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Our thoughts: Leanne Freeman


This month, Dartington Service Design Lab's Leanne Freeman, coming to the end of her secondment role at the Centre, reflects on the importance of strong relationships in project delivery.


For the delivery organisations I’ve worked with in the social care sector, relationships are often a site of study: relationships between parents and children; relationships between practitioners; relationships among practitioners and other stakeholders. As I’ve personally progressed as a researcher, and taken stock of project leadership, I began to turn that focus on relationships inward; thinking about my relationships with the people in the organisations I work with.

This has only been heightened by my tenure at the Centre, where their focus on the youth work sector emphasises the relational work that practitioners do, and its utmost importance for making an impact on young people.

Naturally, my researcher instincts prompted framing this as research questions:

  • What were the nature of relationships in projects that have worked well?
  • What were the nature of the relationship in projects that faced friction?

Reflecting back on projects I’ve been a part of, it was quite clear to me that where relationships were strong, the work was better. While I am now confident (or as confident as one can be in the subject of idle musing and no rigorous examination) in the importance of building key relationships for a strong project, I am keenly aware that there is a strong causal relationship going the other way: good work is always good for a relationship. That said, it’s not that projects that faced hurdles where ones were there was a tense relationship but often where the relationship was impersonal.                               


Relationships and work correlation

This reinforcing feedback loop suggests that, as well as relationships and good work being aligned, where the work and relationships are good, they will be really good; and where they are bad or absent, they will be distinctly so.

So, what should we do about it? To some extent, this is a zero-sum game: if we spend our time working with partners to build strong relationships, then we have less time dedicated to simply doing rigorous evaluation, to gathering data and building to great insights. But where previously, I had ignored relationships as an avenue to ensure good work: I’ll be paying closer attention to it.