Written by Mychal A. Voorhees, MA, health literacy & community outreach coordinator at the Bernard Becker Medical Library of the School of Medicine
Over the years, the Becker Medical Library at Washington University School of Medicine has worked with various institutions and programs across the St. Louis metro area to provide credible health information resources to the community.
Our projects have included training public school librarians on reliable health information resources, working with community health fellows on campus, and collaborating with the St. Louis Public Library on a consumer health speaker series. Through our community engagement projects, we’ve learned some lessons for building partnerships that work.
Keep your promises. To build trust with organizations and communities, it’s always important to keep your promises. If you can’t assist more than five hours a week, be sure to communicate that up front. It’s better to be able to offer more down the road than it is to let people down. Trust is essential in community partnerships.
Get some perspective. Your community partner’s priorities may be different from yours, or, the way they tackle a project may be different from the way you would. The reasons could be organizational, cultural, historical, or political. You may not know the reason, but it is helpful to have an appreciation of all of those factors from their perspective.
Remember, you’re there to offer support. When you’re working with community groups, it might be tempting to take the lead and offer your expertise at every corner. Or maybe you just don’t agree with decisions that are being made. Sometimes, you have to sit back and offer your feedback and guidance as it’s requested. It’s good practice to ensure you’re not overstepping your role.
Roll with change. Timelines might not turn out the way you expected. The budget might decrease overnight. A partner organization might back out of plans. It’s important to continue moving despite sudden changes.
Take notes. Take time to reflect upon the work you’re doing. Ask your partners what worked best. Ask your partners what could be done differently in the future. Take these lessons with you to your next community partnership endeavor.
If you are in the early stages of planning community collaborations or community projects, you may find these resources useful: