On Thursday, April 20th, we gathered at The New School for session three of Project Learning Lab (PLL), a peer learning space for grantees of the former Hive Digital Media Learning Fund’s 12th RFP that aims to workshop, share practices, introduce new tools, and exchange ideas and feedback about their projects. Since all Hive members in this PLL cohort received grant support to collaborate with external organizations and expand their digital media learning programs, we chose to focus this session on best practices for building effective partnerships.
Affirming challenges and recognizing successes
Despite being a core aspect of their current projects, PLL members collectively identified building effective partnerships–particularly with institutions that may have very different organizational structures or approaches–as a primary challenge in their work this year. To give the cohort an opportunity to learn about how each other’s projects were progressing and share lessons they’d gathered so far, we spent the first part of our session in open group discussion, using the following questions as our guide:
- What’s working your projects so far?
- What unexpected events have emerged from your projects?
- What project challenges are you working through?
- What shared goals, program qualities, and/or challenges among the rest of the group can you relate to?
Members shared a dynamic range of updates from their projects, which included recognizing and carrying out the need to shift their work onto more secure platforms to protect the online privacy and security of their youth participants, learning to manage competing priorities of educators and staff, and observations in adapting existing long-term programs to fit their partners’ organizational cultures and practices without compromising their own values or pedagogy.
In thinking about the most successful partnerships they’ve been part of–both in and outside of Hive collaborations–members stated that working with partners with which they were able to develop shared understanding of each other’s goals and institutional values, along with having sufficient time and resources necessary to build the trust and needed to reach that shared understanding, were the common factor in their successes.
Learning from partners in the field
For the second half of our session, we heard from two guest speakers, Gregory Brender and Vashti Barran, from community-serving organizations about how they approach building effective partnerships. Gregory, who coordinates multi-stakeholder coalitions with United Neighborhood Houses, shared his experience bringing organizations with different constituencies, missions, and capacities together and aligning them to advocate towards common campaign goals. Vashti, who manages relationships with external partners at Donor’s Choose, shared her lessons learned in approaching new partnerships and working strategically 1:1 with key staff at partner institutions.
While Vashti and Gregory’s work doesn’t tie directly to the digital media learning and web literacy work that unites Hive NYC members throughout the network, the practices they shared are relevant across sectors. Both emphasized the value of taking a slow-burn approach to building partnerships, and the importance of taking time to establish clear roles & expectations, find common purpose, and learn about each partner’s approach and motivations for contributing to a shared initiative.
Perhaps the most important lesson that emerged from this session was the need for Hive members–within Project Learning Lab and across the entire network–to work collectively in order to advance the systemic changes we want to see in our local education, nonprofit, and youth-serving landscape. While it was easy for members to get caught up in their specific areas of work and the daily challenges they face, they agreed we are all ultimately striving towards the same goals–equity and quality learning opportunities for young people in NYC–and that building and strengthening effective partnerships with each other as Hive members and with allied institutions is essential in achieving these goals over the long-term.