Home Publications Consultancy Research Contacts


Main Page
Common Questions
Where to Begin

A way of thinking about the purposes of partnership; and the partnership behaviours that are appropriate for each purpose.

We are emerging from a period when competition was promoted as the effective means of achieving social outcomes. Now partnership is the political imperative - between private and public sectors, across public sectors, between professionals and lay people, and with citizens generally. Many people welcome the shift in policy. They share the Government’s aspirations for partnership working, yet it sometimes feels like the triumph of hope over experience.

We have found it liberating to recognise that there are several different sorts of partnership behaviour. What seems to matter most is that there is clarity about the purpose of a partnership. We distinguish between co-operating, co-ordinating, and co-evolving partnerships. Each requires different behaviour to achieve its ends and when these behaviours and purposes get muddled up then the frustration with partnership grows. These forms of partnership are not a hierarchy but an attempt to describe different circumstances and the behaviours appropriate to each.


The horizontal axis represents the different types of goals being sought. To the right, people and organisations are pursuing individual goals. To the left, the goals are collective.

The vertical axis represents the extent to which the purpose and the behaviour needed to achieve it can be known in advance, plotted as predictability. In the lower half, objectives are recognisable and the way to achieve them is understood. In t upper half, on the other hand, only broad aims can be recognised. The future can be anticipated but not predicted in detail. Achieving the goal will depend on triggering changes in other partners.

The distinctions between the four quadrants are not watertight. Real partnerships include elements from several at any one time, and are likely to move between them over the course of time. Nevertheless the distinctions can be useful in recognising the behaviours that are likely to be appropriate in different circumstances.

The characteristics of the four quadrants are described in the book and, in more detail, in the working paper ‘Partnership: fit for purpose?’

One purpose of this typology is to make it easier to judge what approach to take in partnership. If the issue you are tackling lies in the top left quadrant, we think that Working Whole Systems has a lot to offer.

We have found that networks of people can find it very helpful to set time aside to explore their past experience of partnership in the light of this typology; and that this can lead to greater clarity about what partnership behaviours are needed in the future. For bibliography and links to Partnership, co-operation and collaboration, click here.

Home Publications Consultancy Research Contacts