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  • Writer's pictureRichard Meier

Barriers and opportunities to working in partnership - an NLA panel discussion

A session focused on the Work in Partnership pillar of the New London Agenda brought together an impressive gathering of representatives from the 15 NLA Expert Panels and Committees. The order of the morning was for groups to identify barriers to working in partnership and then to pitch potential solutions to overcome these. 

Sleeves rolled up at the NLA Work in Partnerships session

I started with a provocation around the four themes, seeking to draw inspiration and ideas from the work we are doing at Stories, international best practice and from outside of the property industry: 


1.        Frame with the right question – here I pointed to the case study in our latest blog - the High Line in New York being the product of reframing the question from "How can we maximise economic development along the High Line?" to "How can we repurpose the High Line to serve the needs of the community?" Central to effective partnership-building is the ability to ask better questions.


2.        Choose the right partner and set a high bar for yourself – successful partnership comes from good behaviours, and unfortunately we are never really ‘trained’ in how to be a good partner. We often carry biases towards the stereotypical local authority officer or what a developer wants and does, and we need to set these aside if we are to achieve strong partnerships. 

...successful partnership comes from good behaviours, and unfortunately we are never really ‘trained’ in how to be a good partner.


3.        Contract for outcomes – too often we organise our partnerships around processes rather than contracting for outcomes. Recent discussions around leading cross-sector partnerships at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, show this to be common problem, whether it be building roads in Nigeria or tackling education improvement in the Philippines. Contracting instead for outcomes, is key. 


4.        Contract for behaviours – you wouldn’t think you could – but you can.  And the recent Bates vs Post Office case showed this to be true. When you are in real partnership, the contract means more than just ‘acting in good faith’ and in the  Post Office case, the court held that it was a relational contract whereby the Post Office could not simply hide behind the contract and instead needed to act in a commercially fair and reasonable manner. Watch out for relational contracts in property... 


Barriers and Opportunities 


Wide ranging barriers and opportunities were next identified by groups. Barriers included, for example, the instability created during a project lifetime through changing political agendas. Opportunities included, for example, the changing lens through which investment decisions are being made to account for wider environmental and social outcomes, one such example being the Value Creation Framework used by The Crown Estate.   


Two ideas that particularly stood out: 


1.        Sharing Best Practice – it emerged that there are very different experiences across the industry – from relatively limited partnership working in industrial and logistics through to extensive partnership working in education. There are also great projects such as the GLA Schools Superzone. So this often very transferrable learning and insight needs to be promoted and shared, and the NLA could play a leading role in this. 


2.        ‘Tinder’ for Partnership – we jest (!), but there was consensus that there is very much an imperfect process in how partnerships are brokered often between public sector land owners and private sector developers. Perhaps the GLA could take an even more active role in this? Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from Trust Pilot? 


We concluded the session by reminding ourselves that we must always look first to ourselves when partnership working is under strain – is there anything we could do better, before directing attention elsewhere?

📸 : courtesy of NLA

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