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The purpose of this blog post is to share my experiences of developing partnerships and working collaboratively. I am currently pursuing Chartership and have chosen partnership development as an area to address. I have identified this as an area that is relevant to me for two reasons. Firstly, in order to keep NLPN relevant it is important for us to form alliances to enhance and increase our influence. Secondly, I feel that in order to grow professionally it is important for me to form alliances with people outside of my current network in order to learn from their experiences.
So what are my experiences? In addition to organising and managing NLPN events, I have organised two collaborative events with NLPN this year and have also established an alliance with #uklibchat which resulted in a joint online chat on the topic of networks.
How have I done this?
Our first collaboration was with SLA Europe and began with an email from one of our members (Penny Andrews) asking if we would be interested in a joint venture between us and SLA Europe. The initial concept was for her proposed speaker to run a workshop for librarians on finding, keeping up to date with and evaluating brand new technologies (more horizon scanning) and then for her to do something practical on the library and developments in researcher support – altmetrics, ORCID identifiers, Figshare etc. After discussing this with the other co-founders of NLPN, I then set out looking at the logistics of the event and asked her if they had any dates in mind and also informed her that we had an event planned for October so would not be able to do anything until the next year. After we had agreed that the next year was fine, I asked what role they would like us to play in the event. The response we received stated Penny’s role would be the concept of the event and posters, SLA Europe’s role would be to attract sponsors and extend the reach to a different audience and our role would be to book the venue and promote the event to our members.
Chair of the events committee for SLA Europe, Sam Wiggins, then gave his input stating that he would rather have it in the evening and possibly split it into two separate evening events; his reasoning being that this would see more attendance, it would cost less therefore less funding would need to be acquired, the first event would build a momentum for the second event and finally that it would be easier to staff. Sam confirmed Penny’s initial structure that we could help source a venue, promote the event to local information professionals and he also proposed that we help out on the night of the event. He also suggested that the event should be free to all, members and non-members, which fits perfectly with the ethos of NLPN. Whilst NLPN carried out our duties Sam said that he was happy to liaise with the rest of SLA Europe’s events committee to try and secure sponsorship for the evening, set up registration forms and confirmation emails for attendees and promote the event to our members, and Penny’s role would be to organise the details with the speaker and help out on the night of the event.
What happened next: via email myself and the team from SLA Europe (Sam and Penny) discussed the pros of cons of different options e.g. weekends vs evenings, dates, budget and number of attendees. I then discussed this with the other co-founders of NLPN and we also considered venues where we could hold the event. I then began liaising with venues to gather quotations for the event. Once I had received quotations I sent them over to Sam to approve before agreeing to anything. Once the decision had been made I contacted the venue to confirm the booking and organise payment.
After the venue had been booked, myself and the other co-founders of NLPN discussed the promotional side of the event and our role in this. As such, I contacted Sam to ask if they would like us to set up an eventbrite page for the event or poster and begin promoting the event. Sam informed me that they normally set up our own registration page to capture some extra info, and also to add in their privacy information about passing details on to sponsors etc. However, as there would be a new chair of the events committee next year (Anneli Carter) he would leave this decision up to her. Anneli then confirmed that they would be dealing with that aspect of the event.
At the event, I arrived early to ensure that all of the equipment was set up and the room was ready, introduced ourselves (NLPN) and the speaker and ran through formalities e.g. fire exits etc.
The second NLPN collaborative event I have organised this year was with the Portico. During the planning for this event one of the key people involved in the planning of the event left her position at the Portico. This was definitely a learning experience as it meant that some of the ideas we had initially decided upon had to be altered and dialogue set up with another contact to ensure that we remained focused in order to successfully promote and run the event. Therefore the skills I have gained, from NLPN events and our previous collaborative event, were put to good use.
So what have I learn from my collaborative endeavours?
Communication is essential, without it things come to an abrupt standstill! Although this seems fairly obvious it has been become more apparent to me when working with different groups. It is also important to make sure everything is communicated as clearly as possible, this is particularly important if you are working with groups you have never worked with before and therefore have no prior knowledge of each other’s working practices. I have also found that it is important to be proactive in terms of communicating, thus if someone is not responding to you to not to worry about being impolite and to contact them again.
If things are not going so well, or if there is an unexpected change, it is important to keep focused and remember why you started the partnership in the first place. Once you have done this, it is easier to think of the bigger picture and to begin allocating work. I have a habit of taking on too much if I something isn’t being completed or is not done within a certain timeframe so this is where I have made an effort to allocate work to others.
I hadn’t realised how difficult collaboration can be, as events I have organised with NLPN have been generally straightforward. Organising events with people who are not as well known to you is difficult, especially if you are organising things virtually, as there are no existing boundaries. There is also an issue in terms of workload, when one party seems to take on more work than another. As mentioned, this may be a fault of my own as I am somewhat overzealous and if something isn’t being completed or is not done within a certain timeframe will do it myself.
The end result of the partnerships I have been involved is that I have increased my network. I have experienced working with people from other networks and have gained an understanding of their strengths, thus would feel happy to approach them in future if their help was needed. Another output is that I have helped to establish alliances to enhance and increase the influence of NLPN and also myself. I have become more confident in approaching people to initiate partnerships, have become more assertive and as a result my organisational skills have improved.