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Working Together: Effective Waterways Partnerships

Executive Summary

Partnership working is widespread in the context of waterways restoration and operation. This is indicative both of the number of stakeholders, and the desire to bring additional resources to projects. Effective partnerships can add significantly to the sustainability of projects and ‘working together’ is advocated by UK Government and many public, private and third sector organisations. The Inland Waterways Advisory Council (IWAC) seeks to encourage good partnership working in the waterways setting. We are aware that this position is also shared by the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA). For a wide variety of reasons, however, not all waterways partnerships thrive. In order to assist all involved with partnerships, this IWAC report “Working Together – Effective Waterways Partnerships” seeks to highlight crucial good practice principles by drawing on the experience of five effective partnerships working in England, Scotland and Wales. The resulting guidance will help to reinvigorate those partnerships that are struggling, and will help to set new partnerships along the right road to success.

Following a visit to the Chesterfield Canal Partnership, where a number of ‘working together issues’ were being effectively addressed, IWAC circulated questionnaires to five effective partnerships of UK significance, to gather information about their purpose, organisation, leadership, membership and the issues faced and lessons learnt.  The partnerships were:
• The Chesterfield Canal Partnership
• The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canals Regeneration Partnership
• The ‘Sobriety’ Project Ltd
• The Kennet and Avon Canal Partnership
• Animating the Canal – West Dunbartonshire
Each of the case study partnerships faced similar issues but dealt with them in different ways according to their context and aspirations. The detailed responses from each of these partnerships are reproduced as appendices to this report. IWAC thanks those partnerships that contributed to this study.

IWAC is not advocating any single solution to a particular issue but wishes to indicate a range or effective response that others may wish to adapt to their own setting. The themes under which the key issues can be grouped are:
• Clarity of Purpose
• Structure
• Strategic Planning
• Finance
• Communication
• Leaders and Champions
• Community Involvement
• Partner Participation
Each theme is explored in turn with general principles.  For each, extracts from the case studies are provided as illustration.

The Working Together study has established the following principles which contribute to a successful partnership.  They are:

• Effective partnerships are clear about their purpose, whether it be all-encompassing or very specific.  Agreement within the partnership about the scope of activity is a key to success. Openness about how this links to each organisation’s strategic priorities is also critical.

• Effective partnerships adopt a variety of management structures, ranging from memoranda of understanding and constitutions to legally binding agreements, depending on circumstance. If the success of the partnership is dependent on partners’ commitment of significant and financial resources then a formal, legally binding partnership agreement would be appropriate and justified.

• The strategic plan for the partnership is the road map of where it is going and how it is going to get there. The case studies reflect anxiety about resources and where they are to come from. Through having a strategic plan, these issues can be addressed positively and up front.  Where a partnership’s aims are broad, the strategic plan helps to specify the links between each strand and allows for progress on several fronts concurrently.

• The search for funding for a project often leads to the formation of partnerships in the first place. Organisations working together do provide synergy and can be more effective at achieving financial security. Particular issues faced are related to capital funding, meeting funder’s expectations, generating match funding, maintenance funding for restoration projects and meeting core costs.  Some of the partnerships have developed effective ways of overcoming these financial problems.

• In a partnership involving many organisations and many levels of management, effective communication is the lifeblood of the venture. Meaningful two-way communication within and between partner organisations, with business and the local community, are also recognised as crucial by the successful partnerships. Communications issues are addressed by the case study partnerships in a variety of ways and recommendations are given for ensuring clarity over decision making, management information systems and external promotion.

• Successful partnerships have a leader whose roles and responsibilities are clear and who directs activity effectively. The lead role can successfully rotate between organisations or may be fixed depending on circumstance. Perhaps more critical is the choice of the individual to be the partnership leader.  Risks arise when the nominated leader does not have the necessary ‘flair’, or has insufficient empathy with the constraints on other partners.

• Involving the local community, through consultations and celebration, and even through full membership within the partnership, is seen as a key to success by several of the case study projects. Indeed, in some cases, the aspirations of the partnership were first provided by the community. Partnerships that treat all members with respect and equality, recognising the skills brought by all partners are likely to make more lasting progress.

• The level and type of partner participation is crucial to success. The case study partnerships recognise that each of the partner representatives needs to act as a champion for the partnership within their own organisation. They need to have the authority to be able to communicate issues and decisions back to their own organisations and to accurately reflect their organisation’s own interests to the other partners. A number of issues are raised linked to partner motivation and capacity.

In conclusion, the following summary guidance is given:

• Seek clarity and consensus in defining your purpose
• Agree an appropriate structure at the outset
• Plan appropriately what you propose to do
• Agree a strategic plan as part of ‘signing up to’ your partnership
• Take all possible steps, even small ones, to reduce the risk of future financial uncertainty
• Communicate effectively at all levels and with all stakeholders – make it a priority
• Recognise the need for both champions and conciliators within the leadership of the partnership
• Involve the local community
• Be clear about partners’ roles and be open and honest about problems
• Be committed to deliver the benefits which you envisaged at the outset
• Adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude and stick with it

IWAC is eager to disseminate Working Together widely and to add to the number of case studies of effective partnerships for waterway projects of all sizes. IWAC would welcome AINA’s active involvement to facilitate this process.