Partnership as conversation: why partnerships are condemned to talk and what they need to talk about

James Cornford, Rob Wilson, Sue Baines

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Abstract

Participants and observers regularly complain that multi-agency partnerships are “talking shops,” engaged in constant discussion which gets in the way of “doing” the work of partnership. In this paper we engage with and criticize this characterization. Drawing on ideas from the Cultural Theory of Mary Douglas, we argue that true multi-agency partnerships are structurally condemned to talk. Instead of criticizing this talk and contrasting it with “doing” we should see it as a critical part of the doing of partnership. We should therefore concentrate on organizing and structuring partnership talk in order to move things forward rather than trying to minimize it. In the second half of the paper we therefore put forward a proposal for how partnership talk should be organized into five “conversations” concerning the principles, policies, processes, practices and politics of partnership. While we can make no predictions for the outcome of these conversations in any given case, we can, we believe, establish some necessary preconditions for effective interaction. We illustrate our arguments drawing on a range of empirical work in education and wider public services reform.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConference on Multi-Organisational Partnerships and Networks (MOPAN) 2013
Subtitle of host publicationNewcastle University Business School, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 15-17 July, 2013
Place of PublicationNewcastle uponTyne
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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