‘Impactful partnership’ is the central concept in this website.  It refers to a particular kind of relationship between helpers and clients that is crucial but not the purpose or end-goal in itself. In our approach there are five principles of impactful partnership:

  1. Impacts include more visible outcomes such as progress towards goals, but also more subtle and hard-to-see outcomes;
  2. Small things with big effects play a crucial role;
  3. It is a mind-expanding process for all involved in which helpers’ and parents’ knowledge become productively entangled with each other;
  4. Helpers can be thought of as intimate outsiders in the lives of the families they work with;
  5. Impactful partnership is an evolving art.

Links to these central ideas and other key concepts based on them are highlighted in each page where relevant.

The term ‘impactful partnership’ reminds us that the difference made with families is most important, not the relationship itself.


The idea of ‘partnership’ usually implies that there is also some kind of impact. In the Family Partnership Model, for example, a relationship that is warm, kind, respectful but going nowhere wouldn’t count as a partnership in the sense that is meant in FPM.

The term ‘impactful partnership’ reminds us that the difference made with families is most important, not the relationship itself. When reflecting on practice it is always important to keep outcomes in mind. The idea of impact in this website may be a little different from the notions of outcomes that practitioners and volunteers might be more familiar with.

In this website partnership refers to particular kinds of relationship between helpers and clients. For our primary audience, it is likely the clients will be families, with the partnership most focused on relationships with parents or caregivers. Children are important too, but they aren’t in the same kind of relationship with helpers as their parents or carers. We use ‘parents’ as shorthand for all those with significant active involvement in caring for children and young people.

Many models of partnership guide practitioners and offer training in relevant skills. These include the Family Partnership Model, Family Systems Nursing and the McGill Model of Nursing (see references below). This website aims to complement these and other models. It works in the same spirit and draws inspiration from them. It does not replace or displace the useful ideas and practices associated with any of these models. 

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The idea of impact is closely linked to the outcomes of a partnership. Outcomes might include progress made towards goals that families set or negotiate with helpers. This website takes the view that progress on goals is important and valuable, but can be restrictive if it is the only way in which we think about impact.

Impact can include ‘big’ and long-lasting changes that are clearly visible to those involved. It can also include ‘small’ and perhaps temporary changes that might be harder to detect or easy to overlook. Just because an impact is short-lived does not mean it is not important. Some temporary impacts might be crucial in enabling other longer-lasting ones to happen.

This website and the research upon which it is based draw on cultural-historical theory. This has roots in the work of Vygotsky in the early 20th century, but whose ideas about children’s learning and development continue to inspire many researchers and educators today.

As cultural-historical researchers we think about learning as changing interpretations of something in the world, and how these connect with and enable changing actions in the world (Edwards, 2005). Put differently, we are interested in how parents can see new meaning in the things around them, such as their children’s behaviours, expressions, and interactions, and how these new meanings provide a platform for them to do things differently as parents. 

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Small things with big effects

Our study found that impacts were often linked to small things that have big effects. ‘Small’ does not mean ‘easy’ or ‘unimportant’. Steps along the way can seem small when the change is incremental or the distance still to travel remains long. Small things can have big effects because they make other changes possible, because they open doors to new possibilities in the partnership, like crossing a threshold. These are a precious aspect of impactful partnership because they can have positive benefits through various knock-on or cascade effects. Many of the practices of living partnership, pathways for expertise, and forms of outcomes discussed in this website can be understood as small things with big effects.

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The idea of impactful partnership as mind-expanding implies growth for both the helper and the parent. It also has roots in cultural-historical theory and means parents’ or helpers learning isn’t about information or knowledge transferring from one person to another. Instead, it is about new meanings and interpretations being created in a process by which the minds of all involved expand, and new knowledge and understandings are created.

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Productive entanglement

A mind-expanding view means partnership is not like a jigsaw in which a helper has some pieces of knowledge that can fit together with what parents know to provide a complete picture. The Creating Better Futures study looked at how different people's knowledge gets productively entangled. This is a positive idea about things coming together to make something new and beautiful possible, like the tangle of roots under a tree. It is not a knot that needs undoing. The point is that if you get to the end and ask which bit of knowledge made it possible, you can’t simply pick one piece and say ‘that was it’. What parents contribute and what helpers contribute become so interconnected that you can’t tell which had a particular effect: what makes the difference is how different knowledges come together.

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Intimate outsiders

Impactful partnership implies a relationship between a family and a helper who is (for a certain period of time) an ‘intimate outsider’. Impactful partnership always comes to an end - they are open-ended but not unending (see see Essence of Partnership). The helper is not part of the family, and there always comes a time when the family carries on with their life, their contact with a helper ends, or a new relationship with the helper is formed. This makes helpers ‘outsiders’. But helpers are also ‘intimate’ in the sense that they often come to know private and sensitive things about a family that few other people do.

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Evolving Art

Impactful partnership is not a linear process. It might involve dead-ends, sudden leaps, tiny steps, and sideways movements. What works with one family may not work with the next, and may not even work in the next part of the journey with the same family. The relationship and the process of change evolve. The idea of an evolving art suggests that impactful partnership work can’t be done by robots or computers. It can’t be reduced to a formula, a set of steps or strict guidelines to follow. There is judgement, discretion, intuition, learning from experience, and informed best guesses. Outcomes are hoped for but not guaranteed. While there are some essential ingredients and key characteristics (see Essence of Partnership), there are unique and artful aspects to working in impactful partnership. The spirals in Living Partnership Practices convey partnership as expanding and evolving.

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Family Partnership Model:

Day, C., Ellis, M., & Harris, L. (2015). Family Partnership Model: reflective practice handbook (2nd edition). London: Centre for Parent and Child Support, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. [See also CPCS website]

Family Systems Nursing:

Wright, L. M., & Leahey, M. (2009). Nurses and families: a guide to family assessment and intervention (5th ed.). Philadelphia: F A Davis.

Bell, J. (2009). Family Systems Nursing re-examined. Journal of Family Nursing, 15(2), 123-129. doi:10.1177/1074840709335533

McGill Model of nursing:

Gottlieb, L. N., & Gottlieb, B. (2007). The developmental/health framework within the McGill Model of Nursing: “laws of nature” guiding whole person care. Advances in Nursing Science, 30(1), E43–E57.

Cultural-historical concepts of learning:

Edwards, A. (2005). Let's get beyond community and practice: the many meanings of learning by participating. The Curriculum Journal, 16(1), 49-65. doi:10.1080/0958517042000336809

Intimate outsidership:

Ganong, L. (2011). Return of the 'intimate outsider': current trends and issues in family nursing research revisited. Journal of Family Nursing, 17(4), 416-440. doi:10.1177/1074840711425029

Hopwood, N. (2016). Professional practice and learning: times, spaces, bodies, things. Dordrecht: Springer. [Chapter 9 is most relevant]

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