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The building blocks of partnership

For partnerships to deliver as effectively as possible, there are a set of four key building blocks that need to be developed and continuously maintained. The Building Blocks are distilled from the success factors for partnership highlighted by multiple organisations over many years. Before diving fully into the building blocks, it is important to appreciate three things.

First, different partnerships will have quite different levels of formality and levels of resource commitment; light touch, informal collaborations will not need the same level of attention to the Building Blocks as a major formal partnership (e.g. informal collaboration may not need any form of governance).

Second, not all the elements of all the building blocks will be essential for a particular partnership – however, it is important that partners spend time going through all of the elements to decide which ones are relevant.

Third, you cannot expect to have in place all elements immediately after the partnership formation phase. As long as the fundamentals are in place early on, you can build up the rest over time.

In practice, they are not a series of separate items to tick off in a sequence. Rather they are a set of connected ideas, to keep returning to during the partnering lifecycle. Just as a physical building needs to be maintained through regular attention to different parts that can go wrong at any time – the drainage, the windows, the roof – so a partnership should be maintained through paying regular attention to these critical ideas. And, of course, it is easier (and cheaper!) to fix a problem before it occurs.

While in a world of infinite time and resource, all the elements of all the building blocks would be put in place from the beginning, a pragmatic balance is essential.

What’s important is for all partners to be aware of the building blocks, agree which are the most essential depending on the level of complexity of the partnership, and commit to continually monitoring and improving on them as the partnership continues to develop and iterate.

What’s in each building block?

1 – Fundamentals

While partnerships are key to the delivery of the SDGs, partnerships are not appropriate in all circumstances and contexts:

The fundamentals for partnership need to be in place:

  • Significant added value in comparison with the resources required
  • Alignment of interests towards shared vision
  • Compatibility of values

THE BOTTOM LINE: Partnerships must be able to create significant value and the ‘right’ partners at the table must be included to be successful.

2 – Partnership Relationship

Partnerships are driven by a complex and ever-changing relationship among the partners. Strong, trust-based relationships can overcome the inevitable challenges of partnering, help partners to go ‘the extra mile’ and deliver extraordinary results. 

The key elements of the partnership relationship are:

  • Trust and transparency
  • Power balance and equity
  • Mutual benefit
  • Accountability and commitment

THE BOTTOM LINE: The complex, multi- faceted dynamic relationship among partners must be kept strong

3 – Structuring and set-up

Every partnership has its own unique structure and set-up: the governance, management, operational and reporting arrangements to deliver effectively.

The key elements of the structure and set up are:

  • Legal / fiduciary arrangement
  • Governance, management and operational structures
  • Partnership documentation
  • Clear theory of change and measures of success
  • Funding and resourcing

THE BOTTOM LINE: The partnership’s structure should be fit for purpose.

4 – Management and leadership

Managing partnerships goes well beyond typical project management, requiring the ability to manage the contributions of multiple organisations, without line management control, as well as managing the relationship between partners. It also requires different forms of leadership to ensure partnerships are successful.

Partnership management and leadership includes the following elements:

  • Collective leadership
  • Project and relationships management
  • Monitoring, review and iteration

THE BOTTOM LINE: The partnership should be well managed, and requires the application of leadership at multiple levels.

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