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This is an excerpt from Public-Private Partnerships in Physical Activity and Sport edited by Norman O’Reilly and Michelle Brunette.


Bringing together many minds, with many resources, for a common purpose fosters exciting promise for new physical activity and sport partnerships. Each contributor can add enthusiasm and creativity, but every new mind can also bring competing interests. Within partnerships, each organization ultimately is trying to further their own unique goals. This can create challenges in partnering, because the partnership needs to consider who holds the balance of power in decision making and dealing with outside competition, disconnect, and biases. Effective partnerships can overcome setbacks through well-developed planning that thinks through the partnership from everyday management and monitoring to responding to public feedback. The challenges are not minimal, but neither are they insurmountable in creating and maintaining effective partnerships that can make substantial contributions to increasing quality physical activity and sport participation and programming.

Excitement surrounds nascent partnerships. New teams are created; new ways of thinking come together; and new programs, products, and services can be launched. Along with embracing the initial enthusiasm, we need to consider how we will determine whether the partnership is successful and effective in reaching its goals. Partners, each with distinct goals and objectives, might have different perspectives on how to measure partnership effectiveness. To succeed, each partner’s goals should be understood and measureable, and specific thinking and planning should be directed to what happens if, and when, things go wrong. Creating and sustaining effective partnerships includes many challenges; partners must achieve a delicate balancing of power in an environment of growing competition and public scrutiny. Having clear monitoring and responsiveness strategies in place and planning for setbacks can help partners minimize or avoid breakdowns and help organizations move forward beyond failure.

Measuring Partnership Effectiveness

Measuring effectiveness in partnerships can be viewed from two perspectives: effectiveness in outcome and effectiveness in process. In terms of the effectiveness in outcome, the partners may have different ways of measuring success. The private-sector partners often measure success in terms of return on investment, sales, revenue, and profits on a quarterly or annual basis, indicators that do not easily equate to successful sport and physical activity outcomes. In contrast, sport and physical activity effectiveness is often measured in the long term (e.g., higher fitness levels, decreased morbidity or mortality). With the multiple factors that contribute to overall fitness and other health indicators (e.g., nutrition, location, family composition, access to health care), isolating the role of a partnership on the health status of participants is difficult. For those reasons, many projects measure outcomes in terms of number of activities or events, number and diversity of participants, and proportion of repeat participators. Participation is measured because it is easy to measure, but health outcome is much more difficult to measure because it is long term and complex.

Effectiveness in process is well documented in the literature. In their study about successful private and public partnerships, Jacobson and Ok Choi (2008) listed nine factors that contribute to successful partnerships:

  1. Specific plan or vision
  2. Commitment
  3. Open communication and trust
  4. Willingness to compromise and collaborate
  5. Respect and community outreach
  6. Political support
  7. Expert advice and review
  8. Risk awareness
  9. Clear roles and responsibilities

With a unified vision and mutually agreed-upon objectives and timetables, partnerships that engage in realistic, open, and honest communication are more willing to compromise, resolve challenges, and collaborate toward a building a successful partnership.

Trafford and Proctor (2006) recognized the need for good communication and openness in partnership planning while also reminding us that the direction and spirit or attitude of people in the community contribute to the success of a joint venture. In their COPED model, Trafford and Proctor (2006) developed a theoretical framework model for building comprehensive and productive relationships between public-sector organizations and private-sector companies. They recognized that the main challenge to effective partnering was establishing and maintaining strong communication between all levels of management; this meant overcoming barriers such as power imbalances, gender differences, physical surroundings, language, and cultural diversity. When priorities of the organization are unclear or underdeveloped, strategic planning processes (e.g., mission and objectives, environmental scanning, strategy formation, strategy implementation, and evaluation and control) could not be effective in delivering the anticipated outcome or process.

Elements of an Effective Partnership

The keys to effectiveness in creating strong partnerships in physical activity are good communication and planning between partners, and explicitly defined leadership roles and expectations of how the partnership will be monitored (see table 11.1). With adequate preparation, partners consider how the partnership could grow or change based on the response of participants and the community to be even more effective in delivering the partnership’s promises.

Clear Communication and Good Planning

The first element of an effective partnership is clear communication between partners from the onset. Each partner needs to lay out their expectations of the partnership objectives and progression. A carefully developed plan will substantially increase the probability of success of the partnership. Rosentraub and Swindell (2009) add that prenegotiations (specifically when dealing with a sport team) can be challenging but important. Planning will most often take the form of an extensive, detailed contract that clearly describes the responsibilities of both partners. In addition, timely and transparent mapping of all costs, revenues, and profitability aspects is a requirement for successful implementation (Sagalyn 2007). Partners should attempt to foresee areas of respective responsibilities and leadership, and good planning needs to include clearly defined methods of resolving conflict.


Read more from Public-Private Partnerships in Physical Activity and Sport edited by Norman O’Reilly and Michelle Brunette.



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