Developing partnerships

The archives sector is inherently collaborative. Groups and networks have been operating for many years in a variety of forms, both formal and informal. The National Archives has acknowledged the potential in these collaborative forums, and the Sector Sustainability Fund (SSF) was set up to support sector development, including the development and facilitation of networks.

Archives Unlocked – the national strategic vision for the archives sector, developed in collaboration with the sector and The National Archives, and published in 2017 – identifies the important role of networks in realising the potential of archives. The vision outlines an ambition to develop archives in three specific areas: building digital capacity, engineering resilience, and demonstrating impact. In delivering the vision, The National Archives recognises the importance of including all archives in the process: ‘through sharing, co-location, collaborative networks and consortia, all archives will be able to access the skills and infrastructure they need to achieve their goals in the digital world.’

Collaborative Development Networks evaluation

Between April and July 2017, an evaluation was undertaken of The National Archives’ investment in collaborative development networks across England. The purpose of this evaluation was to establish the impact of the Sector Sustainability Fund (SSF) on archive networks and archive services. This report highlights the lessons learned and identifies the best ways to support new and existing archive networks in the future.

Collaborative Development Networks evaluation report (PDF, 1MB)

Case studies and other resources

Alongside the report, the evaluation produced a number of other resources that archive services or groups of services may find useful when considering setting up a collaborative network:

Benefits and challenges of partnership

Develop more sustainable ways of working:

  • secure funding
  • pool resources
  • share expertise and develop new skills
  • get involved in activities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible
  • achieve greater visibility and influence
  • improve access and engagement

but…

  • partnership working isn’t necessarily easy!
  • partnerships are relationships – it’s important to communicate, build trust and be flexible as circumstances change

Types of partnership

Partnership working is becoming the norm across the archives sector – see our partnership case studies.

There are many types of partnership working (from informal to formal). The term ‘partnership’ is understood differently by different people. To some, partnership implies formal, large-scale working relationships (for example, archive services with joint governance or shared buildings), while smaller, less formal relationships are better described as ‘collaboration’.

This variety means that there is no one template for partnership working, and no ‘right’ way to do partnership.

See our Guide to collaboration between the archive and higher education sectors (PDF, 0.48MB), produced by The National Archives and Research Libraries UK. This guide offers practical advice and examples that relate to all types of partnership and collaboration, not just with the higher education sector.

Many local authority archives have entered alternative governance arrangements (trusts, mutuals, joint arrangements) or are considering doing so, and many of these arrangements involve partnership. See In a spin: guidance on spinning out local authority archive services.

Success factors

It helps if partners if you:

  • don’t force it – think of a ‘coalition of the willing’
  • already have a track record of joint working
  • build on exisiting relationships between individuals, services and parent bodies
  • identify how leadership will work within a network of peers
  • can commit some money and a lot of time. Time may be more scarce than money – especially for senior people
  • are pragmatic – not all issues can be tackled at once
  • have a clear workplan and timetable
  • use the Archive Service Accreditation standard to identify priorities

Examples of our work

As an organisation, we are becoming increasingly involved in fostering, brokering and supporting the development of partnership working within the archives sector.

The Archive Service Accreditation standard is a tool to help archives examine their offer more widely and encourage collaborative working between organisations. Archive services can submit examples of partnership working as part of the evidence for their accreditation applications.

The National Archives’ Regional and Networks Team has supported the development of collaborative service networks:

  • Greater Manchester Archives & Local Studies Partnership
  • London Archives Partnership
  • South East Midlands
  • Archives West Midlands
  • Archives First
  • Yorkshire Archives and Tourism

The purpose of these networks is for the participating services (mostly local authority archives) to make best use of limited resources by working together. The services in each network explore their strengths and challenges and create a shared vision, work plan and timetable with senior manager support.

We belong to partnership programmes such as the First World War Centenary Partnership, led by the Imperial War Museum, which is a network of thousands of organisations marking the centenary of the 1914-1918 war.

We offer events, conferences and workshops with a partnership theme, for example:

Keep an eye on our programme of events and training workshops, as some of these will involve case studies or guidance on partnership working.

How we can help

If you are considering entering into a partnership, we can:

  • put you in contact with other archives who have entered into partnerships
  • provide guidance on things to consider when you are setting up a partnership, or trying to sustain one

We are keen to learn from you about what’s working well or not well, but we don’t want to come between partners or take sides – the partners themselves are responsible for the partnership. And we can’t take decisions for you.

Contact the team for advice. In England, contact your regional Engagement Manager in the first instance.

Further guidance