Why Do Partnerships Fail?

Over the last 6 Mondays, I reviewed the lessons learned from the final evaluation of Burngreave New Deal .  Here are the links to these posts, or use the calendar in the sidebar to find them.

Today I shall explain why these posts are relevant to partnerships fail.

Multi-national companies dominate the marketplace; interested neither in our neighbourhoods nor in their products and services.  We live in a rentier economy, where high capital businesses make money. They are not interested in social change through effective deployment of their funds.

The same is true online, where large companies offer free services in exchange for information they deploy to make profit.

The challenge everyone faces, is how to re-build our local economies in real life and online.  The two go together; to avoid exploitation, we must work out how to build our own local economies online as well as in our neighbourhoods.  Real life exchange between small businesses is harder for large interests to control.  Localities can be connected online, so there is a global perspective on the local.

How the Burngreave New Deal Partnership failed

The New Deal philosophy had a far too optimistic understanding of partnership.  When we look at New Deal in Burngreave we see the partnership failed in several ways:

  • private sector involvement in New Deal was always peripheral.  The Chamber of Commerce supported New Deal and ran a business forum.  But, in common with many community initiatives, the private sector voice was hardly heard.  The main partners were the community and various statutory agencies, eg Primary Care Trust and police.
  • failure to mainstream.  Mainstreaming should have happened from the start; nothing should have gone ahead without mainstream funding.  This  would have encouraged continuity after the end of New Deal.  New Deal should have added value to pre-existing activity.  A lot of new activity funded by New Deal simply vanished at the programme’s end.  What is the point of that?  The point of the partnership was to combine funding streams and not prop up the partners.  If partners could not be persuaded to contribute at the start, building mainstreaming into the planning towards the end was always going to be difficult.  Conversations about mainstreaming hardly started before the partners walked away.
  • failure to support community development and leadership.  Later in the programme all-out war broke out between New Deal and the local Forum.  This was not entirely New Deal’s fault but it illustrates the complete lack of understanding of what community development entails.  If you get into conflict, the reason has to be a failure to engage.  Other neighbourhoods in Sheffield have managed to build lasting community infrastructure without the benefit of £50 million!  New Deal may not completely explain Burngreave’s failure but all that money did not stop Burngreave’s decline.
  • no continuity after funding ran out. Even with the slogan, “legacy not history”, history is all we have.  There was never real commitment to the area.  Losing the Forum and Trust meant other partners had no focal point. The careless way New Deal treated community involvement and the lack of trust between the partners and community meant nothing survived the collapse of New Deal.

Final Question

Has anyone examples of lasting change brought about by grants?  Or is your experience similar to Burngreave’s?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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