Networked Partnerships

6 Networked Partnerships

Through partnerships, Local Health Departments (LHDs) can enhance their capacity and increase their impact in addressing the intersection of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), suicide, and overdose prevention. Partnerships contribute to diverse perspectives and align efforts to the community’s culture, create community buy-in from a broader range of groups, extend resources and reach, allow complex challenges to be addressed across multiple sectors, and improve efficiency in addressing shared risk and protective factors.

Look at the results of Q8-10 in your completed SPACECAT to identify opportunities to strengthen networked partnerships.

Communities already have assets that can reduce the shared risk factors of suicide, overdose, and ACEs and increase resilience. Map out what stakeholders in the community are already doing in these areas and who they reach. Current coalitions related to suicide, overdose, or ACEs prevention may offer a good starting place to identify stakeholders.

Sector Examples

  • Physical Health: Health systems, hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Centers, primary care providers, pharmacists
  • Behavioral health: Mental health providers, inpatient and outpatient substance use treatment services, harm reduction organizations
  • Education: Primary and secondary schools, institutions of higher education
  • Public safety: Law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire
  • Criminal justice: Adult and juvenile justice systems, drug courts, diversion programs
  • Family and youth services: Family support organizations, parenting education and support, tutoring, mentoring, family violence and intimate partner violence support services
  • Employment services: Labor and unemployment offices, economic development or job training programs
  • Housing service: Local housing authority, homeless services, community development offices, housing programs for seniors
  • Food assistance: Food banks and pantries
  • Media: Newspapers, television, radio, online media
  • Faith-based organizations: Congregations, national denominations and their affiliate networks (e.g. Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, YMCA), and independent faith-based nonprofits

Partners occur at the local, state, or national level and include governmental, for-profit, or non-profit agencies and organizations. Partners should also cross sectors.

When assessing current partnerships, remember to consider what partnerships you already have and who is missing from the table that could help you reach additional, critical audiences and facilitate linkages to care. Ask yourself:

  • What organizations/agencies will help increase impact in the intersection of suicide, overdose, and ACEs prevention?
  • Who has influence that can open doors in the community?
  • How does the work of the partner connect to this intersection work?
  • What would be the partner’s driving motivator in working together on the prevention of suicide, overdose, and ACEs?

Depending on the community context and need, specific populations may also be at higher risk of suicide, overdose, or ACEs (see the Health Disparities section to learn more), and have dedicated community-based organizations or services, such as those serving veterans, individuals identifying as LGBTQ, or refugee and immigrant populations.

Partnerships exist along a continuum, ranging from informal networking partners that raise awareness of programs and services to integrated strategic partners with shared planning and decision-making. It’s important to remember that the level of engagement will vary by partner, and that not all partners need to involve close collaboration and common work plans. Trust and buy-in with partners takes time. Commitment will be critical to strengthening and maintaining partnerships, no matter the level of engagement. When considering your current partnerships:

  • Define your current partnerships along the Levels of Partnership continuum.
  • Identify strengths and limitations of the partnership in its current state.
  • Consider what would be needed to maintain their current level of engagement. Use the Tips for Overcoming Challenges to Increase Partner Engagement sheet to assist you with brainstorming ideas.
  • Determine whether an increased level of engagement is needed to move the intersection work forward.
  • Identify barriers (yours and theirs) to increased support, participation, and partnership and what would be needed to increase engagement. Competing priorities, political constraints, limited influence, different philosophies/approaches, and limited resources are common barriers to successful partnerships.[1]

The Current Partner Analysis tool can also assist you in considering your current partnerships.


[1] Taylor-Robinson DC, Lloyd-Williams F, Orton L, Moonan M, O'Flaherty M, Capewell S. Barriers to partnership working in public health: a qualitative study. PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e29536. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029536. Epub 2012 Jan 4. PMID: 22238619; PMCID: PMC3251584.

In addition to better understanding and considering your current partnerships, you may realize that important stakeholders are missing and need to be engaged. Brainstorm a list of potential partnerships within your community. Consider the following and/or use the Potential Partner Analysis tool:

  • What missing piece would this partnership assist with?
  • Has this partner expressed interest in working with us? If so, what is their motivation to engage in and support the work? If not, what do we see their role as?
  • What is the partner’s biggest concern, if any, over working with us? What is our biggest concern, if any, over working with them?
  • What do we need to do to gain their support?

Once you have identified a new partner to engage, determine who the individual(s) responsible for building the relationship will be. This may be someone who already has a connection with someone in the organization or someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about the intersection work. When reaching out, consider the best ways to present the importance of the work and/or potential partnership.

  • Demonstrate the need for a community approach using data
  • Highlight successes of work you are already doing in the intersection of suicide, overdose, and ACEs
  • Personalize the work through a recent community event or story. Discuss ways a partnership could enhance the work the potential partner is already doing, particularly opportunities and/or activities that would align with its mission.

Remember to adapt your messages to the information that will be most meaningful to the partner!

Whenever possible, seek formal agreements with your partners to clarify commitments and expectations. This can come in the form of:

  • Letter of Commitment: A legally binding statement from both parties stating both partners are fully capable of participating in the agreed upon set of activities to deliver agreed upon outputs. These letters should highlight the specific roles and responsibilities for the activities and any financial obligations for the work to be successfully completed.
  • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): A written agreement between two partners establishing ground rules for partnership activities. MOUs should outline what each party agrees to contribute to the partnership, a timeframe for delivering the desired outcomes, details of how the partners will collaborate (e.g., regular in-person meetings, conference calls, written approval of all activities by both parties), and any financial obligations for delivering outcomes.
  • Financial support via grants/contracts: LHDs may serve as a funding source to support community resources via grants or contracts. In this situation, the agreement associated with the funding can serve as a means of formalizing the partnership and the work to be done

This page is part of the SPACECAT Toolkit. It was last updated on September 22, 2022. To report broken links, please email ivp@naccho.org.

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