Mathehu's Weblog

mulling over (research) ideas

Partnership working in health care – Ontological and epistemological perspectives

Partnership working: What is it and how do we know it when we see it?

The following is a summary and reflection on Janette Pow’s PhD Thesis entitled “Assessing partnership working: Evidence from the National Sexual Health Demonstration Project“.  I had the honour of being one of her supervisors and I am now able to reap the harvest from her excellent work. All the substantial information provided is taken out of her thesis, which is an excellent read!! My only contributions are the odd comments and bridges.

Reference: Pow, J. (2010). Assessing partnership working: Evidence from the National Sexual Health Demonstration Project. Unpublished thesis: Napier University.

Partnership working has been a buzz word within health care and beyond for quite a while. Yet, defining partnership working is a “terminological quagmire” (Lloyd, et al 2001). Terms such as collaboration, cooperation, coordination, coalition, network, alliance and partnership are often used interchangeably within the same literature (Huxham 1996, Percy-Smith 2005 and Sloper 2004).  Indeed, the Audit Commission (2004) argued that “the term partnership is increasingly losing credibility, as it has become a catch all for a wide range of concepts, and a panacea for a multitude of ills”.

Thankfully, various systems to identify and evaluate partnership working have been developed. Overall, partnership working is likely also to involve a combination of social, political, environmental and health care factors (Baron-Epel et al 2003).  Various ways to characterise partnerships in more detail have also been suggested. For example, the Audit Commission (1998) differentiates between formal and informal partnerships, whereas Lasker et al (2003) distinguish between strategic and operational partnerships.

Wildridge (2004)  is one of many authors who provided  assistance in navigating this quagmire by identifying several commonalities between the different conceptualisations of partnerships.

Commonalities between the different conceptualisations of partnerships (Wildridge, 2004)

  • Between organizations, groups, agencies, individuals, disciplines

  • Common aim or aims, vision, goals, mission or interests

  • Joint rights, resources and responsibilities

  • New structure(s) and processes

  • Autonomous, independent

  • Improve and enhance access to services for users and carer’s

  • Equality

  • Trust

Ling (2002), on the other hand, provided an  illuminating perspective on variations in partnership characteristica.

Varying characteristics in partnership working (Ling, 2002)

Partnership Members

Links between partners

Scale and Boundaries

Organizational context of partnership


High or low trust


‘Fit’ with existing institutional architecture

Parts of organizations

Equal or hierarchical

Numbers of partners

Maturity of relationships

Whole organizations

Focused or broad sweep

Boundaries (where they are drawn)

Legitimate or illegitimate


Co-evolution, coupling and convergence

Boundaries (tight or loose)

Resource dependency



Boundaries (own or mandate)

Impact/steerage capacity


Continue reading


July 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment