We posted some ideas about Relationship Centred Practice (RCP) in this blog last November. Based on comments at the time, discussion at our Northumbria Convening and further work by the Relationships Collective we are now posting part two. Here, we share our initial ideas around a ‘framework for RCP’ which starts to unpack different layers and dimensions. Once again we would love to hear what you think. Do these ideas resonate with your work, are they helpful and what’s missing?


In our first blog on Relationship-Centred Practice, we shared some thoughts on the sorts of relationships we’re focusing on, explored an initial definition of Relationship-Centred Practice, and identified some common barriers to this way of working. 

We defined Relationship-Centred Practice as…

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)

We think Relationship-Centred Practice is characterised by empathetic behaviours such as positive listening, active collaboration, a commitment to continuity, kindness and mutual trust. There is a shared sense of purpose and also of agency – “we can do this together”, capacity for challenge, for holding tensions alongside compassion and forgiveness, a focus on assets rather than deficits and sufficient versatility to adapt the practice to the individual rather than fit the individual to the programme. It is informed by experience, but not scripted. The most effective relational practice is not enforced from without. It is compelled from within, willing and dynamic. 

Since publishing this blog in November 2022, we’ve had many conversations which have helped to shape and evolve our thinking. Here, we share how our thinking has evolved and invite a further round of thoughts and reflections. 

Why do we think defining relationship-centred practice is useful? 

We often talk about relationships being common sense but not common practice. We think there are a few key reasons behind this:

  1. Whilst many of us intuitively believe that everything works better when relationships are valued, we’ve created systems and protocols and cultural norms which actively get in the way of relationship building. 

2. When we think about working in ways that are relational, we often see it as being something of an exclusive personality trait. Whilst it’s certainly true that relationship building comes more easily to some, we also think it’s something that can be supported, nurtured and enabled, or something that can be discouraged, belittled and obstructed. 

3. Relationships are often seen as a ‘frilly extra‘; a ‘nice to have’ that creates a friendlier working environment but which, ultimately, comes second (or third or fourth) to the ‘bottom line’. We disagree. We believe that relationships are the way in which other outcomes are realised – from better health and educational outcomes to improved wellbeing and stronger communities.

We hope that in offering a framing and language around Relationship-Centred Practice:

  • It is taken more seriously and given greater prominence and attention
  • Those who work in relationship-centred ways feel seen, celebrated and validated 
  • There is greater clarity about what’s needed to deliver and support relationship-centred practice 

What: Towards a framework of Relationship-Centred Practice 

RCP is determined as much by the policy environment and organisational protocols as by the characteristics and values of the practitioner. For RCP to become widespread and embedded there needs to be focus, intention, investment and support at multiple layers of an organisation, a community or a system. 

This emerging framework is an attempt at articulating those different layers of RCP. Do these feel relevant to your practice or your place? What’s missing? 

Underpinning principles 

We think that underpinning RCP is a set of principles or commitments. We think these are transferable across sectors, specialisms and approaches and without which a commitment to putting relationships first cannot be realised. We think these principles are something along the lines of….

What do you think? Do these principles resonate? What’s missing?

Characteristic Behaviours

Emerging from this set of principles  are a set of behaviours that characterise RCP. These behaviours are an expression of the principles that sit at the heart of RCP and are the observable components of RCP. Some of these behaviours might be transferable from role to role, and from organisation to organisation, others might be more specific to certain situations.

These behaviours include things like….

Do these resonate with your own Relationship-Centred Practice? What would you change or add?

Individual Competencies

Enabling these sorts of behaviours are a set of competencies; knowledge and skills which enable us to build relationships in different situations and contexts. Some of these competencies are widely applicable; skills such as active listening, others more specific to certain situations, such as conflict transformation. 

The importance of learned knowledge, skills and competencies points to the role of education, continuous professional development and mentorship. 

What competencies enable you to work relationally? 

Enabling protocols

Wrapping around all of these is a set of enabling protocols which can either inhibit or enable relationship-centred practice. Without the appropriate protocols and permissions embedded in organisations, systems and structure, the relationship-centred practitioner will always be a maverick, dependent on managers “turning a blind eye”.  In this context it is very likely that the approach will be abandoned, and good work lost, when individuals move on.

To build the sort of society that we dream of requires an enabling environment. We saw a glimpse of that environment during the early stages of COVID and are working with the Relational Councils Network to make it a permanent fixture. 

What are the protocols, permissions, policies or conditions which help or hinder RCP in your place?

When: When is relationship-centred practice relevant?

In the opening section of the first blog we intended to introduce a definition of a good relationship. As Alan Hudson and others pointed out we muddied the waters by comparing Good Relationships with Transactions. There are three distinctions to be made;

1. 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. For example, I have a relationship with my son. My association with the rail company from whom I bought a ticket is purely transactional. 

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

3.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. 

  • A good relationship is unique and fair. It’s unscripted, organic and empathetic.
  • A good transaction follows a standard course, it is efficient and fair. 
  • Good relationships and good transactions are equally trusting, reciprocal and reliable.

Sometimes a good transaction is most appropriate but sometimes, and particularly in the face of complex situations and challenges, a good relationship is needed. Where this is the case, we think RCP offers a way forward. 

The next step

We’d love your feedback on whether this framework feels relevant and useful, and on the values, behaviours, competencies and protocols that constitute RCP in your place. 

We’re hosting a number of ‘drop in sessions’ over the course of May and June where anyone can come along to share their thoughts and meet fellow relationship-centred practitioners. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to do this in a one-to-one setting or in writing, please get in touch with either david@relationshipsproject.org or immy@relationshipsproject.org 

Thank you to everyone who has helped shape this thinking so far.