This guide is relevant for all tracks of the Request for Application (RFA) and is relevant for industry and training, education, and/or community partners.
One of the program goals of Opportunity Now is to create pathways between education and industry through partnerships. At a minimum, partnerships should engage all involved stakeholders and be formalized and documented. However, the strongest partnerships will take the time to truly understand each other’s needs, set expectations and norms, and build a strong foundation to embark on meaningful work.
This page is designed to support applicants in developing partnerships to create better economic mobility outcomes for Coloradans. In particular, applicants who are interested in matchmaking opportunities to find the right partner may find this guide helpful in order to understand their needs, set expectations, and know what to look out for. Applicants in this stage will find Steps 1 and 2 below most useful, while more established partnerships may benefit from perusing Steps 3 to 5.
How to Structure a Successful Collaboration
Step 1: Understand your partnership needs.
The first step to forming a successful partner is to understand what your organization is looking for out of a partnership. What motivates your organization to partner with an industry or training, education, and/or community organization? Why now?
A 2021 report by SHRM found that over 3 in 5 employers invest in partnerships that result in skill-based training because of the return on investment (in terms of improved performance and a steady talent pipeline) and the opportunities it provides to directly address skill gaps. If this resonates with your organization’s
Step 2: Find prospective partners and seek mutual fit.
A great place to start is Opportunity Now’s directory of applicant organizations in Phase 1 that are looking to partner in Phase 2. All of these organizations have opted to share their contact information and are open to being contacted for partnerships opportunities.
Once you’ve made initial contact with a potential partner organization, set up some discovery conversations to understand their needs and values to determine if you’re a mutual fit. Just as you would when conducting an empathy/user interview, come prepared by researching your potential partner beforehand, ask open-ended questions, and practice active listening.
Some examples of mutual fit include:
- You are an industry partner that needs to develop a talent pipeline, and you discover that a potential educational partner has an abundance of trained talent and an urgent need to place them into employment to create positive placement outcomes.
- You are an educational institution that is hoping to launch an industry-aligned credential in a new industry, and you discover that a potential industry partner would be willing to accept and even hire graduates with this credential into their organization.
Step 3: Define the partnership.
For the purposes of Opportunity Now, partnerships need to be confirmed and documented through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), letter of commitment, or other similar agreement.
Colorado Succeeds, one of the partners in the SyncUp Colorado Challenge in 2021, published a guide to effective partnership strategies for cross-sector collaborations. It provides guidance on the elements that a successful MOU will include:
- The nature of the partnership: identifying which entity has complete discretion, control, and supervision of the proposed solution, any grant funds received for the solution, and any reporting that may be required in connection with the solution
- The goals, responsibilities, and activities of each partner
- The intended timeframe of the partnership, operating parameters, and terms of termination
- Any financial or human resources involved in the partnership
- Intellectual property rights and assignments in the partnership
Step 4: Set expectations for the partnership.
A study published in the Journal of Business Economics advises the following for organizations wishing to enter educational-industry partnerships:
- Flexibility with regards to each organization’s priorities. It is important for each organization to understand the cultural differences between industries and and to not impose one’s own perspectives, conventions, and approaches on other partners. For example, agreeing to use descriptive language instead of industry jargon can help cross-sector partners get on the same page.
- Honesty and fairness regarding commitments made and transparency into each other’s goals. Partners will be embarking on an important transfer of knowledge, and trust is an essential part of this process. Honesty and transparency will ensure that trust is built between partners.
- Clarity on aims and expectations of each other. It is important to take time to understand each partner’s interests, perspectives, and motivations, to ask questions, and to negotiate if necessary.
- Awareness of current social, political, and economic factors that might affect the partnership. Keeping up-to-date on trends in partners’ industries will go a long way to ensuring you’re staying on the same page.
Step 5: Ensure operational readiness.
Last but not least, the strongest partnerships will set working norms prior to embarking on a project together. Some examples of questions to consider when preparing for operational readiness include:
- Are all workstreams and owners clear and agreed upon?
- Are all milestones and timelines visible and agreed upon?
- Has a regular meeting cadence been set?
- Have data-sharing structures and processes been established?
Partnership is arguably the most crucial element to ensuring success of aprogram or model. By following the above steps, you and your partners will be off to a strong start that will help drive a successful Opportunity Now application.