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Defining and categorising partnerships

TPI defines partnerships as:

An ongoing collaborative relationship between or among organisations from different stakeholder types aligning their interests around a common vision, combining their complementary resources and competencies and sharing risk, to maximize value creation towards the Sustainable Development Goals and deliver benefit to each of the partners.

The collaboration spectrum

Partnerships can range from networks made up of hundreds of organisations through to joint ventures between two or three organisations. This broad definition encompasses a multitude of types of collaborative arrangement with quite different qualities, so it is helpful to identify some basic types of partnership and to differentiate them in terms of their aims and outcomes.

TPI’s ‘Partnership Spectrum’ is a way of visualizing the range of different collaborative arrangements that fit within the partnership definition. The framework includes ‘leverage / exchange partnerships’ in which the partners are the main beneficiaries, however, TPI’s research and guidance, while applicable to all types, focuses mainly on the latter two types of partnership  to deliver:

2) Better traditional development: partnerships that deliver more than the sum of their parts and thus increase the impact of ‘traditional’ development

3) Transformational development: Partnerships which undertake system transformational development.

Rules of thumb for each category


Think of type 1 partnerships as ‘doing more and better together’. This model is most appropriate when one (usually larger) organisation wants to support the work of another (usually smaller) organization and can donate useful resources to let them do it better / bigger; or when two organisations each has resources that are valuable to the other partner, and by exchanging them, each gains.


Think of type 2 partnerships as ‘doing new activity together’. This model is most appropriate when there is an ambition to combine assets and resources of all kinds, because they enable partners collectively to deliver more than the sum of the parts, and deliver more efficient, effective, innovative or sustainable impact.

Systems transformation

Think of type 3 partnerships as ‘doing change together’. This model is most appropriate when there is a complex and deep-rooted issue that requires multiple stakeholders to collaborate towards systems-level or structural change.

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