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While significant progress has been made in getting these new forms of organisation to work, it has also become clear that leadership in such partnerships involves a complex and demanding mix of roles:

  • Leadership of the multi-sector partnership itself involves e.g. the formal chairing of board meetings, approval of minutes, supervising sub-committee work, and so on.
  • Leadership within the different bodies that constitute the partnership needs to employ a more 'influencing' style, and involves grappling with the tradeoffs and conflicts in loyalty posed by LSP level goals and the sponsoring organisations.
  • Leadership beyond the partnership and immediate sponsors, involves a more exposed public relations role engaging with the diverse constituencies within the local community - to communicate vision, to build broad support for the role of the LSP, and to surface issues and identify problems that fall between the boundaries.
  • Leadership outwith the local community involves the most political of challenges where members have to find new ways of influencing and countering the power differentials embedded in the host of top-down efficiency oriented policies, that all local organisations have to work within

Leadership is in any case a situated activity that must focus on achieving local outcomes. The kind of knowing that is relevant is embedded in the everyday interactions that constitute good partnership working, often requiring adaptive work by members to deal with the novel and unique challenges faced by their multi-sector partnership. These require greater abilities to handle ambiguity, read, reframe and respond appropriately to changing contexts, and perform with greater critical reflexivity as the partnership acts increasingly into unknown and contested territory.

They also demand a more shared, dispersed, and dynamic allocation of responsibilities which can set direction yet constantly adapt: guarding the overall priorities of the community while recognising that this is made up of a myriad of small activities; fulfilling public obligations in terms of value for money yet recognising the specific values, needs and legacies of those not working in the public sector; learning from perceived ‘best practice’ elsewhere, yet remaining open to ideas and creativity within their communities.

So if Piers ‘marvellous dream’ about local democracy is to be realised, members of such partnerships need to avoid the trap of focusing on the formal arrangements and going along with a ‘list’ of best practice. Instead the major leadership challenge is to find ways of recognising and exploiting the partnership’s (and the community’s) rich experience and imagination, to shape a more meaningful local future and creative ways of getting there.

 ''...but to retrace one’s steps and to make the way out
to the upper air, that is the task, that is the labour...''