Working with local authority teams #2: Five questions to help understand partner teams

Matt Brombley, Development Manager at Southampton and Isle of Wight Music Hubs, works with partner teams inside Southampton City Council (where his team is based) as well as outside organisations. He outlines why this is important, and how he approaches partnership working.

Diagram depicting partnership working between a music service, funder and partner organisation

Our partnership work has been key to reaching children and young people who are currently under-represented in what we do, often facing challenging circumstances in their lives. It is meaningful in many ways, but two stand out to me most.

First, the moral and social benefits of helping bring the life-changing power of music to the children and young people who can benefit most. Secondly, the additional resource and expertise that comes from working alongside people with other skills, knowledge, understanding and experiences. It is worth noticing that both of these benefits are of value not just to our organisations, but to external funders also.

When working with a new team or partner, I have five questions that I like to ask, to try and better understand who they are, and what we may be able to do together:

  1. What are the challenges your team is facing at the moment? 
  2. What are the challenges and barriers children and young people are facing?
  3. What previous music and arts projects have you run? What was successful and what would you change?
  4. What kind of outcomes are important to you? How do you need to evidence them?
  5. When and where do you engage with your children, young people and their families?

I’m looking to understand important aspects of the other team, rather than make assumptions.

We all know how important it is to listen first to understand: and so I’m, looking to identify:

  • shared experiences
  • shared priorities
  • shared approaches

When working in partnership, we don’t need to understand everything about each other, but it’s helpful to identify where we have common ground. 

If I’m working with a funder, I might also be looking for common goals between three or more stakeholders. Then I can:

  • offer to help
  • ask for help 

The offer to help can now be founded on shared understanding, and I can also be open about where we will need their expertise and experience to make any shared work stronger. By identifying shared experiences, priorities and approaches, we can both find common ground, but also see where each party’s unique strengths can contribute to better, stronger, outcomes.

Case Study: Virtual School, Family Music Lessons for Looked After Children

Pupils composing music on an iPad, as part of a partnership project in Southampton.

In Southampton, we applied these principles to the conversations we had with Virtual School, helping us to identify shared priorities and ways to work together. 

Put simply, we knew Looked After Children were much less likely to be learning a musical instrument than their peers, and Virtual School knew Looked After Families were looking for shared experiences that could help build bonds between family members (embracing the widest definition of family). In this case, that also overlapped with the priorities of the Changing Tracks Action Research programme, and so we were able to secure funding for a pilot project which saw Looked After Families take part in Family Music Lessons. 

By looking to understand the Virtual School team better before making our offer, we were able to provide something they really wanted, and needed. It wasn’t perfect the first time — we learnt a lot through our Action Research project which now has helped make our wider offer more accessible to Looked After Children and their families, as well as shaping future music making for Looked After Children — but starting the relationship with a spirit of listening and learning, helped set us in the right direction from the beginning.

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