Putting Relationships First

Putting Relationships First

The case for relationship-centred communities, organisations and systems


Good relationships are the foundations on which all else is built  – effective education, just policing, stable childhoods, thriving communities, compassionate care, a fair economy, responsible government, flourishing  business, even longer lives. 

This Case Maker assembles the evidence base for putting relationships first, describing why  relationships matter, what great relationship-centred practice looks  like, and how it could make an  impact in your context.  

Compelling evidence summaries and statistics sit side by side with vibrant real world stories of relational work from across  sectors and contexts. There are voices in  these pages from the worlds of social care,  public health, the arts, prison rehabilitation, community organising, social integration, deathcare and education.  

Few people argue that relationships don’t matter. But many feel they don’t have the time, capacity or permission to prioritise them.  

In so many contexts, relationships are squeezed out and their transformative potential is overlooked. There is perhaps a fear that starting with relationships will make work less effective or efficient.  

Evidence suggests that the reverse is true: relationship-centred practice can be more effective and efficient, more meaningful and sustainable, and more enjoyable and  enriching for those involved in it.  

Putting relationships first is not just warmer and more human, it often leads to  completely different plans and decisions, based on a more robust, reality-based understanding of challenges and what it will  actually take to address them.  

Designing relationship-centred communities, organisations and  systems can be life-changing, even  life-saving. 

This is a resource for everyone who needs to  make the case for putting relationships first, whether it’s to their commissioners, their funders, their managers, their trustees – or  even to themselves. 

What we mean when we talk about relationships 

One of the Challenges of thinking about and and talking about relationships lies in the breadth of the term. Within that  one word – ‘relationship’ – exists a huge range of different things. We talk about the relationship we have with ourselves, with the natural world,  with our spouses, with food or exercise, with our friends, with our bank. The list goes on. 

In the Case Maker, we are focusing  on human to human relationships within the context of communities, organisations and services.  

Too often, relationships in these contexts are  overlooked or underestimated; seen as a nice to-have or a ‘frilly extra’, rather than as the basis on which all else is achieved.  

Good relationships look different in different contexts and situations. A good relationship with a teacher is different from a good relationship with the train operator.  

But we think that good relationships all share  some common characteristics which can be usefully highlighted through a comparison with transactions. 

There are three distinctions to be made: 

■ First, there is the difference between a relationship and a transaction. One is not intrinsically preferable to the other. It all depends on the context. 

 ■ Second, there is nothing inevitably bad about a transaction. If the train ticket is supplied promptly and fairly it was a reciprocal exchange and a good transaction

■ Third, relationships aren’t always good. They can be abusive, controlling or extractive.  Just as there are good and bad transactions, there are also good and bad relationships. 

This leads us to suggest some defining, and some common, characteristics for good relationships and good transactions. 

What we mean by relationship-centred practice

Relationship-centred practice puts relationships first. It unlocks potential and meets need by positioning meaningful and effective relationships as the first order goal, both an end in itself and the means by which other goals will be achieved (like better health, stronger communities, greater job satisfaction). 

Relational working is more than an instinct; it is a craft and we need to learn how to do it well, and how to create the conditions in which it can become embedded. 

Relationship-centred practice is most obviously associated with a set of behaviours – active listening, patience, empathy, active collaboration  – and with ‘frontline’ roles – like healthcare  practitioners, social workers, community development officers. But these behaviours  are unlocked and enabled – or constricted and  disabled – by the conditions in which we operate.  

For relationship-centred practice to become widely embedded, we all need the knowledge and skills to build relationships, and we need to  be supported by processes, protocols and norms which liberate relational work. Whether you are a frontline practitioner, a manager, a designer,  a planner, a policymaker, a board member, a funder, a commissioner or a service user, you  have a role to play in nurturing and embedding  relationship-centred practice.  

For more on relationship-centred practice, head  to our website.

Access Putting Relationships First at The Relationships Project website HERE or download it from Network Weaver’s site HERE.

Building a better society by building better relationships

Relationships span every corner of our lives, from the places we live and work to the places we socialise and seek help. At The Relationships Project, we believe that the quality of these relationships matter. When they’re nurtured, valued and prioritised, people are happier and healthier, communities are stronger and more resilient, and businesses are more successful and efficient.

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