Volunteers from a partner organization help students with college applications.

Volunteers from a partner organization help students with college applications.

Last week we talked about finding your perfect community partner, the one who can make all your dreams come true. Once you’ve met a few potential partners and really gotten to know them, you may be ready to choose one and move forward on a shared program or project.

As you’re working with the partner to formulate the project, here are some questions to consider.

1. Do the partners play equally important roles?

This could shake out lots of different ways. Maybe you provide the space, the pizza, and the marketing, and the partner provides the expertise. Maybe you’re creating all of the program content, and the partner is bringing the audience. (Although ideally, you’d probably want to check in with the partner to make sure your content is relevant. If you can create the content collaboratively, even better.)

What matters most is that roles are clearly defined and both sides are making significant, meaningful contributions. If that isn’t happening, you may be doing something cool, but it’s not a partnership.

2. Does the project deliver something important to both partners?

Just as both partners have to put something in, both have to get something out. Outcomes should be clearly stated and deliver something that each side needs to further its mission. For the library, outcomes will often be concerned with promoting equity.

3. Does the project have an end point?

It took me a while to realize how important this is. Even if a project is relatively small and low-impact, set a firm date to pause and examine how things are going. If things are going really well, pat each other on the back and agree about how awesome you are. Make minor adjustments if necessary, then dive right back into it.

If things are not going so well, or if circumstances have changed for one of the partners, you’ll be glad to have a built-in opportunity to make big changes, start all over, or quietly pull the plug. Even in this worst case scenario, you’ll have learned something valuable that you can bring to your next partnership.

4. Do the partners agree about how the project will be evaluated?

What are the top priorities? What kind of evaluation tool will you use: pre- and post-tests? Surveys? Interpretive dance?*

Who will design the tool? If you can, work with the partner to create evaluation tools collaboratively or, even better, empower the youth themselves to design the tools and evaluate the program.

And one last tip: Write it all down! We use a Memorandum of Agreement form to make sure that everyone knows what’s up with a new project. Better to tackle misunderstandings before you begin than in the middle, when it’s hard to adjust expectations, or at the end, when disappointment or resentment may have set in. Communication is key throughout the process, but good communication late in the game can’t make up for a lack of it up front.


*Note: Don’t use interpretive dance.

About Hayden Bass

Hayden Bass is a Teen Services Librarian in Seattle. She chairs YALSA's Programming Guidelines Taskforce and is a member of the 2015 Printz Committee.

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