How do I find good partners?

RPPs are driven by relationships. The guide Developing and Sustaining Community-Based Participatory Research Partnerships: A Skill-Building Curriculum offers useful advice on identifying and selecting a partner, which is crucial to the health of the long-term relationship. Paula Arce-Trigatti, director of the National Network of Education Research-Practice-Partnerships, recommends that both researchers and practitioners especially consider these questions about the other side at the beginning of a partnership:

  • Are they willing and committed? Does the potential partner understand the time, energy, and resources required to establish and maintain this new relationship? Are they open to changing their current working protocols or environment?
  • Is there mutual respect? Do partners recognize that important expertise comes from both researchers and practitioners? Is there evidence that ideas and knowledge will be integrated across both sides of the partnership at every step of the process?
  • Can you trust each other? Or is there a possibility of trusting each other with time? Is there prior evidence that the potential partner is trustworthy (e.g., through earlier work together)?
  • Do they have the capacity to partner? Is there sufficient staff to support a new partnership? If key interpersonal skills are not present (e.g., effective negotiation, problem solving, conflict resolution, or fostering collaboration), are they willing to seek extra training in order to improve?
  • Are they committed to improving local conditions through the use of evidence? Do they have the same desire to attack local problems of practice with evidence? Is there a shared understanding of the importance of high-quality evidence in the decision making process?
  • Is there organizational support for the partnership? Are the appropriate and relevant leaders involved in the partnership? If decisions are made, will either organization provide support for implementation? Is there recognition of the underlying value of the partnership?

Start small: Trust is built over time. Early on, partners engage in important joint tasks, including identifying aligned interests, initiating research efforts that are limited in scope and size, and addressing staffing and capacity challenges that the partnership will face. Finding early champions who have the position and authority to facilitate the partnership and provide leadership and support is essential. Sometimes these individuals will serve in a formal role, like a commissioner or director that leads the charge. Other times, a champion might be a trusted staff member who is empowered to advance the work or negotiate the terms of the partnership.

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Structuring a Partnership