Foundations and Practices of Collaboration: Partnership Framework
July 26, 2021
by Greg Henson, President; Nate Helling, Chief Financial Officer; and Eric Yunag, Board of Trustees Member
Collaboration is, and always has been, an important aspect of theological education. Over the years, it has taken several different forms, and each generation is tasked with developing new and effective models of collaboration that invite students, the church, and all the various stakeholders within a system of theological education to collectively participate in the mission of God. As we steward followers of Jesus who flourish in their vocations, it is important to collaborate with others. Over the past three weeks, we have reflected on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about being coworkers in the vineyard, described the importance of integrative systems, and outlined the shared practices that form our collaborative work with others.
As the Kairos community engages in the work of partnership and collaboration, the focus is not on us, what we “own,” or who we are. The focus is on working with others to make known the Kingdom of God. In fact, we do not seek partners out of necessity for growth. Rather, seek to discern and follow the Holy Spirit and respond to the opportunities for partnership that appear along the way. In doing so, we discover others who have a shared heart for God's work and Kingdom.
Throughout the past several years, we have endeavored to write a framework for how partnerships could be envisioned within Kairos. Over the past 18 months, we have given even more attention to such a framework because of the number of new and exciting doors God has opened. The result of this work is a partnership framework that 1) helps the Kairos community think through how it discerns and implements to collaborative initiatives or partnerships and 2) provides a continuum of partnership possibilities.
Today, we will outline the questions that the Kairos community considers as it discerns the best pathway when presented with opportunities for partnership and collaboration. We will also provide a brief overview of the various types of partnerships within the framework.
When considering potential partnerships, we engage in the process of discernment by asking the following questions:
• How will this partnership align with the strategic direction of Kairos?
With this question, we are discerning how well a partnership aligns with the work to which God is inviting the Kairos community to engage in. We use the phrase “strategic direction” rather than “strategic plan” because we do not pretend to control the future. Rather, we are constantly seeking to discern the direction in which God is calling the community. These conversations about strategic alignment are wonderful opportunities to see how God is weaving together the people of God to engage in the mission of God. We refer to these as questions of strategic alignment.
• How do we affirm that the partnership is one we can commit to?
When we have discerned there is strategic alignment, we then consider the operational requirements for a given partnership. Because we want to honor those with whom we partner, we want to ensure that we have the capacity and bandwidth to adequately collaborate with each partner according to the needs and expectations of that partner. In these conversations we address any financial, legal, or accreditation realities, as well as system or process integration or support. We refer to these as questions of systems alignment.
• How will we steward this partnership?
Finally, we take time to consider how will we steward each partnership once it begins. We take seriously our commitment to partnership and collaboration so we work to ensure that a partnership starts well, is supported over time, and that lessons are learned from each and every partner within the movement. By engaging in these questions of stewardship alignment, we are continually reminded that we are stewards of God’s abundant blessings rather than owners or managers of finite resources.
A Continuum of Possibilities
The questions listed above help the Kairos community discern where God might be leading in terms of partnership and collaboration. As Kairos has grown and taken shape, we have learned that partnerships with other kingdom-minded ministries exist on a continuum. On one end of the continuum a partnership becomes more like a union and on the other end it is a commitment to sharing resources, processes, or personnel. Below is a brief description of the four primary categories on that continuum.
Legacy Partners are unique among the various forms of collaboration with Kairos. Like a school within a university or a brand within a larger company, a Legacy Partner becomes part of Kairos and no longer functions as a separate legal entity. All assets, governance, operations, programs, etc., are managed by Kairos, who is committed to maintaining the heritage, unique identity, and stakeholders of each Legacy Partner.
Integrated Partners are an increasingly common partner in Kairos. They leverage most aspects of Kairos while continuing to be separate legal entities with their own governance, institutional authority, and management structures.
Most partners within Kairos are Collaborating Partners. These partnerships range from marketing and promotion (which is the most common) to sharing courses, degrees, and human resources to leveraging the Kairos Project to provide affordable, accessible, and accredited journeys of education built around the unique expertise of the partner. Many options exist within this category, and an organization’s participation in the Kairos Network can often be customized to fit its needs.
Finally, Operating Partners are related to many of the back-office functions of education. In some cases, this means sharing costs with another organization or working together to provide a service to students. In other cases, it means finding ways to reduce costs by sharing services or software packages.
With a framework that 1) helps the Kairos community think through how it discerns and implements collaborative initiatives or partnerships and 2) provides a continuum of partnership possibilities, Kairos is able to faithfully respond to the opportunities God provides. Over the course of the next four weeks, we will take a closer look at each of these partnership categories by enhancing the description, providing a few examples, and outlining how each type of partnership is identified, developed, implemented and supported.