Opinion: Partnering less to achieve more

By Stuart Reid 11 May 2017

Partnerships are all the rage these days, but the emphasis should hinge on their quality — not quantity. The Partnering Initiative's Dr. Stuart Reid explains. Photo by: Viktor Hanacek

As experts in the field of partnership for sustainable development, my colleagues and I spend a lot of our time helping our partners and clients master what we call the “art and science of cross-sector partnering.” Partnering now sits at the very heart of international efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and few organizations can afford to ignore the culture, mindset and skills required to build and manage great collaborations.

In recent years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual shift of emphasis: The organizations we work with are thinking less about how to partner and more about how to select the right partnering opportunity. In a world of plentiful opportunities, the challenge is to assess those opportunities and select the ones that are going to deliver maximum added value to your work. It’s not just about getting partnership right, but about getting the right partnership.

Why has this concern risen up the agenda? Firstly, it’s about volume of activity: More projects and programs are now delivered through multi-stakeholder partnerships; more organizations are ready and equipped to work in partnership; and more funding is going to the creation of initiatives and platforms that are characterized by complex collaboration. Decision-makers need guidance on where to commit time and resources.

Secondly, it’s about strategy: Partnerships need to deliver value in line with organizational strategy. They need to fit with long-term aspirations. They need to establish or strengthen ties with the right allies. Finally, it’s about cost. Partnering is a difficult and time-consuming process that can be resource-hungry: Senior managers quite rightly want to get the best possible return on that investment of time, money, reputation and capacity.

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About the author

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Stuart Reid

In 2003, Stuart Reid co-founded The Partnering Initiative, an independent nonprofit organization providing research, training and consultancy around international cross-sector partnerships. Stuart now sits on the TPI board of trustees as well as continuing to contribute significantly to a range of TPI’s programs. One of Stuart’s most striking assets is his ability to bridge the gap between research and practice — combining academic rigor with highly pragmatic and implementable approaches. He has extensive experience of partnership evaluation and organizational change and development from his many years of consultancy and research.

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