One of the questions that often comes up in our peer learning cohorts and conversations with community partners and schools is: “How do we build sustainable partnerships and programs?”
Both of our school-community partnership cohorts explored this question this spring, as this can be a good time of year to reflect on the progress you’ve made towards building a partnership that sustains over time and weathers changes such as staff turnover.
In our Highline cohort, participants paired up to “interview” each other, with one person answering questions on behalf of their organization and program while the other imagined they were a Sustainability Assessor. The questions the Assessors asked fell into five different categories related to partnership work: relationship-building, communication, documentation, partnership and program quality, and resource development.
- What relationships have you built within your school community to sustain the partnership?
- What are some strategies you are using to communicate with different stakeholders about the program and partnership?
- What documentation exists or have you developed for your partnership or program? (If you left your job tomorrow, what would your predecessor be able to find out by looking through online or off-line files?)
- What are you doing to assess and improve the quality of the program and partnership? (What does your cycle of continuous improvement look like?)
- What steps have you taken to identify or develop resources to sustain the partnership?
Using this tool and the new Sustainability Checklist for Community Partners, participants assessed their strengths and areas for development and then set goals to work towards greater sustainability.
What is one of the ideas participants were excited about? The idea of developing a program user manual or “how to do this job” guide for one’s program and role. What might that look like? Create a file on the desktop of your computer or a folder in your desk drawer that includes:
- An annual calendar showing key tasks, events, etc. that occur at specific times of the year
- A list of “Key People to Know” including names, positions, and contact information
- A Partnership Ecosystem Map for this school
- Partnership and program vision, goals, and descriptions
- Brief history of each partnership and/or program
- A list of tools or resources you often use to support the partnership
You may not know who is going to take on your role after you leave, so consider: what would it look like to set them up for success? Last year, I was facilitating a meeting with community partners and educators on sustainability, and one of the participants said, “Well, in my last position, the person left behind a ‘how to do this job’ file” and described how this resource had helped them get a head start on continuing the work that was already underway. He and I smiled, as I had been in the person to precede him in this role. It was rewarding to learn that this sustainable practice had made a positive impact!