My initial work with the partners was to develop an evaluation framework and our starting point was to challenge preconceptions about evaluation and seek to embed the notion that learning was what was important. The funding had come through a scheme called ‘Explore and Test’ which I find to be a useful construct. So, we worked out what we were exploring and what we were testing which enabled us to focus on the key areas of questioning and evidence gathering. We are seeking to explore the dance ecology in order to achieve a better understanding of pathways and progression routes so we understand where DUETS fits into this and we are exploring how we develop the partnerships and the artists who will be able to deliver the programme across Wales. The learning will be gathered across five key dimensions, the children and young people, the artists, the partners, the programme itself and the wider sector.
Now, my work as an independent consultant is varied and challenging and a recurring pleasure is to work with organisations that I already know, whose very different work I admire and respect and who I have seen evolve over time. When this involves partnership and collaboration I get really excited!
I believe that partnership working is critical to survival in our current environment. As pressures on funding increase we can no longer afford to be competing but have to be cooperating. We all operate within a system -an ecology – and we are interdependent. But ‘partnership’ is also hard and takes time to develop. Genuine and successful partnerships are characterized by investment from both parties, shared values and direction of travel, trust, mutual respect and reciprocity. They are generous and open and depend on the development of solid relationships between people that will bind organisations together. In this case, we have two dance organisations who share a direction of travel – a better infrastructure for dance provision in Wales, a better supported workforce and more consistent provision for young people to develop careers in dance.
So, this partnership works because the project meets the strategic short term and long term goals of both organisations, builds on their individual strengths and combines their assets to achieve something that they are unable to achieve working alone. The partnership is integrally linked to delivery with each partners delivering elements of it that are most suited to their skills and resources.
This was an enlightened and supportive funding decision by PHF and was one that the partners have come to see as being both totally appropriate and helpful. It has allowed them to place the programme under a magnifying glass, to step back from intensive delivery and focus on smaller numbers and genuine action research to develop their understanding. Already, through careful reflection and discussion it is clear that key challenges are around quality control, workforce development skills and capacity and cost and that the major success factors lie in the area of partnership development.
As part of our journey of reflection and evaluation, we will be sharing our learning through this web site on a formative basis. We don’t want to wait until the end of the programme to produce a report but are seeking to create something that lives and runs alongside the programme, is in dialogue with it, interacts with it and reflects our shared learning journey. Come on the journey with us?
Dr Susanne Burns