Using Communication: Building Networks of Partner Entities Both Inside and Outside the Institution

This page was developed as a synthesis of lessons learned by participants during an NSEC working meeting and is part of an extended set of toolkits for STEM Education Centers.

Main Themes
  • Clarity: Clearly identifying goals, mission, needs (yours and your potential and existing partners'), audience, purpose and scope, skills, and the value added allows for the creation, fostering, sustaining (care and feeding) of partnerships and networks of partnerships. Materials need to be periodically checked and updated for clarity - with outside eyes and partner feedback. Read on>>
  • Intentionality: thoughtfulness about who we partner with (both internal and external to our institutions), being open to new partners, communicating the "why" behind our partnerships helps us navigate potential and current networks as they change (due to external or internal forces). Partners need to collaborate to ensure that the intentions are understood and negotiated. Read on>>
  • Strategies for communicating with Internal and External Partners Read on>>

Clarity: clarity of goals, mission, needs, audience, purpose and scope, skills, value added

A Center interacts with people and groups that have different needs and priorities. When building this network of partnerships, it will be imperative to maintain a clear channel of communication to organize ideas, set goals, and plan actions to reach those goals. In trying to appeal to many different groups and aligning a Center's goals with its stakeholders, the message of a Center can become clouded and appear to lack direction and organization. Clearly defining the goals, missions, needs, audiences, and scope will promote a well organized system and add value to goals as they are reached. This clarity allows for the creation, fostering, sustaining (care and feeding) of partnerships and networks of partnerships. For example, members of a network will need to understand whether it is for general communication or specifically designed to accomplish authentic work. Materials need to be periodically checked and updated for clarity with outside eyes and partner feedback!

For more on Communicating Vision and Mission┬╗

Intentionality: thoughtfulness about who we partner with (both internal and external to our institutions), being open to new partners, communicating the "why" behind our partnerships

This intentionality helps us navigate potential and current networks as they change (due to internal or external forces). Networks can have different compositions and purposes depending on the partners involved and the specific home institution. Those interested in collaborating will need to communicate to each other their needs and priorities. A Center can facilitate these interactions with internal partners by being a central hub of communication and networking around common goals. Partners need to collaborate to ensure that the intentions are understood and negotiated. Networks can take on two different purposes depending on the constituents and their needs. Some networks will be focused on the dissemination of information and communicating a Center's work and findings (Type 1) . A second type of network is based around partners that are actively creating content and collaborating around a project (Type 2).

As the Center builds and evolves, there will be different purposes for partnerships that determine the type of communication that will be required. Type 1 networks will be focused on the dissemination of information and communicating the Center's work and receiving feedback from constituents within the network. This network could be a group of like-minded people interested in improving teaching or a different group focused around PK-12 outreach. Communication will be more outward facing and transmitted with branded information and delivered in multiple media formats (e.g., invitations for meeting, blast about events, [link MIT MEDIA 'more examples']). This level of interaction with the Center is the most common place for new partners to start that haven't yet progress towards becoming a collaborator in the sense of creating new authentic material.

Type 2 networks will be based around partners needing to share information for collaborating on current projects and creating new initiatives. Communication among collaborators may be somewhat informal depending on the working relationship. Communication from the group out to stakeholders will take a more formal voice as results and findings are communicated to the campus leadership, teaching community, and funding agencies.

To transition from a Type 1 to a Type 2 network typically requires a well articulated goal and/or a funded project (or writing a proposal for funding). Other networks of this type might focus on a project's next phase of implementing its research findings and assessing the implementation. As projects come to an end, the network may change as some people leave and new collaborators join with their own goals. Throughout the lifespan of any partnership, a Center should communicate clearly its own mission and goals and how they relate to that of a partner or stakeholder. A document that clearly defines your mission and scope will aid in communicating what value you add to others' work.


Strategies for communicating with internal and external partners:

Internal partnerships:

Some people may be immediate partners in the goals of your Center and others will be conduits for connecting you to other networks with overlapping interests to yours. Find the key players that share a common goal with you and have access to networks to spread your message. Today's digital media make contacting people easy via email or phone, but when possible, don't overlook the power of face-to-face meetings to start partnerships. These meetings are good initial introductions that give you a strong connection to a small subset of individuals, which then gives a launching point to extend your message into their network. You can also move beyond individuals, by visiting department or division meetings and give a face to your Center while you promote and offer to help faculty. Alternatively, you can begin promoting your Center by organizing a listening tour where you visit with groups to learn about their needs and priorities, and identify where your Center can contribute. Communication documents will be important tools to clearly convey your message and to leave as a reminder to a potential collaborator about your availability and interests. A Center wants to spread its message beyond the individuals from the face-to-face meeting, therefore ensuring a mechanism that promotes your message will be essential. Contacting specific groups like DBER and SOTL may prove beneficial because they are often siloed and might welcome the community.

As you contact key players and search for support, consider crafting messages for upper administrators(e.g., Deans, Provost, etc.) that are polished and informed so they will be received with more authority. If you have access to media personnel, consider using their expertise for communicating to diverse audiences through multiple formats (e.g., newsletters, blasts, etc.). An example for building your network is to create a clearinghouse toolthat allow campus stakeholders to post and promote their own activities and professional development through a common platform or portal. This helps crowd-source the work so that the Center doesn't have to do all of the curation independently and generates a self-sustaining community of ideas and products. A related idea that includes face-to-face interactions is to have a stakeholders meetingand lunch to report your work, solicit ideas, and network (Boise state EXAMPLE). Current and potential stakeholders that might interact with the Center are invited to an annual meeting around a theme that the Center can report about and show how they contribute to the topic. The report is then followed by asking for advice and input from the stakeholders for the coming year. Stakeholders are interacting with the Center and each other which produces a collaborative event based on common goals and ideas. Furthermore, there may be groups with a lot of effort by various people and groups (e.g., STEM center, writing center, etc.) that should be recognized and connected through a network by inviting interested parties to a meeting.

External partnerships:

Building relationships is very one-on-one and personal but it is important to create infrastructure for partnership for when individuals leave the organization. When directly and indirectly communicating with external entities, ensure that your website is current with the information necessary for potential external partners to find you and understand what you do. Information should be clearly organized and easy to navigate. Another idea for new partners is to contact local institutions that don't allow graduate students and post-docs to teach and bring them in to gain teaching experience. There is also potential for forming regional Center of Teaching and Learning groups of multiple institutions can create an resource for ideas, products, and future collaborations. So of the communication pathways discussed for internal partnerships could also be adapted for external partners through some refocusing.