Are Your Collaborations Empowering Partnerships and Transforming Learning?
AASSA MEMBERS RESPOND
2019 SURVEY RESULTS
CoreStrategies for Nonprofits asked. AASSA members responded.
Prior to the 2019 AASSA Educators’ Conference in Santiago, Chile, the international consulting firm CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc. sent surveys to AASSA members, requesting to learn more about their experiences with the conference theme, “Empower Partnerships, Transform Learning.” The number of respondents was small (N = 44), but the answers were well-considered. We thought you’d be interested in the results. How does your school’s experience with collaboration stack up against that of your colleagues?
Position Held by Respondents: The greatest number of respondents were school administrators (62%)1 followed by board directors (30%). This might be expected, as these two groups are charged with considering the big picture on a day-to-day basis when determining how best to move their schools forward to benefit the students and other stakeholders. As such, they are also the ones most typically responsible for establishing partnerships.
1 Percentages in the narrative are rounded to the closest whole number.
Years School Is in The Community: Most of the schools represented in the survey are well established, with just shy of 90% being at least 20 years old. Such longevity is attractive to potential partners, who are generally interested in increasing their reach in the community. A school that has 20+ years-worth of alumni, parents and staff offers a rich pool of potential customers (read customers broadly).
Availability of Potential Partners: Between 40% and 53% of the schools are in communities with one or more of the following: banking institutions, cultural institutions, government agencies, industry, large corporate entities with at least 150 employees, NGOs, institutions offering post-secondary education, and foreign investments. Such environments offer a wide variety of opportunities for partnerships.
Schools that Currently Have Formal Partnerships: Forty percent of the respondents indicated that they have formal partnerships with either individuals or entities. A formal partnership is defined as involving a written agreement. While quite a number were not sure if their school was engaged in any such partnerships (21%), this still indicates that there is a lot of unrealized potential and schools need to take advantage of this.
Number of Formal Partnerships Per School: No school representative reported having more than 6 to 10 formal partnerships, and the percentage of individuals responding that they had that many was low (13%). Typically, the schools tended to have 2 to 5, but those that have even this number are also low. Less than 30% have even 2 or 3 partnerships and only a quarter of the schools have 4 or 5.
Entities with which Schools Have Formal Partnerships: Schools have reached out to all the various institutions in their communities, but the entities that have proven the most popular partners are cultural institutions and vendors, with close to 30% of the respondents reporting a relationship with one or both of these particular entities. A fifth of the schools have engaged either NGOs and/or post-secondary schools in a formal partnership.
Location of Formal Partners: The schools represented in this survey have established partnerships with individuals or entities not only in their own communities but throughout their countries, the US and elsewhere in the world. A small percentage of school representatives report that 100% of their partnerships involve individuals or entities outside of their own country (4% report working with partners solely in the US and another 4% report working only with partners in countries other than their own or the US).
Personal Responsibility for Establishing Formal Partnerships: Respondents were asked if they had personally established a formal partnership. Looking at the total “N,” the number that responded yes was 30%. That number jumped to 43% when only the responses of the administrators were taken into consideration. Again, this is to be expected, since it is the administrators that have the ultimate responsibility for who comes into the school and under what guise.
Types of Formal Partnerships: When asked to share some of the partnerships that their schools were engaged in, the responses included:
- “I’ve identified a consultant to provide (professional development) for our faculty over a multi-year agreement.”
- “Collaboration and partnership with local university and US university”
- “Partnerships with mayor’s office to support local schools and to provide professional development and workshops within those schools”
- “I have involved the school (with) regional organizations, local organizations, vendors and consultants.”
- “Language training”
- “Working with our local art museum and with NGOs in the community”
One question that wasn’t asked, but would have been interesting, is what the schools offered the partners in exchange.
Schools that Currently Have Informal Partnerships: Fifty-two percent of the respondents indicated that they have informal partnerships with either individuals or entities. An informal partnership is defined as involving an oral agreement and/or an implied or assumed agreement but no written agreement. Just under 40% of the respondents said their school was not engaged in such a partnership, which is a substantial number, especially when informal partnerships are less cumbersome to initiate than formal ones yet can have just as great an impact. Here again, this speaks to a lot of unrealized potential.
Number of Informal Partnerships Per School: Apropos to the comment above regarding it being easier to initiate informal partnerships, schools tend to engage in more informal partnerships than formal ones. Fewer respondents indicated that their school had 1 to 3 informal partnerships (20% to the 33% that reported having 1 to 3 formal partnerships). This was also true of those who reported having 4 or 5 informal partnerships, though the spread was less (20% informal to 25% formal). However, whereas only 13% reported formal partnerships with 6 to 10 individuals and/or entities and none reported more than 10 formal partnerships, 20% of respondents indicated that their schools had 6 to 10 informal partnerships and an equal number reported more than 10 informal partnerships.
Entities with which Schools Have Informal Partnerships: As was seen with the community partners engaged in formal partnerships, schools have reached out to a variety of institutions in their quest to build informal partnerships. Cultural institutions remained the most popular partners (53%), with government agencies coming in second (40%), and vendors coming in third, with 33%. Large corporate entities and research institutes each accounted for just over a quarter (27%) of the relationships.
Location of Informal Partners: The majority of informal partnerships are built locally, with only 7% of schools reporting between 26% and 50% of such partnerships established with individuals or entities outside of their own communities, and none of the schools reporting having more than half of their informal partnerships with individuals or entities outside of their own communities.
Factors Leading to the Establishment of Partnerships: Respondents were asked to rank order those factors that most frequently led to the establishment of partnerships at their schools. A third (33%) reported that conducting an intentional search for the most appropriate partnership was the most important factor. Approximately one-fifth each chose shared vision, knowing the right people, and luck.
Benefits of Partnerships: Increased opportunities for students appeared the greatest benefit according to 73% of all respondents and 78% of administrators. Getting specialized services donated was also seen as a significant benefit by 60% of all respondents and 67% of administrators.
The aggregate of respondents rated the donation of goods, such as land, building materials, equipment, educational materials, food, etc. as a significant benefit (53%), though administrators considered this less valuable, with only 33% ranking it as an important benefit. Thirty-three percent of the aggregate thought increased financial support was a benefit, though only 11% of administrators did. The administrators presumably are more aware of how much financial and in-kind support actually comes in as a result of partnerships.
Fortunately, only a relatively small number felt there was no benefit to establishing partnerships (7% of the aggregate and 11% of administrators). Administrators did add several other benefits that they have observed:
- “Opportunities for professional development for staff”
- “Specialized services such as medical services, speech therapy, professional development consultancy or tech services”
Negatives to Partnerships: The aggregate was in agreement that the strongest negative to partnerships– and that was only just over a third at 38%) was that it was too difficult to identify the right collaborative partners. That response was even stronger when looking strictly at the responses of administrators. Fifty percent of administrators felt that way. Twenty-five percent of the aggregate felt that the partnerships promise more than they deliver. Forty percent of administrators felt that way. It was refreshing to see that 38% of all respondents, and 30% of administrators felt that there were no downsides to partnerships.
One might expect that administrators feel a little less Pollyannaish about partnerships because they often have to deal with the aftermath of collaborations gone wrong. Again, administrators felt there were other negatives to consider about partnerships:
- “They (the partners) are unfamiliar with schools or with international communities and require a lot of orientation and support to serve our needs well.”
- “Sometimes (they) have different priorities”
Personal Responsibilities for Partnerships: Just under 40% (38%) of respondents, and 60% of administrators stated that they were personally responsible for establishing partnerships at their schools. Presumably, those who have nurtured partnerships have the clearest idea of what it takes to make them successful, as well as the most likely reasons partnerships might not live up to their expectations. When these individuals were asked about their experiences, their responses focused on with whom they have established partnerships:
- “Community youth groups, relations with other schools”
- “I established a partnership with a landscape artist whose work primarily is to think about how to bring native vegetation to the land so that we may attract native insects and birds and bring back endangered species to the urban environment.”
- “Working with an outside firm to help develop student leadership and social/emotional learning”
- “I have established informal partnerships with local entities.”
- “With recruitment agencies”
Average Length of Partnerships: While a third of the partnerships experienced by the survey participants lasted 2 to 5 years, over 13% lasted more than 10 years.
Management of Partnership: The management of school partnerships generally falls to the individuals who negotiated those partnerships (40%). The next most typical response to this question was “it depends on the partnership.” It was interesting that only one administrator reported that the job fell to him or her.
Extension of Terms: Twenty percent of the respondents said that none of their partnerships were renewed beyond their original terms, whereas 13% reported that almost all of their partnerships were renewed. A relatively small number – 7% each – stated that up to a quarter or up to one half of their partnerships were renewed. Partnerships certainly can run their course. Few should be renewed forever. But, if none of the partnerships a school engages in are renewed, the due diligence process should be reevaluated.
Drivers of Successful Partnerships: When asked to rank drivers of successful partnerships, almost two- thirds (64%) of respondents felt “nurturing the relationship throughout the year” was most important.One third attributed it to “luck,” and 10% suggested “providing tangible benefits to our partners” was most important. It was interesting that no one ranked “providing recognition to our partners” as most important. When asked if there were any other factors to which people attributed successful partnerships, the answers were:
- “That the purpose of the partnership is directly related to our strategic objectives. For example, sustainability (social and environmental responsibility).”
- “Time and dedication. Doing continual follow-up.”
- “Consistent interaction and building/developing trust”
Tips for Colleagues: An open-ended question seeking tips for colleagues brought the following responses:
- “Finding the right partnerships that benefit students”
- “It has to be beneficial to both partners. It is not good if the partner benefits to the detrimentof the school.”
- “Nurture collaborative relationships – partnerships will be a natural result of such nurture.”
- “Continual work and interaction – don’t take anything for granted”
What Participants Still Want to Learn:
- “Examples of successful partnerships”
- “How to attract partners who are more interested in advancing students’ learning opportunities than getting benefits (for themselves)”
- “How to better formalize the partnerships”
- “General advice from other schools”
- In response to what participants still want to learn, review this report. Your colleagues offer a lot of good suggestions and advice.
- If you are among the two-thirds that are not currently making intentionality the number one reason you enter a partnership, consider putting more focus on it. While “knowing the right people,” which received the highest total point value is important, one has to ask if, while thesepeople have brought you benefits, they are the “best” people for the partnerships you need atthis time. This is particularly the case when considering the responses to the negatives of partnerships, which included the difficulty of finding the “right” collaborative partners and the finding that partnerships often promise more than they deliver.
- Know what you want from a partnership before talking to anyone about working together.
- Shared vision and values are important.
- Make sure both sides are getting something they value from the relationship. Don’t assume thatyou know what that is for the other party. Ask.
- If you do not currently debrief your partnerships at the end of their terms, consider implementing such an activity to determine what worked and what didn’t work as well. This information will help with the due diligence for future partnerships.
- Collaborations take work. Both parties need to build trust and this trust must be constantly nurtured.
- Set up regular times to talk and work out issues to everyone’s satisfaction.
- Remember, it will always take longer than you estimated to see the results of collaborations.
- It’s easier to keep a current partnership than begin a new one, so go the extra mile to ensure everyone is finding the relationship worthwhile.