This study investigates the workings of three higher education partnerships with Holmesglen Institute – a public Technical and Further Education (TAFE) provider based in Melbourne, Australia. Anecdotally, some such partnerships succeed more than others, but no systematic study has yet been conducted to support that claim empirically, possibly because partnership performance is difficult to measure. Partnerships often have multiple objectives, and their performance can be analysed at different levels. A further performance problem concerns whether organisations can build partnership management capability for beneficial outcomes. The study therefore sought to answer two questions: 1. Why are some partnerships more successful than others? 2. How can organisations build institutional capability to enhance partnership management and success? These questions were investigated using an explanatory mixed methods approach (Creswell & Plano Clark,2011) comprising two distinct stages – a purposive online survey, followed by face-to-face interviews with a sample of the survey population. Data from the survey and interviews was analysed and integrated in a case study (Mills,2014; Yin,2009),which also incorporated comparative assessments of management practices by contrasting the relative performance of different partnerships against the same success factors. Overall, the study’s findings corroborate those in the literature (mostly focused on generic organisational and corporate partnerships, with little available for the higher education sector) that: 1. Inter-organisational partnerships are established to meet a variety of needs. 2. Partnerships undergo several phases as they develop and evolve. 3. Leadership, governance structures and clear processes are needed for their effective management and operation. 4. Partnership performance is influenced by many, often inter-related factors. 5. Organisations can develop their capability to enhance partnership management through several mechanisms: greater (prior) experience, dedicated alliance functions, and deliberate learning processes. The findings also suggest that engaging in partnerships is rarely straightforward; alongside the desire to collaborate, there may be competition, conflict, contradiction, and sensitivities, which leaders need to anticipate and manage. Theoretical considerations for the study stimulated the adaptation of a conceptual framework from existing organisational constructs, while the implications offer lessons for professional practice: 1. Sufficient planning time should be allocated before starting a partnership. 2. Preferably, collaboration should start small, then grow progressively. 3. Effective leadership and clear, consistent and fair governance mechanisms are necessary for providing direction, and smooth running of a partnership. 4. Open, frequent communication between and within partner organisations helps to build trust, a critical success factor. 5. Partnerships need close monitoring and regular review to ensure they stay on track to achieve agreed goals and objectives. 6. Partnerships should ideally have a medium- to long-term focus. 7. Capability building for partnership management should be an integral part of overall organisational strategy. 8. Partnerships require constant nurturing and perseverance to be successful. Although perhaps limited in generalisability to other sectors and institutions, this study contributes to the body of knowledge on inter-organisational partnerships by systematically developing and testing an integrated conceptual framework to further understanding of the complex workings of partnerships, particularly in the public higher education sector.
|Date of Award
|Mike Gaffney (Supervisor), Misty Kirby (Supervisor) & Peter Copeman (Supervisor)