Cultural Education Partnerships

October 2015

This month I was invited to be part of the inaugural meeting of the Portsmouth Cultural Education Partnership. This is one of 50 such partnerships announced by Arts Council England as being set up across the country, led by ‘Bridge’ organisations. The Portsmouth partnership has been initiated byArtswork, the South East Bridge.

The idea behind the new partnerships is to encourage all those working in the arts and education to join up and work together to offer a consistent cultural education for all children and young people. They form part of the ‘Cultural Education Challenge’ initiative.

The Portsmouth meeting brought together representatives from a wide range of cultural organisations, all enthusiastic about working together to connect children and young people in the region with great arts and cultural experiences. There were participants from performing and visual arts organisations, heritage and broadcast media. The city’s Director of Public Health, Janet Maxwell, chaired the session and spoke compellingly about the opportunity for cultural activity to impact in positive ways on health outcomes for children and young people. It was great to experience such a diverse range of organisations all interested in bringing their talents together for a common goal.

The meeting addressed a range of key challenges when developing cross-disciplinary partnerships. In this blog, triggered by themes covered in the meeting, I’m offering some links to online resources relevant to understanding and addressing three of these challenges:

  • Partnership fatigue: Participants in the group highlighted that most are already involved in other partnerships and networks in the city, some of which cover some similar ground. Whilst none of duplicate the role which Cultural Education Partnerships play, the meeting seemed agreed that whilst participant overall see partnership working as an effective way to pool resources and avoid duplication, they will need to be cognisant of potential overlap and also finite capacity within organisations to keep up with partnership activity. This is a concern addressed in this useful Joint Improvement Team Scotland briefing document ‘Characteristics of Successful Partnership’, where suggestions for avoiding or addressing partnership fatigue include: developing ‘fit for purpose’ partnership structures and engaging business meetings, mapping or auditing local partnership structures, identifying common links and rationalising where there is duplication; minimising unnecessary change as this can have a negative, destabilising impact.
  • Engaging senior stakeholders: During the meeting, Artswork articulated the importance of the Cultural Education Partnership to have senior buy in, in order to have a strategic impact. This was something that had come out strongly as a theme in the evaluation of pilot Cultural Education Partnerships commissioned by Arts Council England. But how? A classic project stakeholder management approach can certainly help: taking the time to understand what senior stakeholders’ interests are; using structured approaches to consider what their priorities are and how partnership activity can help them to achieve them; planning partnership activity so as to make best use of senior people’s scarce time and attention. This guide from the University of Edinburgh provides useful tools and resources for tackling this challenge.