and are collaborating to do something everyone agrees about. Unfortunately partnership has become such a broad word, you may be called a ‘partner’ but find you don’t really have much say in what is going on.

Sherry Arnstein, writing in 1969 about citizen involvement in planning processes in the United States, described a ladder of participation as follows:

ladder of participation

1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Both are non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support by public relations.

3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback.

4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual.

5 Placation. For example, co-option of hand-picked 'worthies' onto committees. It allows citizens to advise or plan ad infinitum but retains for power holders the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice.

6 Partnership. Power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared e.g. through joint committees.

7 Delegated power. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.

8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme e.g. neighbourhood corporation with no intermediaries between it and the source of funds.

Arnstein's ladder of participation suggests some levels are better than others. It may rather be more of a case of horses for courses - different levels are appropriate in different circumstances.

Life cycle of a partnership

Partnerships are best seen as processes to build relationships and get things done – not just formal structures. There will be different challenges at different times in the life of a partnership, whether you are starting or involved in the partnership, or getting engaged from outside.

At the outset, it is important to reflect on the benefits and some of the barriers – see above.

Here are four key stages in the life of a partnership. There is a longer discussion on the Ourpartnership web site (http://www.ourpartnership.org.uk/) based on phases of connecting, contracting, conflict, collaborating, and closing. See also The Guide to Development Trusts and Partnerships (http://www.partnerships.org.uk/part) for the process of setting up a formal partnership.


  • Recognise that who started the partnership will influence its initial style of operation…. and this may need to change.
  • The spark for starting may be, for example, funding… but may not be enough in itself to keep the partnership together in the longer term. See ‘visioning’ below.
  • Reflect from the outset on whether you need a substantial partnership, or a ‘lighter’ or shorter-term arrangement.


  • Review what is already happening in the area, and who’s who.
  • Look at other partnership projects and programmes for ideas
  • Get to know your partners, their styles of working and preferred means of communicating.
  • Run a ‘visioning’ workshop to share understanding of problems, projects and activities to meet your goals.
  • Set up interim arrangement for making decisions, staffing, administration, project management.
  • Develop a business plan that includes training and support for partners as well as project development, funding, staffing, constitution or partnership agreement.


  • Develop and start projects.
  • Pay attention to partners and the people involved as well as the projects, with training, support and socialising.
  • Involve others outside the core partnership where they have a stake in projects and/or your overall programme.

Following through– or finishing

  • Reflect on what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Plan for the longer-term – or finishing. Is your partnership still really needed – is it adding any value?