Partnerships roadmap: 5 key action areas for improvement

A handshake. What can be done to have more effective and scalable partnership? Photo by: Victor1558 / CC BY

Public-private partnerships are increasingly part of the development toolkit, but most involved agree that there is much room for improvement in how partnerships are created and scaled up.

This is why The Partnering Initiative is releasing on Monday a new report that lays out five key steps that can lead to more effective and scalable partnerships, and seeks feedback from stakeholders to come up with more recommendations in the future.

“There has never been a time when partnerships have been so far up the development agenda,” said TPI Executive Director Darian Stibbe, adding that as a result, there is a tremendous burden on businesses and partnerships to deliver on development outcomes.

The full report is available for review and the organization would like opinions, comments and questions so they can improve the survey. Stibbe said he hopes the consultation will lead to a more robust, practical and applicable roadmap in advance of the April meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. The report focuses on PPPs for development — which it defines as unregulated partnerships where the private sector and government, international agencies and/or NGOs combine resources to achieve development and business outcomes. Such partnerships should be designed in collaboration, with shared risk and accountability, and not result in the company receiving a direct profit.

These are the five key action areas for scale-up mentioned by the TPI report:

1. Improve trust and understanding

Open and honest dialogue that focuses on real, local problems and tackles the specifics and not theoretical challenges will help to ensure that all partners have a clear understanding. This isn’t necessarily something new, and the trope of needing greater communication is certainly a trope often repeated by those involved in partnerships. The report does lay out several recommendations for how to get there — starting with incorporating PPPs into public policy and business school curriculums. Awards and prizes that showcase good examples may help, as would public advocates and government representatives to make the case internally.

2. Define development priorities and map them with business interests

Country-specific priorities are key to shaping effective partnerships and businesses need to be a part of determining those priorities, according the report. The report is quick to acknowledge that many may be concerned about the private sector taking on a greater role in setting development agendas. It recommends a careful process with a high level of transparency with civil society organizations playing a key role to ensure the public interests. In including the private sector you can better determine and then map where key development priorities might match business interests and resources — a nexus that would be particularly ripe for partnership. This is already happening in some cases. The report points to the example of Danida, Denmark’s development cooperation has gone through a process of mapping it’s development priorities in key countries with the interests of the Danish private sector.

3. Create platforms to drive partnerships and private sector engagement

Multi-stakeholder platforms, especially at the local level, help to align interests, share information and seed innovation. Today most partnerships come about through individual dialogues or round tables but implementing more platforms could create a more systematic and coordinated approach to key challenges. Here the report identifies several key steps to successful platforms: involve an inclusive group of those who are willing to participate, create a defined management and governance structure, find a host, commit resources and ensure accountability.

4. Measure and share results and best practices

Here the report points to a key challenge addressed by many of the respondents interviews: the challenge of measurement and impact assessment. While it is clear that results must be measured and best practices learned from successes and failures are critical in building and scaling partnerships, monitoring those partnerships remains difficult. The report recommends making use of data that businesses may already be gathering and efforts to develop performance indicators that are cost-effective to measure.  The Donor Committee for Enterprise Development is working on an evaluation system for public private partnerships that could be adopted as a framework for measurement, and some initiatives — such as the Extractive Sector Transparency Initiative — are already showing that stakeholders are willing to share data.

5. Strengthen institutional capacity

Strong support at the top of an organization is important, but it’s not enough on its own and buy in throughout an organization is important. Obtaining that may require a cultural shift but can be aided by a variety of incentives that encourage collaboration and creativity in developing new approaches. In addition to buy in from staff, internal policies and systems may also need to change or adapt to allow more easily for cooperation. In some cases a new partnership vehicle may be useful but any new system can have its own challenges. The report lays out some specifics on what actions may help in building better partnerships, but in some cases how to achieve those actions is still a question. It is one that other organizations too are seeking to answer. Last year, the United Nations Global Compact released a report discussing the architecture necessary for private sector engagement, which tackled some of these similar issues. There will no doubt be more as the post 2015 development agenda is shaped.

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Read more:

Public-private partnerships: Spurring private sector involvement in development
The future of public private partnerships is local, say development leaders
5 ways for NGOs to get smarter about private-sector engagement

About the author

  • Saldiner adva

    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.