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What we learned about working in partnership: an article from the Healthy Kids Resource Centre

I Background
II Development of the partnership
III Key Outcomes of the HKRC
IV Key Learnings

Submitted by the Healthy Kids Resource Centre

I Background

The Healthy Kids Resource Centre (HKRC) is a collaboration formed at the request of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) to support the implementation of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge.

Established in 2014 as an initiative of the MOHLTC, the Healthy Kids Community Challenge (HKCC) is based on the internationally recognized EPODE program.  Forty-five Ontario communities deliver programs and activities that support healthy eating and physical activity. Each community works with local partners to plan and deliver community initiatives on a specific theme, which changes every 9 months. The HKCC is funded until September 2018.

The mandate of the HKRC is to support the communities participating in the HKCC. The four members of the HKRC are:

Methodology

With the funding for Ontario’s health promotion resource centres coming to a close, the HKRC wanted to share what we have learned as a result of working in partnership to support HKCC communities. We conducted an evaluation to document our “story”, which examined the developmental, process and outcome aspects of the HKRC. We chose a mixed methods approach, with the emphasis on qualitative data from semi-structured interviews and focus groups. Statistics on services requested and offered as well as a document review provided additional context.

II Development of the partnership

Our partnership began one year before the launch of the HKRC, while the program was still in the development phase. We strove to balance the need to plan our partnership and our activities with the need to be nimble and flexible, as the exact shape of the program and the nature of the need from communities was not known.

Each member resource centre is experienced in working in partnership. This gave us a solid base of knowledge of what it takes to work collaboratively. Additionally, “partnership” is one of the four core pillars of the EPODE model. We recognized that partnership building takes time and effort, and that investing in developing our partnership would pay dividends in the work we would do together.

Partnership model and leadership structure

There are a wide variety of partnership models described in the literature. The collaboration continuum commonly describes five levels:

Partnership levels

As groups move towards to right of the continuum, there is an increase in commitment, intensity of workload, and the necessity for trust relationships. The HKRC chose to work at the “collaboration” level, as outlined by Winer and Ray[1]:

Cooperation

Coordination

Collaboration

lower intensity <---------------------------> higher intensity

Shorter-term, informal relationships

Shared information only

Separate goals, resources, and structures

Longer-term effort around a project or task

Some planning and division of roles

Some shared resources, rewards, and risks

More durable and pervasive relationships

New structure with commitment to common goals

All partners contribute resources and share rewards and leadership

The MOHLTC established one member resource centre in a coordinating role for the HKRC, with the expectation that information and reporting would flow from the HKRC through the coordinating resource centre to the ministry, and from the ministry to the coordinating resource centre to the HKRC. Given our intention to operate as a collaborative, we aspired to work from a transparent and consensus-based approach to decision-making. Early in our partnership, we developed a Memorandum of Partnership and Expectation which detailed our partnership model, our decision-making model, roles and expectations for HKRC members, and various processes around communication and branding.

III Key Outcomes of the HKRC

The processes and procedures established in our first year served us throughout the life of the HKRC.  We developed common definitions for our services and our reach, as well as processes for work allocation. We leveraged a service request and tracking system (the Intranet) used by a member resource centre, and established a “one window” intake system with one phone number and one email address for clients to contact the HKRC. A “no wrong door” approach meant that clients could contact any member of the HKRC, who would then relay the request through the intake system.

Once the Healthy Kids Community Challenge began in 2015, we began to work directly with the 45 communities participating in the Challenge. We developed a Community Needs Assessment and accompanying manual to assist communities in assessing their communities and identifying assets. We created an online social networking platform, called The Source, as a place for those participating in the Challenge to learn and share from one another. We created a number of Asset Inventories and compiled best practices for each theme of the HKCC. We have supported a Community of Practice for public health dietitians involved in the Healthy Kids Community Challenge.

As of the end of January 2018, we had provided 229 consultations, 24 workshops and 7 webinars/peer sharing sessions on topics such as evaluation, sustainability, working in partnerships, and the four themes of the HKCC.

IV Key Learnings

Partnership is a process

Partnership development is a process that requires, time, resources and commitment. Because the four members of the HKRCs were experienced with partnership development, we found a way to invest in this aspect of our partnership in the face of other demands and pressures. 

The following are our key learnings related to working in partnership:

  • Developing shared manuals and documentation was an important step in support our partnership, although this did take significant time and effort particularly in the beginning stages.
  • While we had relationships with each resource centre prior to the HIRC being established, we had not collaborated together to this extent before. It was important for us to not make assumptions about how other resource centres operated and what capacity they had. We set aside time to get to know one another’s organizations, mandates and protocols.
  • There were needs for coordination, minute-taking, reporting and other administrative functions that heavily drew on one resource centre and limited their ability to deliver services. Having a coordinator/administrator not attached to any of the member resource centres might have provided more neutral ground and freed up time for service delivery.

Collaboration leads to more collaboration

By working closely together, we learned more about each other’s strengths and resources, which is a benefit that will extend beyond the HKRC. Supporting the 45 communities participating in the Healthy Kids Community Challenge also allowed us to develop relationships that have spread and scaled up beyond the HKCC.

 

[1] Winer, M. and Ray, K. 1994. Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining and Enjoying the Journey.  Fieldstone Alliance