How do we structure the partnership to be responsive to the interests and pressures of partners on all sides?

Research and practice partners have different needs, organizational cultures, incentives, accountability, and resources. For the practice partner, there may be pressure to meet a need or produce a policy response on a tight schedule. Research often proceeds slowly, however, and researchers are trained to be cautious in recommending action in the absence of strong evidence. An additional challenge on the research side is that researchers often conduct their work within institutions that do not recognize or credit much of the work that occurs within research-practice partnerships.

Finding ways to reconcile needs and expectations on all sides requires creativity, strategy, and some give-and-take. Some partner needs can be addressed through written agreements that specify who owns the research products and when and how agency or district partners will be able to respond to research findings. As the partnership develops, partners may structure the research agenda so that agency or district partners have the final say on the research question, while researchers determine the best methods for studying the questions.

Research partners should be flexible and sensitive to the political and fiscal contexts in which partners operate. Many partners, including the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center at UC-San Diego, have established “no surprises” policies under which key reports are shared with their agency partners before they are made public. This allows the partner to prepare a thoughtful response rather than be caught off-guard by how media might report findings.

Both sides of the partnership must invest time and effort in getting the collaboration to cohere. Most RPPs suggest that researchers spend much more time on the practitioners’ turf—sitting in on meetings, visiting sites, and even moving staff from the research side onsite to ease access to data and key decision makers, speed up the research process, and ensure that key messages are delivered to the right people. While in-person meetings, let alone relocating staff, is not always possible, video-conferencing can allow for remote collaboration.

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Structuring a Partnership