Neami engages in formal and informal partnership arrangements with both Federal and State Government Departments and local community services organisations as a means to forge access and connection opportunities for its consumers to local communities.
Neami also adopts a partnership stance with consumers at all levels in the organisation. Consumers are central to decision-making in respect of having their needs met and forging their own recovery path; they are central to monitoring and evaluating the services through the state based Consumer Advisory Groups. Neami continually strives to improve systems which enable consumers to influence governance, management and service development decisions. Additionally, Neami’s service development and innovation is directly related to its preparedness to share knowledge, skills and experience with partner organisations in ways that create improved shared care arrangements which see consumers as central.
Neami has a long history of developing partnerships based on consumer needs with clinical and community agencies. Neami recognises that the expressed needs of people with a mental illness are rarely best met by a single agency alone. It is strong partnerships that deliver a service system that works to benefit consumers.
At the strategic level partnerships with the State Mental Health NGO peak bodies are essential for Neami to influence sector reform, including quality standards, training, policy development and broader advocacy to all levels of government. At present, Neami holds a position on the governance boards of the following federal and state peak bodies:
- VICSERV (Victoria)
- Mental Health Coordinating Council (NSW)
- Mental Health Coalition of South Australia
- Mental Health Council of Australia
Neami is also a member agency of the Queensland Alliance and the Western Australian Association for Mental Health (WAAMH).
Strategic research partnerships include those with academic and research institutions. Neami enters into research partnerships to further service delivery innovation and continuous improvement. Current Neami research partners include Wollongong University regarding Collaborative Recovery, Melbourne University regarding needs assessment and Melbourne Health regarding effectiveness of PARCS (Preventive and Recovery Care).
One size does not fit all
There are different levels and types of partnerships and Neami has found it helpful to see these as a continuum from networking to coordinating to cooperating to collaborating; always with the consumer as central.
Partnerships are reciprocal by their nature and at the heart of this is the need to develop the relationship as a good foundation for future work. Neami believes its management roles will be enhanced if all mangers have strong internal and external relationships. Neami’s expectation is that its managers put in the effort and give something of themselves first; whether this is a phone call to a new clinical partner offering support or assisting a colleague to work efficiently by following correct procedures. This demonstrates the managers’ respect for their partner’s role and models positive behaviours. This good relationship is like a ‘bank account’ – if you get into the habit of making regular deposits you can also draw upon it when the need arises.
By the nature of Neami’s funding agreements, some partnerships are mandatory – those with clinical services and housing providers. In these cases, the aim is to continually work at developing the partnership around shared care of the consumer, rather than seeking to establish a need for the partnership before it commences.
Strong productive partnerships require attention to the following areas:
- Clarifying the values base – Do the partners share a common values base which ultimately ensures the best outcomes for consumers?
- Establishing the need for the partnership – Is there a common and clear goal for the partnership? Are the partners willing to share some resources, ideas and knowledge? Do the perceived benefits outweigh the costs? This could be discussed verbally and captured in minutes or developed into a Terms of Reference or M.O.U.
- Choosing partners – Do the partners share common ideologies and represent a wide enough variety of opinions to achieve the goal? Are the right people working together?
- Making sure partnerships work – Do partners understand their roles and responsibilities and are the expectations of partners clearly defined and understood by all? Is there support from the leadership team for the partnership?
- Planning and taking collaborative action – Are all partners involved in planning, setting priorities and making decisions? Are the lines of communication clear? Is everyone clear about the action and timelines?
- Minimising barriers – Are differences in priorities or tasks acknowledged? Is there sufficient and realistic time set for meetings? Have processes been agreed to address conflict or disagreement as it arises?
- Reflecting and reviewing – Are achievements recognised, communicated and celebrated? Has the partnership achieved its goal – should it end or continue? Have you closed the loop and kept people informed of outcomes?
The challenge of clinical partnerships
Neami has a long history of developing partnerships based on consumer needs with clinical and community agencies. Neami recognizes that the expressed needs of people with a mental illness are rarely best met by a single agency alone. It is strong partnerships that deliver a service system that works to benefit people with a mental illness. In addition Neami’s service development and innovation is directly related to its preparedness to share knowledge, skills and experience with partner organisations in ways that create improved shared care arrangements which see consumers as central.
Neami believes that it is important for every staff member to engage in regular communication with clinical service staff. It is anticipated that this regular contact and development of a shared care arrangement with clinical staff, teams and managers will support more positive outcomes being accomplished by the consumer.
Neami works hard at understanding the difficulties faced by clinical teams and their managers in the same way we try to understand our staff when they are unable to perform as they should or our consumers when they are struggling to meet their goals. In alignment with our Values, we are hopeful of creating progressive and honest partnerships that work for all parties. Neami has succeeded in building strong and productive partnerships at some service sites while some areas have required more determination and good will in building clinical partnerships that work.