Skill sets

Catalysing change through the right partnerships

A key component of catalysing change is creating deliberate partnerships and connections.


Quick summary

What does it mean?

  • Partnerships start with relationships
  • Partnerships are built on trust
  • Partnerships happen at an individual level
  • Having the right partners for the right purpose – being clear on outcomes

What helps

  • Having a shared purpose
  • Align philosophies, values and ways of working
  • Being flexible and getting into the grey area / Moving away from set ways of doing things
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Having tough conversations
  • Gaining momentum (GAINING?)
  • Learning by doing (?)
  • Seeing possibility in people (going beyond the usual suspects)

In the video below, Anne Shortis: Manager, trainer and educator at Education & Training Out West (ETOW), shares a story in which they built partnerships to create change.

What does it mean?

Partnerships start with relationships

Getting to know people at a personal level and having informal interactions creates the foundation strong partnerships. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. Sometimes starting simply is best. Finding ways to connect with people both formally and informally, around things like food or coffee, creates and understanding of one another and trust. Organising a bbq can give the opportunity for key people in the community to meet each other and have conversations that otherwise would have never taken place.

When working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, starting with building a relationship is essential. Note that this can take longer than expected. In particular, community time typically does not work at the same speed as project timelines.

“It is that idea of treating people how I would want to be treated if they were trying to get me onboard to something”- Sharon Tomas, Dubbo Community Connector


Partnerships are built on trust
Honest interaction and communication are the foundation of strong partnerships. A lot of important moments for building trust occur in informal interactions when it is easier to talk openly, ask for help and admit failure. When the trust isn’t there, parties will struggle to move things forward.
and willingness to invest in partnership. This is key to moving forward and building strong partnerships.

The discipline of coaching offers following four elements that are crucial to building trust:

    • Reliability – consistently doing what you say you will do
    • Competent – feeling that everyone has the skills to action their part in the partnership
    • Involvement – understanding  the participation degree from each side
    • Sincerity – communicating clearly and having hard conversations when are needed

Partnerships happen at an individual level
When building partnerships we don’t necessarily look for a particular organisation, we look for the right people. Often we look to individuals that we know are committed, passionate and share the same philosophy and values. Once you feel that that that one-on-one relationship is strong and you know you’re aligned around a shared purpose, then more stakeholders (senior leadership, other organisations and the broader community) can be brought into play.

Partnerships that create change at the community level depend on the relationships between members of the community. Relationships need to exist all all levels from grassroots to decision-making. Relationships need to exist between levels as well. For instance, having the community’s true voice come through loud and clear in a partnership is important to ensure greater relevance, and the potential for actions to have the intended impact.

“We are small, we know who gets things done around town”- Shane Phillips, Lake Cargelligo


Having the right partners for the right purpose – being clear on outcomes

In order to select the right partners, you need to be clear on what you’re setting out to achieve. Getting clear on your desired outcomes provides the basis for building relationships and forming deliberate partnerships as a result. Is it guided by questions such as:

  • ‘Who can help us understand the issue or challenge we’re facing?’
  • ‘Who can support us to engage with the intended audience for our efforts?’
  • ‘Who can help us take action?’
  • ‘Who can support us to find investment and resource?’
  • ‘Who is needed to create change beyond community (e.g. at a state or federal level)?’


Different partners bring different capabilities. What do you need?

Each partner has a role to play, and they also get different benefits from being involved. When working with different stakeholders it is important to understand their currency, to know what is important to them. You may have a shared purpose, but each partner may be looking to different benefits of the relationship and the work.

There are various types of partnerships that you can explore. Core partners are active and can be involved throughout the full process. Peripheral partners can support at different times and in different ways, depending on what is needed to achieve the vision. People sitting on the edges may come to one or two meetings, but don’t necessarily need to be involved throughout the process. They play an important role at different moments e.g. opening doors or playing a coaching role.


What helps?

Having a shared purpose
A key element to creating a successful partnership is finding a shared purpose, with common goals or vision. The shared purpose is not just something that benefits one party, but something that can benefit all the parties involved and the community at large. Having a shared purpose allows all parties to be on the same page and move forward as a team.

The goal or vision should be motivating and inspiring, even when working on tough social problems. It will help you ensure from the beginning that this is a joint approach where all the people are partners. “This is my program or this is my area” thinking is often unhelpful in effective partnerships.

Align philosophies, values and ways of working
Partnerships thrive if the different parties are aligned in philosophy, values and ways of working.  Whilst organisational or group cultures can be different  (e.g. TAFE and Police), working together to develop a set shared mindsets, behaviours, language and practices can support more effective work together. Group dynamics constantly need to be established and re-established as it is easy to slip back into differences. When gathering together, strong facilitation can support effective partnerships.

It’s important to take the time to understand the context of each partner, including what they’re motivated by, what constraints they face, as well as how the issue or challenge is understood within their context and (if relevant) professional worldview.

Being flexible and getting into the grey area
In order to create change, you will find yourself in gray areas, and needing to be flexible. You may need to explore areas that might not necessarily be your responsibility or that you might not be directly funded for. What might you need to negotiate and flex on in order to move forward together? These areas often create opportunities to collaborate with others and create valuable outcomes.

Willingness to take risks
In order to catalyse change, it is important to take a risk and be ready to fail. If things don’t go as expected or if the achieved outcomes are undesired ones: reflect, ask for feedback and find other ways to move forward.

Having tough conversations
Often the most successful partnerships are those where tough conversations can be had, and the group is able to sit with, and move through, these conversations. It is often through these tough conversations that spaces can be opened up of greater trust and understanding. By sticking with the tough conversation long enough, we can actually reinforce the sense that we are a team and we are in this together. Tough conversations can be pursued through a soft challenge or curiosity, where emotional intelligence is used to maintain safe spaces. By being vulnerable and honest in meetings ourselves, we can lead the way for others to be too. Sometimes external facilitation is needed to support the tough conversations, as it requires capability to help a group move beyond differences and build shared understanding.

Moving away from set ways of doing things
We sometimes have set ways of doing things and it might get in the way of partnerships or the best way to create change. These could be organisational as well as individual. As needed, reflect on approaches and challenge them. Find creative ways to shift set ways of doing things.
There are often traditional ways of organising meetings such as nominating a chairperson and nominating a minute taker etc. These approaches might not be useful for every meeting. It could be helpful to throw all the cards on the table and find something that is beneficial for everyone. For example, order coffee and pizzas and ask: what do you want to get out of this? what is going to be a good use of your time?

Gaining momentum
Often change begins with smaller strong core group of people, and that momentum can snowball when others are involved. Bringing other people in along the way who share the common vision and can also create value. This process can be slow at times but can also gain momentum quickly and allow communities to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing issues.

Seeing possibility in people (going beyond the usual suspects)

Look beyond the usual suspects for partnerships. You’ll still have to take the time to build the relationship, but it’s an opportunity to leverage skills and diversity that can be missed sometime.

Where might you find unlikely or overlooked partners? What if you see community as legitimate and capable partners? When looking for partnerships, also see the opportunity to transform relationships within the community and build respect across people when it might have been lost.



  • The SCARF framework: The SCARF framework takes a social neuroscience lens and maps the social domains that drive human behaviour: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. They describe it as “a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others”. Find below attached a paper that explores this concept in detail.
  • Creating Group Kawa (Culture): Ko Wai Au Worksheet

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