This is an excerpt from Public-Private Partnerships in Physical Activity and Sport by Norman O'Reilly & Michelle Brunette.
Avoiding Partnership Breakdown Through Good Management
Because partnering is challenging and often requires a long-term commitment, managing and building on the success of partnerships is more efficient than starting new, independent partnership processes. In this regard, van Kempen (2008) notes that building personal relationships and reporting about a program’s success is important at the conclusion of a partnership to build potential for future partnering. Strong collaborative partnerships may draw new users to facilities for events, programs, and services and contribute to community development (Vail 2007). The spillover benefits of a successful partnership, which are largely intangible, could include increases in tourism, job creation, and general regional economic development (Rosentraub and Swindell 2009), which in turn can create conditions for new partnerships to deliver new sport events, programs, and products.
The literature points to the failure of many partnerships in effectively managing their collaboration; much time is spent in developing partnerships, but less time is devoted to creating specific plans of action, and even fewer hours are dedicated to the ongoing management of the partnership (Frisby, Thibault, and Kikulis 2004). Accordingly, Joyner (2007) noted that the fault of many public-private partnerships is that most of the time invested in the partnership is in the creation and negotiation phase rather than in managing the project. Further, partnering with private organizations may prove difficult for many community-based sport and physical activity organizations that are often volunteer driven and may have little or no financial management, reporting, and evaluation skills (Misener and Doherty 2009). Babiak and Thibault (2009) elaborated that the results of ineffective partnership management include project uncertainties, wasted time and effort, limited opportunity for success, and destruction of the partnership.
The importance of good management cannot be stressed enough. Even if partner management and leadership are unbalanced, partners must come to a consensus about each partner’s role and accountability in managing the partnership (Cousens et al. 2006). Partners should aim to build predictable and long-term partnerships with processes that are well defined (UN 2007). To build effective partnerships, as Babiak and Thibault (2009) detailed, each of the partner’s roles, responsibilities, and reporting channels must be coordinated and include clear direction about decision making, accountability, management, and evaluation.
From the time of partnership initiation, the project needs to be managed with clear definition, detailed planning and execution, and commitment to the project’s close. Partners, both private and public, need to shed their unattainable expectations and not underestimate the scope and challenge that each partner undertakes in pursuing the partnership objectives. The challenges that organizations face in creating partnerships in physical activity and sport are difficult but not insurmountable. Considering competing interests from within and outside the organizations and understanding the perceived disconnect and biases that are inherent in the partnership can help partners move forward with effective partnerships. Overcoming the setbacks all comes down to clear and regular communication, good planning and management, strong and defined leadership (though not always equally balanced leadership), and preparation for overcoming future challenges. With proper monitoring and responsiveness, organizations can efficiently face challenges and maintain effective partnerships as they look to future opportunities.
Read more from Public-Private Partnerships in Physical Activity and Sport edited by Norman O’Reilly and Michelle Brunette.