The Partnership Framework: co-designing collaboration as a means to enhance collective action

Jansen, Erik (1); Brummel, Annica (2) (2016). 'The Partnership Framework: co-designing collaboration as a means to enhance collective action' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

In the Netherlands a Social Support Act was implemented in 2015 to establish a systems transformation in the domains of support and welfare. This involved a decentralization of responsibilities for three domains from the national to local governments, i.e. (a) care and support for persons with chronic conditions, older people and people with disabilities, (b) youth care and (c) participation in the labor force. Substantively, the decentralization emphasizes a central position of the individual and a major role for social networks and the utility of personal social capital. In the majority of Dutch municipalities, multidisciplinary social support teams were set up to provide integral, area-focused care and services. As a result these teams' tasks capitalize on arranging and organizing care and support in close collaboration with community-based informal networks.
In practice, social support team members grapple with balancing individual and collective arrangements and with forming vital coalitions of formal and informal support. They report a need for collaborative methods, combining network-based approaches to participation, and service-user involvement suitable for their local contexts on the one hand, and enabling new arrangements of professional organization on the other. Put differently: new approaches are sought to form productive local partnership configurations in community networks that lead to collective action supporting human flourishing. The purpose of this paper is to provide one answer by linking the concepts of public deliberation, partnership and collective capability.
Partnership and collaboration
In the above context one ubiquitous yet often implicit assumption is that investing in a local community increases its members' individual capabilities to care for and support others in developing the life they have reason to value. Thus, local partnerships between dwellers and professionals are assumed to collectively enhance community members’ capabilities. To achieve the latter, welfare practitioners need to foster processes in which collective social action can be developed as a collaboration between different stakeholders in the boroughs of Dutch municipalities.
Partnership framework
In order to support collaborative processes we devised a participatory method, the Partnership Framework, aimed at the co-design of partnership relations and collective action (Jansen, et al., 2015). This method entails a procedure in which a facilitator employs a graphic canvas in initiating and structuring a dialogue among participating stakeholders with the purpose of forming a joint conception of the local collaboration. Dialogue topics are derived from literature reviews on partnership working, and the procedural rationale is in line with a just-process account of democratic deliberation (see Habermas, 1981; Sen, 2009). Potential partners start by discussing (shared) values and aims substantively. Once agreement is reached, participants subsequently discuss the relations needed, their required behavior and the conditions deemed necessary for the partnership to succeed. As a final step, individual and collective actions are articulated. Thus, in the procedure local dialogue progresses from deliberation on the final ends of the collaboration, via the means necessary to achieve them, to setting up a local collective action agenda. In this way, the framework yields a participatory method particularly suited for social action and empowerment processes leading to the expansion of (collective) capabilities of community members or local network groups, based on a shared conception of the collaboration.
In order to gain insight in both process and outcome of working with the Partnership Framework to expand collective capability, a number of cases in various Dutch community settings were selected in which this procedure was employed. Thick descriptions of these cases were constructed based on participant debriefings and completed partnership designs using combinations of narrative methods and content analysis.
One finding from the analysis of the cases was that the procedure invokes a strong sense of collectivity in which participants are prepared to embrace negotiated sets of (final) ends. Furthermore, whereas the co-designed partnership conception often does not function as a strict blueprint for collaboration, the process of co-design, if well-facilitated, seduces participants to enact this conception on-the-spot. Participants deemed the Partnership Framework a useful tool for collective action among various stakeholders, particularly, but not uniquely, in the context of the Dutch social support teams as it sports arranging collaborative relations on the basis of substantive dialogue.
It is concluded that deliberation and participation should ideally entail both substantive dialogue and co-design of collaboration by the partners themselves to facilitate consensus on the aims and agenda as well as a transparent and just participation process. Thus, joint deliberation on the concept of partnership yields a shared conception, that may function as a local social contract. In light of the findings such a partnership conception appears to be a powerful enabler of collectivity in the following way: public reasoning, in case with the Partnership Framework, yields consensus on both means (process) and final ends (envisaged result) of the partnership. This suggests that the co-design of social processes may contribute substantially to the development of collective capability in community networks because it builds the common ground and mutual trust required to offer coalition partners an agreed upon space for collective action.
Consequences of the findings for the concepts of public deliberation, collective capability and collective action will be discussed. Furthermore, we reflect on how the Capability Approach can inform the co-design of participatory processes for social innovation. Finally, extending our findings we criticize the emerging social practices in which the instrumental and constructive functions of social networks are emphasized, and the intrinsic value of the basic capability of affiliation as constituent of communities is downplayed (see Jansen, Brummel, Esmeijer & Peters, 2015).

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