Why enter into partnerships?
No individual, organization or network can do everything on its own. Typically, an organization’s information and knowledge management activities will include: purchase of or free access to materials; production, storage and retrieval of new materials; and dissemination of materials to a range of different users/customers/stakeholders. Are there activities that your organization is particularly strong at? Are there others that you are not so strong at, or that you do not do at all? The necessary infrastructure, staff skills and access to users necessary for these activities mean that forming partnerships with others is often the best way to achieve a strategic vision.
Making strategic decisions for practical reasons
A. Identify the need for partnerships through strategic analysis:
The potential for partnerships should form a part of your strategic thinking and planning. Strategic analysis [link to Pathway 1.1.2.] will help to define what your organization is trying to achieve and assess its capability of doing it effectively.
What areas of information and knowledge management might need to be strengthened in your organization?
Through an examination of strengths and weaknesses you can identify the areas which need strengthening, either within the organization or by forming partnerships with others who have those strengths. [CTA’s ‘ICM strategy development: User’s manual’ shows an analysis of information flows within and outside an organization (p.22), and the development of a SWOT analysis (p.27)]. [See also IMARK module ‘Strategic Approaches to Information’ Unit 2 Lesson 2.3 ’Developing an Information Strategy’]
B. Which information activities could be shared?:
Here are just some of the areas of activity in an organization which may need to be assessed for potential partnership. You can no doubt think of more.
1. Technical infrastructure
Do you want to do it all? – for instance, the development and management of an institutional repository [the Repositories Support Project has information in the ‘Start’ section], the digitization and preservation of materials, the production of multimedia resources, purchasing broadband bandwidth and software, and so on. [IMARK ‘Strategic Approaches to Information’ Unit 5 lesson 5.3 ‘Technology’ gives an overview of the technical and skills requirements for the management of an organization’s information infrastructure.]
2. Access to information resources
Do you want to run your own library, possibly with both digital and print collections? Or might joint development of library facilities with a neighbouring organization or network be more cost-effective?
Also, the most common form of collaborative information purchase is through a library consortium, an association of independent libraries formed to share resources and to negotiate with publishers on journal/database subscriptions and book purchases. The main advantage of a consortium is that it can negotiate with suppliers from a position of greater strength. [See JISC ‘Share services to save costs and form strategic partnerships’]
3. Dissemination of information
In what forms do you want to disseminate your research and training outputs? Will everything be available from your institutional repository, or might you want to produce interactive CDs or even print products as well? The issues involved in assessing your audiences and their needs are covered in IMARK [IMARK Module ‘Strategic Approaches to Information’ Unit 4: ‘Providing your audiences with the information they need’] and also in CTA’s Smart Toolkit]
4. Dissemination and communication of information for other users – “repackaging”
Information often needs to be repackaged or reprocessed into a form that can be readily understood by, and is usable by, a specific user. Repackaging is an important solution to addressing the barriers between the people who commission research, the people who conduct research, and the people who the research is most meant to benefit. The ‘other’ users of research information may be extension agents, farmers, policy makers, or the media. The repackaging of materials for each of these groups requires different skills. These issues are covered in IMARK [IMARK Module ‘Strategic Approaches to Information’ Unit 4: ‘Providing your audiences with the information they need’] and also in CTA’s Smart Toolkit.
Who does the repackaging?: There are two options:
1. Your national (or international) situation may be that you are part of an extensive network of research organizations and affiliated institutes. Many of these may have researchers and others with the necessary range of scientific, technical and communication skills to carry out a programme of information repackaging. This may be particularly fruitful where repositories and web sites are available for the archiving and dissemination of research outputs. See examples in CIARD Case Studies of Ghana [GAINS] and Jordan [NAIS].
2. There are many expert organizations (infomediaries) who have specialized skills in managing and transforming research information for different user groups, and in the communication of research knowledge. They may be local organizations, NGOs, or in the private sector.
C. Put “information literacy” at the heart of staff skills:
The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) defines information literacy as “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner." Staff skills are central to considerations of “who does what?” in an organization or partnership. These skills, and information literacy, may relate to technical infrastructure, librarianship, product development, marketing, PR, translation, repackaging, and so on. Do your staff have the full range of skills necessary to do what you would like to do? Partnerships can be a way of improving skills.
Remember, no organization can do everything itself. Organizations that work together to plan and implement their information management and information technology activities may find that they can save money and perform more efficiently. [see IMARK Module ‘Strategic Approaches to Information’ Unit 5, Lesson 5.2 ‘People and Skills’ ]
D. Think about and manage the risks and benefits of a partnership:
All partnerships involve trust and compromise. But you will need to be clear about what the partnership is, its’ purpose, commitments and obligations. This should be done through formal agreements, codes of conduct and other written procedures.
Managing the risks
Agreement will be necessary in the areas of management, money and ownership.
- Management – who does what? It is particularly necessary to make management decisions if more than one partner is used to having a leadership role.
- Money – how will any revenues and profits, if any, be divided between the partners? Who is responsible for which areas of cost?
- Ownership – does each partner have an equal stake in the partnership? If the partnership is perceived to be unequal, this will undermine the sharing of activities.
There will inevitably be compromises to be made. These may include:
- loss of independence, as organisational partners must agree to do things in a particular way
- changes in management practice to accommodate the partnership’s management style
- monetary contributions made by members of the partnership who may have differing
- levels of wealth – better off organisations may agree to a larger share of the financial obligations.
Actively participating in partnerships or alliances does not necessarily guarantee that costs will be reduced and burdens shared, but the outcomes of the partnership could far exceed what one partner could do alone. [more – box below on 2nd page]
For example, consider an alliance between a ministry of agriculture and an NGO. If the strategic option is ‘Better access to information for farmers’ then an alliance between the ministry and an NGO can be mutually beneficial. The ministry has considerable information and knowledge assets, not the least of which are its technical staff. The NGO, because it has village-based advisers, may have better access to the rural communities the ministry wants to serve. Therefore an alliance with the shared strategy of ‘Better access to information for farmers’ is more likely to be successful.
E. Work to make the partnership work:
Partnerships don’t just happen; you have to make them happen. If you perceive opportunities for developing a partnership between one or more organisations, then some of the same type of stakeholder meetings and consensus-building exercises you have conducted in-house will have to be done across institutions.