Working with partners

This section is useful for schools wishing to work in partnership with arts organisations.


  • Why work with artist?
  • Before the learning starts
  • Stay in touch
  • Respecting each others’ needs
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Top tips
  • Resources

Why work with artists?

Working with arts and cultural partners can help unlock creative processes, develop creativity skills in learners and support high quality Creative Learning. In particular, creative approaches to IDL, delivered in partnership with arts and cultural organisations, places the learning in meaningful contexts. It helps learners develop and apply skills in different situations. It is also an excellent way for staff and young people understand the broad and fulfilling range of career possibilities the creative industries offer.

Why partnership?

Buying in a project, a workshop or an artist, while often entirely appropriate, can miss opportunities for deeper learning. Some projects, particularly IDL, lend themselves well to collaboration. Effective partnerships achieve much more than the partners ever could alone. Developing and delivering work in collaboration builds capacity and brings a new dimension to learning. Good partnerships are more likely to be bespoke and give space for the learner’s voice. Working in partnership is an excellent way to developing your own skills and professional learning.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ineffective partnerships can be negative experiences that drain energy and resources. It is therefore essential that the partner is the right one and that  shared values and purpose is established with all partners from the beginning.

Partnerships require careful and collaborative planning to be really successful. This investment in time and effort almost always brings about real impacts. But you might need some help so….

Before the learning starts

Consider the need for brokerage

It takes time to research and find the most suitable arts and cultural partners. Approaches to schools are often made directly from arts organisations and the project idea can already be quite firmly developed. Or the school already has a relationship with an arts organisation however it may not be the most appropriate for the purpose.

Local authority creative learning / arts education teams

  • have knowledge and understanding of both the arts and education sectors
  • know the local arts and cultural sector well
  • are usually skilled fundraisers
  • can help match a school’s aspirations with the right organisation for the purpose
  • can help support partnership development
  • provide opportunities for sharing, professional dialogue and Career Long Professional Learning (CLPL)
  • help build communities of practice.

Finally if something does go wrong it can be useful to have someone else to ask the difficult questions!

Managing a partnership begins long before the project gets off the ground. In order to avoid later problems there are a number of things that need to be established from the outset.

Involvement is important

Start by inviting partners’ involvement in developing ideas. Partners have lots of project and arts specific expertise – they may understand and offer solutions to potential difficulties that are not immediately apparent. Through discussion, together you will come up with creative ideas that you might never have thought of alone. Involving partners at the start ensures that the range of needs and expectations are understood and taken account of. This can avoid potential future misunderstandings.Tollcross prints DL

Establish a clear shared vision

It should be a shared and mutually manageable vision. Starting small and delivering excellence will enable you to scale up. That’s easier than trying to do something huge and wonderful and failing at the first hurdle. There are always hurdles and sharing the vision helps overcome them.

Partnership – what’s in it for me?

Before you start any project, the importance of a frank conversation (or two!) about expectations cannot be stressed enough. Language can mean different things to professionals working in different sectors. The overall purpose can be different despite the common activity. For artists the output may be all important, while for you the outcomes may be most important. Understanding this from the outset is essential. This is where a non-delivery partner with a support and challenge and brokering role can be useful.

Establish roles, responsibilities and leadership

This is important. Agree on key points of contact for you and your partner. If your project is externally funded, you should remember that funders require a lead partner. This carries budget monitoring and reporting responsibilities. Information needs to be shared and leadership and management divided sensibly an according to skills, experience and expertise.BFG

Understand and respect professional differences and expertise

There should be no professional disrespect in a strong partnership. Good early conversations will help avoid either party feeling undermined or misrepresented.

Communication is everything

Having established key points of contact, make sure that they are kept informed.  Remember to ensure you have contacts for everyone you might need to speak to. Relationships are easy to break and hard to re-build. Clear, honest and regular communication seems obvious but when the pressure of work is on, it’s easy to forget.

What happens if nothing happens?

Like love, in the first flush of partnership it is hard to imagine anything will evergo wrong! But it can – so establishing how difficulties are dealt with should be part of the early conversation. What happens if one partner does not fulfil their side of the bargain? All partners need to know who will be taking responsibility for the project from all parts of the partnership.

Planning is everything and written agreements help

It seems obvious, especially if you all enthusiastically agree, but planning (and more planning!) is really important. Once the aims and objectives have been agreed, establish key milestones and deliverables for each partner. It is a good idea to draw up a written agreement for clarity (this need not be overly formal but should be a clear statement of agreed intentions). Timelines help ensure everyone knows what needs to be done and when. Sometimes one partner may need to complete an aspect of the project before another can step in. A detailed plan helps to manage the process effectively. Ensure that responsibility for each step has been assigned to someone in the partnership.

liberton class 3

Flexibility is a virtue

Try to stick to your aims and objectives but remember to be flexible! Something always goes wrong so be prepared to roll with the changes. A good plan should allow for flexibility and creativity when necessary.

Stay in touch

Failure to communicate well is the most common reason partnerships falter. Effective communication can help to build relationships, keep things working well and ensure people feel included:

Maintain regular contact with all partners

If things change, communicate the changes.

Timetable regular opportunities to catch up

This way, progress can be monitored while at the same time ensuring all partners feel included and supported. If the project is complex or large, it may be useful to identify a project board or steering group. Whatever the scale of your project, structured feedback is a good idea.braidburn

Share information with everyone involved

Don’t just communicate with the person in change – they usually have lots of other things to do as well. Sharing information with everyone involved keeps relationships positive and the project on track.

Know and respect people’s preferred communication methods

Is anyone allergic to Twitter? Are face to face meetings or emails preferred? Facebook?

What are your partner’s other pressures?

Some partners may be out of contact at certain times and may have capacity issues that you should be sensitive to. You would wish for the same and everyone’s working day or week is differently pressured.


Keep asking yourselves, ‘What is working well?’ Monitor progress and adjust where necessary. Don’t be afraid to regular check what is not working and if timescales are slipping. This is essential in managing your project and is also good learning for future partnerships.

Respecting each others’ needs

Schools and arts organisations may well have their own and different reasons for getting involved. That’s not to say that you cannot find common ground and find strengths in these differences. Make sure you are aware of what each partner wants from the project and agree shared priorities. Ensure the partnership is mutually beneficial. Other things to consider include:

  • Get to know your partners and their preferred working style of working, take this into account when planning. Respect each other’s differences.
  • Make sure that all partners are credited – co-brand publicity and information (when using each others’ logos, research and respect branding guidelines. Don’t just grab the logo from the website – ask for a high res copy).
  • Respect the fact that partners have other constraints and responsibilities within their own organisation – your project may not be their top priority no matter how committed they are.

Avoiding conflict

The breakdown of partnerships is usually attributed to poor management and poor communication. When this happens, partners (and that can include you) feel they are not being listened to, unappreciated or are carrying a greater workload burden. To avoid potential conflict you should:

  • Build relationships. keep everyone involved create and atmosphere where any feelings of dissatisfaction can be talked through – don’t let bad feelings bubble under the surface.
  • Don’t choose partners whose interests fundamentally conflict with your own (or with the interests of other partners). Ensure your partners are the right ones. Do they have the right expertise? Are they in a position to collaborate on what you want or need them to deliver?
  • Don’t dismiss their ideas – they may know things that you don’t know or highlight avenues you might not have explored.
  • Make sure that everybody is happy with decisions. (Be sure to communicate the reasons behind certain decisions).
  • Treat all partners equally – No one partner should ‘pull rank’ over another – each has their part to play and their specific expertise – that’s why you are working in partnership! Create space for all partners to be heard.
  • Know when a partnership has no future. If problems emerge and attempts to resolve conflict or stir up action have been unsuccessful you may need to consider dissolving the partnership. This should do done professionally and with courtesy.

Top Tips

  1. Have clarity and honesty from the start about what you want to achieve. Ask your partners to do the same. Share any uncomfortable truths and manage expectations, it will make things much easier in the long run
  2. Don’t agree to something that you know you can’t deliver or are uncomfortable with just to get a partnership started. It will backfire!
  3. Build on each partner bringing their strengths to the table. If you think you could do everything better than your partner, then why collaborate?  Equally, if they are better placed to deliver the whole project, is a partnership rather than buying their services the right approach?john byrne and pupil
  4. Don’t partner up just to attract funding. It will probably not be worth the hassle
  5. Put some form of agreement in writing – be proportionate to the scale of your project – an email stating what you have each agreed and by when might be enough.
  6. Review things regularly – if something isn’t working, say so. If responsibilities need reassigning, reassign them. Be flexible
  7. Beware of staff changes – you may need to brief new members of staff on the whys and wherefores of the partnership
  8. Most problems are caused by how organisations work differently day to day – e.g. delayed invoices, things needing to be approved by several different people, use of logos, language in publicity materials. If you foresee a problem at your end, give your partners as much warning as you can and encourage them to do the same for you
  9. Accept that some projects are never meant to get off the ground – stay in touch, there may be other ways you could work together. Don’t flog a dead horse if a partnership really isn’t working
  10. Most importantly, have a sense of humour when things go wrong


Successful partnerships can be a catalyst for innovation and creativity, new ideas, resources and funding opportunities. Below are some resources that illustrate the key features of effective partnerships and the common pitfalls. They provide practical guidance on how to approach partnership work.

Partnerships: Building creative learning partnerships – This Detailed Checklist is one of several included in the MLA’s Inspiring Learning: Improvement Toolkit for Museums, Libraries and Archives.

Good Practice Guide: Working in partnership – This two-page guide briefly outlines some of the approaches to working in partnership that have worked well for projects funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s (BIG) Research Grants programme. The benefits of collaborative research partnerships between third sector organisations and research institutions are presented.

Partnerships and Participation – A comprehensive site created by participation expert David Wilcox. The guidelines (1998) describe the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful partnerships, and will help you decide what sort of partnership you may wish to create, and how to make a start. Building on case studies, the guide is intended for anyone interested in how local regeneration projects can benefit from the involvement of those with the greatest stake in their future – the people who live and work there. Although the principles apply to a range of partnership situations, this is particularly intended for those involved in setting up a Community Development Trust or similar. There is a comprehensive reference section.