Partnership (in Research) Requires a Common Vision and Flexibility

By Anthony Petrosino and Pamela MacDougall
WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center



Partnership is key to all sorts of efforts related to safety and health. WestEd's Justice & Prevention Research Center conducts many projects in health and safety, and we have learned a lot about the value of having partners in conducting research. These lessons apply to collaborative efforts in general. Our research partners can include other research entities, but most often, we partner with a site (such as a district or a correctional agency) or a developer of a program (such as a bullying prevention program). For some projects, we will have multiple partners.


There are two important and intertwined qualities in a research partner:
1) Sharing a common project vision.
2) Being flexible.

In the initial stages of research, we usually hold a launch meeting with our partners to solidify our common goal and ensure that we are all on the same page on the study. But actually, those discussions about common goals start at the proposal stage; and they continue throughout a grant or contract. Usually the research vision is a lofty one: "To make a difference in the lives of youth by implementing a high-quality program and evaluation study." Having that shared vision can help when our projects go astray from the timeline or path we envisioned, and when tough choices need to be made. A good partner shares that overarching vision and, because of that, is willing to make some changes to ensure we are still able to reach our goal.

Because of our shared vision, our partners have been willing to be flexible when we need to make adjustments to the timeline, or the project needs to be tweaked along the way. We are reminded of the wonderful church sign that reads "Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape." Things invariably go wrong on a project, as much as we might like them not to, and that flexibility to work out solutions together can result in a stronger partnership. By having that shared vision and flexibility, we can approach challenges in a collaborative fashion and meet our common goal of doing the best possible study. This is all made possible by partnership.