Highlights from our Partnerships Live Chat

Yesterday we hosted an engaging live chat about partnerships in heritage projects. We were joined by a panel of experts, and also heard from multiple grantees about their first-hand experiences of working in partnerships on HLF-supported projects.

One of the key messages that kept coming up throughout the chat was how key communication is to ensuring the smooth and successful running of a partnership.

This, and some other important points and ideas raised, follow below. I’ve also attached a document with partnership application guidance (which you’ll need to be logged-in to view/download).

Choose partners that -

  • Share your values and vision
  • Fill your skills gaps, and can contribute to your learning
  • Can offer benefits in terms of visibility, audience, contacts

Partnerships can help you –

  • Question and develop your practice and learn new ways of working
  • Improve knowledge and resources, and develop a network for support and advice
  • Make pragmatic decisions and steer you on a course for the greater good
  • Build future partnerships and relationships through recommendations, and kudos
  • Generate new ideas, make new friends, and have fun

Your partnership agreement should include -

  • A detailed account of the role and responsibilities that each partner plays in delivering, and managing people involved in, the project
  • A breakdown of costs and in-kind contributions for each partner
  • A contingency plan for what happens if things change or go wrong
  • Explicit deadlines, and possible penalties for missing them - “I'd include a clause requiring invoices within, say, two months of work being completed or we would reserve the right not to pay”

The benefit of creating a partnership agreement is that it can help ensure partners really do share a common vision and aims. And it can’t hurt to get a “legal brain” to look over it.

To maintain good relationships, partners should ensure -

  • Frequent communication, and communication in a format that has been agreed by all
  • Face-to-face and informal (eg: outdoors, or over games, or at social events) meetings are also important
  • Any and all issues, changes in plans or expectations, are shared openly, and as early as possible so action can be taken
  • Sharing of regular project updates and agreed action points
  • A willingness to be flexible, to give and take, throughout the life of the project
  • Enthusiasm for the project, and support for those involved, is maintained along the journey 

To ensure partnerships last beyond projects, consider -

  • Beginning talks about new projects before the current project ends
  • ‘Wash-up’ meetings: these can be really helpful to share honest and constructive feedback about what did and didn’t work, and gauge whether there is or isn’t an appetite to continue working together
  • Embedding learning throughout the project: even if the partnership doesn’t continue, the knowledge gained along the way can still be called upon
  • All project resources, reports, and institutional memory are shared beyond just one person or organisation
  • Signposting other potential partners and/or project ideas
  • Connecting on social media so you can help promote each other’s future endeavours and maintain a rapport

When things go wrong -

  • Continue to communicate: identify the issue, and agree a way forward together, which might lead to a revised partnership agreement, or an agreement to end the partnership
  • Don’t be scared to take the first step: “A partner wasn’t able to fulfill their part of the partnership, and the nature of the project meant that we had to very quickly find a new partner to take their place. Our sense was that the partner was relieved that we had taken the initial steps, as they had been very hesitant to take the first steps in pulling out”
  • Refer back to the detailed description of roles and responsibilities in your partnership agreement so new partners or staff members know where they stand, and project delays and disruptions are minimised

We'd love to hear more from you about your experience of, and tips for, delivering heritage projects as a partnership. And if you have any further questions and/or comments, please do post those below, too.