Partnership is a word that is used in a variety of ways which often causes confusion if it is not clarified from the very beginning. As I start to create a new space for innovation in STEM education, it will be important for us to clarify what we mean by partnerships. Partnership means a lot of different things for different people, institutions, and organizations.

Over the years, I have found that “partnership” typically refers to both formal and informal agreements. It is not always clear if the partnership is a formal agreement or an informal relationship until you specifically ask. It would be safe to presume that if an organization is using the logo of another on their publications or public communication channels, that the partnership is most likely formal but I have discovered that sometimes it is still worth confirming… (The digital age with so many tools to create digital content so easily has created a world where critical thinking is so important… this for another post…)

Partnerships can be:

  • A formal or informal agreement where one organization gives a product, service, or donation to another organization.
  • A formal or informal agreement where in-kind support is provided to another.
  • A formal or informal agreement that commits to collaborative work together. (Collaboration though seems to also have different understandings… another post??)

There are probably other models of “partnerships” not mentioned here but as you can see, we speak about partnerships in very broad definitions which at times can cause confusion. Partnerships require clarity on the work together which includes not only defining the use of resources but also agreement on the intended outcomes of the work and the impact that all partners are wishing to have. There is also a need to define the working relationship and how the work will be shared.

As I continue to reach out to partners for the work we will do, it is clear that we will need to define what our operating definition of partnership means for us. The following is my current working definition of “partnership”… this work will evolve over time and I’m sure as we start to work with innovative partners, we will continue to shift and adapt this definition together. This is my thinking for now…


  1. Are reciprocal. All partners within the partnership feel valued and gains from the relationship.
  2. Have contributing partners who each bring assets to the relationship. The assets can include a variety of different resources such as subject matter expertise, capital resources, skills, and access to networks. True partners are active participants on the work willing to adapt, shift, pivot, and change throughout the process.
  3. Have a shared vision with clear goals and measures of success. Successful partnerships require all partners to have a common shared vision and goal for the work together.
  4. Are committed to both the successes and the failures. Working together is challenging work that is not easy. It often results in debate and conflicting ideas. Partners must be willing to challenge each other, learn to be both right and wrong at the same time, and design new possibilities in the spaces between.
  5. Must be diverse. We cannot solve problems without diverse perspectives. Without diverse perspectives, we will continue to create solutions that fall short and does not meet the needs of our society.
  6. Must be transparent. Effective collaboration requires trusting working relationships. Trust is built over time and can only be built when working relationships are transparent.

Let’s build networks and partnerships for STEM Education!

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