Not another article about partnership

The term ‘partnership’ is now scattered liberally through the narrative we all use for the way in which we work – either as organisations or as individuals.  The highly inventive among us occasionally substitute it with  ‘collaboration’ or even the more arcane ‘working together,’ but partnership is in the ascendant in every sense.

But I am beginning to feel we are in danger of devaluing real partnership by its increasing use without design or definition and particularly when it is not followed up by matching deeds or behaviours.

I’m no expert on partnership but it seems to me that its success rests on several things: a shared goal; mutual humility and respect and; a clear definition of roles and expectations.  But, above all, it also requires openness and transparency on all sides and a willingness to be flexible.

I was only struck by this because in recent weeks a number of our members have run into problems with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and its approach to awarding partnership status to research funders.  Those whose grants attain partnership status are eligible for NHS support costs.  Those that don’t, won’t be.  No one opposes the idea or the principles behind this policy.  But the process by which NIHR decides who is successful leaves much to be desired.

That process is opaque, long-winded and resource sapping for applicants, seems bureuacratically heavy-handed and ultimately contrary to the partnership ethos it is trying to cement within NHS research.   What is particularly galling for some charities is to learn that their approach to open competition in awarding research grants – one of the three criteria being used by NIHR to make its judgements – is being contested even though it fully meets both AMRC’s widely-accepted standards and the criteria of other bodies like the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).   Those charities whose practices are being challenged are given little if any explanation of why and there seems no formal process for appeal.  I can sense rising frustration among medical research charities and I can understand why.

My sense is that this saga has a few chapters to run yet and AMRC will be meeting with NIHR over the summer.  But it is perhaps symptomatic of the over-regulated world of research that we are putting bureaucracy over judgement.  More importantly, if we are not careful, we are in danger of undermining some valuable partnerships between research funders and the NHS – and for patient benefit I might hasten to add.

Finally, on a more positive note, our members have long been important voices in raising awareness and understanding of the importance of animal research to the development of new treatments and therapies for patients.  So I wanted to finish with a link to an item that appeared this week on the BBC One Show featuring Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, talking about charity funded animal use on medical research:  http://bbc.co.uk/i/lz9fk/

Now that’s openness for you.

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