Partnerships – providing leadership and coordination

Partnerships are important (c) Can Stock Photo / AnatolyM

All too many of our current societal challenges —such as the environment, health care, and poverty—are complex, whether on a local, national, or international scale. Yet all too often we approach these issues with linear and even siloed solutions that aren’t sufficient to address the problems at the scale at which they exist. Successful outcomes from addressing these ‘wicked problems’ increasingly depend on the coordinated actions of decision-makers at different levels –  from individuals and communities to enterprise and sector organisations,  to region and nation (policy agents).  This is where partnerships come into play. By sharing information, resources, activities, and capabilities we can achieve things together that we could never achieve alone. By working together in partnerships and coordinating our efforts we can both increase accountability and promote participation.


LfS-iconThe need for cross-sector collaboration. This SSIR article by Jeanine Becker and David Smith addresses one of today’s most pressing challenges; developing the capacity to lead collaboratively and to effectively work across sectors.

LfS-iconCross‐Sector Partnerships: An Examination of Success Factors. This 2018 paper by  Laura Hartman and Kanwalroop looks at cross-sector social partnerships. They found that successful CSSPs involved partner alignment along clear and well‐informed collaborative goals, among other factors. They defined success of the partnership as having achieved these goals and characterized greater alignment where the partners’ language demonstrated a strong similarity.

LfS-iconWhy collaboration will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. This 2017 article by Deviah Aiama reminds us that sustainable natural resource management depends on people and nature working sustainably together. To advance sustainable initiatives at larger scales, we must build and expand partnerships between public, civil society and private sectors.

LfS-iconEnhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships. This 2016 paper by Rob van Tulder and colleagues links literature on both cross-sector partnerships and impact assessment. Building on these two areas the authors develop a framework to guide future research in partnership effectiveness and efficiency . Through this work they distinguish four basic impact pathways or loops of partnerships that create four different “orders” of impact.

Perspectives on partnership: A literature review. This 2009 report by Doug Horton, Gordon Prain and Graham Thiele brings together a wide-ranging review of the literature on partnerships and other closely related forms of collaboration. It identifies and analyzes key cross-cutting themes and success factors, highlights gaps in current knowledge, and identifies high-potential areas for further study. A wide range of research-based publications is reviewed, including studies in such fields as management and organizational development, public administration, economics and international development. It is noteworthy that empirical studies of partnerships are rare, particularly in-depth case studies. Theoretical pieces seldom present empirical tests of hypotheses, and practical guidelines are seldom grounded in theory. Gaps in knowledge are identified at the level of individual partnerships, the level of the organizations that participate in or manage portfolios of partnerships, and the level of research or innovation domains that are characterized by networks of partnerships.

Perspectives on Partnership This 2010 presentation by Gordon Prain, Douglas Horton and Graham Thiele highlights “What the literature says about success and failure in collaborative research for development”.

Cross-Sector Partnerships to Address Social Issues: Challenges to Theory and Practice. This 2005 paper by John Selsky and Barbara Parker brings together literature on CSSPs to
improve the potential for cross-disciplinary fertilization and especially to highlight developments
in various disciplines for organizational researchers. A number of possible directions for future
research on the theory, process, practice, method, and critique of CSSPs are highlighted.

The related page – Building networks for learning – provides a set of links to resources around how to build and map networks. A  second set looks at institutional approaches for working across groups and organisations, including partnerships and boundary organisations.