In partnering, rules don’t work but principles might

Localization makes partnerships in development all the more important. In this guest blog Ros Tennyson, Director of Strategy at The Partnership Brokers Association discusses the challenges of multi-stakeholder partnerships in development.

hiddenagendasMulti-stakeholder partnerships for humanitarian relief and sustainable development are much promoted (especially by donors) as the way to tackle the complicated and complex challenges we face. As a passionate advocate of such collaboration, I agree this approach is critically important BUT… only if those involved really grapple with what it takes to partner effectiv
ely. Anything less is bound to fall drastically short of meeting needs and goals.

The problem with partnering is that it cannot be learnt from an instruction manual. It is not a ‘painting by numbers’ exercise but is, at its best, a co-created, fit for purpose solution to a pressing issue in a specific context with a particular group of people with all their respective human capacities (and frailties).

Rules don’t work – or, rather, they only work if they are co-created by the partners themselves so that their rationale is understood and shared. So what guidance can be shared with those in the partnerinanxietyaboutdifferenceg hot seat? I suggest it is ‘principles’ rather than ‘rules’.

Certain challenges have been flagged for some years as common phenomena in partnering endeavours – these include: power imbalance, hidden agendas and competitiveness. And, more recently, two more have been added by the Partnership Brokers Association’s trainer’s community of practice – these are: anxiety about difference and uncertainty (about the unknown).

The working principles that can be adopted by all partners anywhere in the world to address these key challenges are: equity (where all players are respected and valued), transparency (which, over time can build genuine trust), commitment to mutual benefit (for all those involved as well as the partnership’s beneficiaries), relishing diversity (building innovation and new value from a wide range of contributions) and courage (to hold steady, accept a level of risk and give space for new solutions to emerge).

competitivenessFollow – and hold each other to account for – these principles and there is every chance that your multi-stakeholder efforts will be rewarded with unexpected and imaginative responses and, if you are lucky, some truly breakthrough results.

Ros Tennyson has been a pioneer of partnering good practice since 1992. She is a coach, mentor and trainer as well as a prolific author on partnership matters (her tool books and case studies include Managing Partnerships published in 1998 in which some of the cartoons featured here were first published). She is currently Director of Strategy of The Partnership Brokers Association in which capacity she is also a founding partner of the new Promoting Effective Partnering initiative.

Keystone’s Partnership survey allows INGOs to check the health of their partnerships. For more information on this contact

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