How building partnerships can help with planning and design

Organizations that choose to go it alone may be missing out on the benefits of forming strong, long-lasting partnerships.
“Very rarely is anything worth doing that is done alone,” says Sean E. McDermott, chief planning and design officer at Cleveland Metroparks. “The best successes I’ve been involved with have been those in which there are strong partnerships among institutions, organizations or individuals.”
Smart Business spoke with McDermott — who along with his staff oversees improvements to Cleveland Metroparks more than 24,000 acres of parkland and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo — about how creating long-lasting, trusting partnerships can help organizations achieve success in planning and design.
What are some critical components of successful partnerships?
A lot of it comes down to trust and building relationships over time. It’s meeting people where they are, understanding what is important to them and being a long-term partner so that you can continue to work together toward making Ohio a better place to live. At its essence, the ability to get things done comes down to partnerships.
When working with partners on planning and design, you need to invest time, talk about building an idea and find a shared vision and components of that vision that are complementary. At times, there may be differing points of view. You’re not always going to want the same things, or want to invest time and money in the same way, but you can still find ways to work together.
One example of a successful partnership and priorities being aligned is in our work with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to create Brighton Park from a former landfill across from the zoo. By partnering on the planning and design of this new park, we are turning a liability into an asset to construct a network of trails. Our shared vision and the longstanding relationship between our two organizations not only got the project off the ground but is going to result in a tremendous community asset.
How can organizations begin partnering with other entities?
It’s getting to know people outside of a purely transactional relationship, understanding their ‘why’ and how they define success both personally and as an organization. Identifying commonalities leaves the door open to collaborate on projects that accomplish or work toward a shared goal.
Networking is critical. Take advantage of opportunities that may be offered through your work to meet others in the community, whether it’s attending an event or awards ceremony, or an industry-specific conference. Taking personal initiative to get involved in civic and nonprofit work is also important to developing partnerships.
Communicating the importance of partnerships in an organization comes from the top by creating a culture that allows for a wide sharing of ideas. We often start small in planning and design, with test scenarios and pilot projects. Once the ability to collaborate successfully has been proven, expanding to larger projects with higher stakes, for example trail or facility construction, is a logical next step.
Organizations that choose to go it alone are limiting their effectiveness and failing to broaden their ability to have a great community impact. The networks you build and the reputation you establish don’t just allow you to increase output. Doing so creates a culture where people know that, in working with your organization, they can move the needle and get things done.
How has the pandemic impacted partnerships?

The past year has shown how important a wraparound approach to planning and design is and that leveraging partnerships and community engagement is critical. A lot of our systems and social networks have been stretched and tested in ways they never have been in modern history, and those who have taken advantage of partnerships and the strength of relationships have benefitted, and perhaps come out stronger.

Insights Planning and Design is brought to you by Cleveland Metroparks.