BLOG: Top Five Principles of Great Partnerships




Best Practices for Advancing Safety through Partnerships with Universities

Partnerships between universities and government, law enforcement, and state drivers licensing agencies can promote incredible change.

These unions pair the discovery and dissemination of knowledge with the application of that knowledge. The result is simple: safer roads, fewer crashes, and lives saved. Each stakeholder holds a piece of the puzzle, offering their own expertise. The value in having these groups work together is exponential.

At the Summit, we discussed practices for advancing safety through partnerships. We strategized ways for law enforcement, state drivers licensing agencies and universities to work together. And ever since, I have been thinking about what makes an effective partnership.

What’s the look, feel and make up of a successful coming together? And also, what types of partnerships fail?

I’ve taken time to reflect on these questions. And using some intel from the Summit, I’ve come up with my top five principles for great partnerships. Instead of seeing this as a static list, please read with your own ideas in mind. I’m hoping that this post takes on a life of its own, in the form of an ongoing dialogue. We still have a lot to learn from each other.

1. Building a successful Agency-University partnership takes time.

“Take time for all things. Great haste makes great waste.” ~Benjamin Franklin

To ensure longevity and success, you have to accept that things will take time. Great partnerships require trust, as well as champions from both sides. Relationships build over months and years, not overnight.

Why this Matters: You need buy-in and engagement from both sides, which takes time and energy. Make an effort to figure out what’s in it for each party, and then agree to work together toward these goals. If you take the time in the beginning to learn about each other, it will be easier down the road.

How to Do It: Start small by simply getting everyone at the same table. Invite university representatives to planning meetings. LISTEN to each other, and ask questions that will open up the dialogue about the needs of each party. Which pieces can your organization offer? Which pieces are you lacking? Small collaborations can lead to bigger partnerships down the line so no step is too small or insignificant.

Here are a few concrete ways to get the ball rolling:

  • Sit on committees together (Traffic Records Coordinating Committee, Strategic Highway Safety Program, etc.)

  • Have a monthly brown bag lunch meeting – discuss gaps in your projects and look for ways to help each other.

  • Offer to share projects you’ve done in the past – perhaps this will spark inspiration in your potential partner.

  • Reach out to attendees of the Summit – ask questions about their experiences with partnerships and follow suit.

2. Create structure around the partnership.

Each entity comes with its own bureaucracy and system in place. To join forces, you’ll need to create a new and unique structure that reflects the needs and objectives of the partnership.

Why this Matters: Neither organization is an island. In order to successfully move (in unison) toward your mutual goals, you’ll have to figure out the path. If you take time (see principle #1) at the beginning to create this structure, the steps that each player needs to take will be laid out and clearly marked.

How to Do It: Create a clear mission, with clear goals and objectives. Likely, you have separate individual interests, but there has to be a shared vision of the outcome. Make sure there are specific timelines with tasks and deliverables and accountability assigned. Leave nothing to chance, because that thing won’t get done!

Although a full and detailed structure is ideal, it can also be flexible, depending on the project. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Write a scope of project – UMassSafe creates a scope of service for each project it works on with the Massachusetts State Police (MSP)

  • Write a grant proposal

  • Write an interservice agency agreement (ISA)

  • Create an overall mission and write-up for your organization – lay out your goals and focus so that everyone is clear and working toward the same things (this also helps other organizations to quickly see whether you’ll be good partners).

3. Communication is KEY.  

We’ve all heard this before, so we don’t have to go on and on about how important this is, right? You have to communicate. Period. If your partnership lacks this principle, success will be a hard fought battle, and may never materialize. And beyond simply responding to emails or picking up the phone when it rings, it’s important to communicate effectively.

Why this Matters: Here is a fact about people – they need to be heard. This is pretty universal. And when you’re working in partnership with an organization, and there are multiple stakeholders and ideas and goals competing for attention, it’s even more important to hone this skill.

How to Do It: Start by listening to each other. Make sure you are meeting each other’s needs (do this by following principles 1 and 2). When creating something for an organization, get a whole lot of input at every step. Even if you think you know what the other group wants/is thinking/hates/likes… ASK. Listen. Take their feedback, and then move forward as an informed partner.

Here is a concrete example of this principle in action:

When we first developed the CMV Query Tool for the MSP, the Commander liked it, but immediately asked some questions that the tool could not answer. He clicked on a specific crash and asked who was in the crash, and what had caused it. Based on his questions and interest, we developed an add-on that enabled certain security cleared users to click on a crash and see many specific details from the crash report.

We wouldn’t have known that this was of interest if we hadn’t listened to his feedback during the pilot phase. It’s common in collaboration to lose the regular communication that is critical in these beginning steps.

4. Utilize the best skills of your partners.  

Each stakeholder or organization brings different expertise to the table. There’s no sense in collaborating with someone who has the same skills as you do. Branch out. Seek partnerships with people/organizations who can offer things outside of your wheelhouse or zone of comfort.

Why this Matters: The driving force behind partnerships is the need for expertise that your organization is lacking. If you’re not utilizing the skills of outside forces, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to increase the lifesaving potential of your projects.

How to Do It: Before you seek out organizations or people to work with you on your projects, figure out what you’re missing. Write down a list of skills and resources you already have covered, and then figure out where the holes are. Now, who can bridge these gaps and help to create the flow you need to move this thing forward? Go find them!

Here is an example from UMassSafe experience with the MSP:

We once gave a presentation of the findings of a crash data analysis, where we showed them high crash locations and suggested they conduct enforcement in those areas. They were quick to tell us why that wouldn’t work, as there are many factors that go into truck enforcement, including where it is safe to stop a truck. Truck enforcement is very different than passenger car enforcement, and this was not where our expertise lived. We can identify problem issues and areas, but in the end, law enforcement needs to interpret the information in order to make decisions.

5. Share your successes.

When the hard work of your partnership pays off, and provides new research or best practices to the transportation safety community, give credit where credit is due.

This was one of the most inspiring things about the CV Safety Research Summit – everyone sharing their successes and lessons learned, and wanting to offer their experience to help others.

Why this Matters: If one of the biggest pieces of the partnership puzzle is communication, one of the best ways to damage the relationship is to withhold praise when it’s due. We’ve heard plenty of stories about someone in a partnership taking credit for work done by someone else. This is common, and creates tension that can’t always be unraveled.

How to Do It: When you sign on to work as a group, you sign up for sharing the accolades. Learn to acknowledge that alone, very little gets done. Together, what seemed complicated and time consuming became manageable and even fun. Principles 1-4 set you and your partnerships up for success in this arena, because you’ve:

  • Taken your time

  • Created structure

  • Listened to each other and communicated needs

  • Appreciated and utilized the skills of each member

So consider yourself ready. Share the work, share the credit. It’s as simple as that.