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Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash 

By Tom Harrison, TPI Programme Director

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

This simple but powerful insight applies to so many endeavours.  If your objective is to climb a mountain, you study the route, make sure you have the equipment you need and make sure you are fit enough for the physical effort required.  If you don’t, you will very likely fail to reach the peak, or even worse, if the weather changes, you could be in a lot of trouble. You certainly don’t (if you are wise) prepare in the same way you would for a Saturday trip to the shops.

If you are then asked: ‘will you reach the top of the mountain?’ you can say – ‘I don’t know for sure, but I have raised my chances because I am fit, I know the way and I am well equipped.’

Similarly, when we work in partnership we have a good chance of achieving the impact we want if we have prepared properly – and will most likely fail if we haven’t. That is why we find that organisations benefit greatly when they bring same rigour to partnership design and implementation, as they expect in the context of project or programme design and implementation.

So when FAO asked us to help them to help achieve their ambition of putting transformative partnership at the heart of what they do, we did so by proposing a set of tools that will help them to prepare for this challenge.

Firstly, we worked with them to define what objective they were preparing to achieve. In their case it is partnerships that contribute to their vision for transformed agrifood systems that are more resilient, efficient, sustainable and inclusive.

We then studied FAO in order to help them work out they needed to prepare for this objective to be achieved.  Central to this is to understand the nature of the challenge and to be able to tailor their partnerships in response.  In the same way that climbing a mountain needs different equipment in the summer versus the winter, or the climbing techniques for scaling a rocky crag are different to a grassy incline, a partnership needs different types of partners and for them to work in different ways according to the objective of the partnership. For example in FAO’s case, since their partnerships aim to change systems this will require a highly flexible, adaptive styles of partnering.

All of this is captured for FAO in a ‘How-to’ guide that enable their programme staff to assess how partnerships can contribute to their goals and objectives. This comprises six inter-linked modules to help assess current partnerships and guide the set up of new ones.

The How-to guide is supported by worked examples based on some of FAO’s partnerships, to make sure that FAO’s preparation for future partnering builds on its current good practice.

The fourth component of our support was suggestions on key performance indicators for their transformative partnering. We broke this down into three parts. These cover elements that FAO has direct control over: firstly how well prepared they are, and secondly how ‘fit’ they are to embark on partnership expeditions. As with climbing the mountain, these elements enable them to assess their chances of making it to the summit, and to improve their chances by making adjustments as they go along.

The third part element is the actual impact their partnering is contributing to systemic transformation of agrifood systems. This is hard to measure and often is only apparent much later, which is why the first two elements are so useful.

We propose that each of these elements is broken down into sub-indicators can then be aggregated to a blended indicator for a FAO partnership’s overall progress towards achieving transformation, combing both potential and actual impact.

This concluded the current phase of our work with FAO, and we expect that implementing the materials that have been developed will help to increase the rigour, efficiency and effectiveness of FAO’s partnerships. More broadly we are excited about the potential of the approach outlined in this blog to help FAO, and others, develop transformative partnerships and contribute to system-level change.

We will, with FAO’s permission, be developing some new tools based on this work and we are keen to support other organisations that are also making a commitment to transformative partnership.

Unfortunately we don’t know in what context Benjamin Franklin made his famous quote, or indeed if it is correctly attributed to him.  We do know that in 1751 he also captured the power of partnership by writing that: ‘The good particular men may do separately, in relieving the sick, is small, compared with what they may do collectively.’ We applaud FAO for making this approach central to their strategy, and will continue to help them to achieve that as best we can.

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TPI Global

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