Summary and key action steps
A partnership is a negotiated relationship in which different actors work together to achieve a shared purpose. In the context of capacity development partnerships are the means to bring together the complimentary knowledge, skills and resources of different actors to achieve capacity goals and objectives. If established and managed appropriately partnerships also often prove to be a capacity development process in their own right for the organisations and individuals involved in them. Partnerships are especially important mechanisms for scale up of successful initiatives.
- The starting point is to clarify the aims and objectives for forming a partnership. What is the partnership intended to achieve?
- Once the aims and objectives are established the choice of partners for any initiative should be based on both strategic and operational decisions, including:
- Decision makers: Who can make the necessary policy decisions?
- Resource providers: Who can provide the money and other resources?
- Experts: Who has the necessary knowledge and expertise? Note: When taking an initiative into new geographic areas it is essential to engage with local partners who can facilitate the necessary adaptation to local context.
- Implementers: who can do the activities?
- Participants: in what way can participants contribute to extension of the work?
- It will likely be necessary to identify a number of organisations that might have similar aims and objectives in relation to the capacity development goal and then explore with them the potential and common ground for working together. This should include:
- Reviewing the mandate, role, interests, approach, motivation, expectations and existing capacity of all the organisations that might join together in partnership
- Creating a vision and shared agenda for action – ‘What can we do together and how?’
- The purpose of working together, the roles and responsibilities of each partner, and the means of working together need to be established clearly at the start. This can be done through drawing up a partnership document that covers core aspects of the agreement plus important operational factors such as: how power for decision making is to be distributed among the partners; partnership management and accountability; planning, monitoring and evaluation of activities; communication strategy; how to systematise learning; shared values that will underpin the work; and, mechanisms for regular and ongoing consultation between partners to review both how the work is progressing, and how well the partnership is working.
Lessons learned about partnerships
- Setting up a good partnership takes time: rushing or bypassing negotiations can result in many problems if essential aspects of the partnership have not been clarified at the start. This is especially true of scale up because it can be very complicated to get one organisation to understand and adopt content and process developed in another context, and adapt them to their own context.
- Shared working practices in partnerships can lead to some very big changes in each of the partner organisations.
- It may be necessary to set up specific mechanisms to support the partnership, for example a secretariat to facilitate communication, shared learning and other aspects of implementation.
- There will be no sustainable capacity development unless the target participants are involved appropriately in the partnership arrangements.
All capacity development initiatives have many different stakeholders, some of whom might work together throughout the life of the initiative, while others may be involved only for specific activities. In the context of capacity development partnershipsWords such as networks, alliances, allies, consortia and coalitions are also used to describe the relationship between different groups working together. What follows can be applied to any of those arrangements, but for the sake of simplicity this page will call them all partnerships. are a way of bringing together the complimentary knowledge, skills and resources of different actors to achieve capacity development goals and objectives. A partnership can be defined as a negotiated relationship in which different actors work together to achieve a shared purpose. The partners’ contribution can take many forms, depending on their mandate, interests and capacity. If established and managed appropriately partnerships also often prove to be a capacity development process in their own right for the organisations and individuals involved in them. Partnerships are especially important for the scale up of successful initiatives.
There is a lot of debate about the word partnership, which is often used to describe the relationships between funding agencies and entities or organisations to whom they give money. Often those relationships do not have the characteristics of equitable partnerships because the financial factor creates a heavy imbalance of power. This page does not address those issues and deals instead with partnerships as a positive opportunity for action to implement and extend successful capacity development initiatives.
Who needs to be involved?
Strategic and operational considerations about partnerships to take a capacity development initiative forward or to scale need should include:
- Who can make the necessary policy decisions? If something has started at a local level, the next step might be to engage provincial or national level policy and decision makers in order to go to scale.
- Who can provide the resources? Those who funded the initial activities might not be in a position to fund more extensive implementation, but they might be best placed to talk to other development partners about forming a support partnership.
- Who has the necessary knowledge and expertise? Taking any major initiative forward, or taking a small one to scale will present new challenges to be solved, and emerging learning about what happens when the methods are introduced in new contexts. Several different types of expertise might therefore be needed to support the process, make appropriate adaptations, and ensure that new learning is applied to ongoing implementation.
Note: When taking an initiative into new geographic areas that have very different conditions and cultures to the original activity area it is essential to find and involve local partners that can facilitate the necessary adaptation to local conditions.
- Who can implement? Whether a national or local government department or some other type of agency was involved in initial implementation they are unlikely to have the mandate and or resources to go to scale, perhaps in different parts of the country. The implementation of activities in new areas will therefore call for new partners and they would need to be oriented to the work.
- In what way can participants become involved in extension of the work? The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) case study below is a very good example of working creatively with participants to involve them in extension. Interested farmers who had successfully completed the training as participants were later trained as facilitators in order that they could deliver the curriculum to other farmers. Peer to peer work of this type has many advantages over training delivered by others.
The lead agency driving the capacity development process will need an established and working relationship with all of the partners. However not all the partners need to be in partnership with each other, for example the implementers do not need to be in partnership with the policy makers, or experts with policy makers.
A visual way to think about what partnerships are needed for any initiative might be to create a spider web type diagram. This could show both the partners needed and how they would need to connect to each other. The web for a scale up operation would start with the initial project at the centre of the web and then have lines out for each of the types of support needed in new areas – policy, resources, implementers, etc. Along each line should be the agencies at both national and local levels that could support outward spread by becoming connection and anchor points in the web. Lines between the different anchor points would show who would need to be in partnerships together.
The case study referenced below is from FAO the about Farmer Field Schools in India. It is a very good example of how multiple actors with different interests worked together over time to make a capacity development initiative successful and then take it to scale.
Establishing a partnership
Some partnerships will require formal agreements and contracts for how the agencies involved will work together. This is very often finalised in the form of a project based funding agreement, but generally this type of contract does not address some of the important considerations needed to make a partnership work well. Other partnerships will not need to be set up under a formal contract, but the arrangements will still need time and attention if the partnership is to work to best effect and for the mutual benefit of everyone concerned.
Some words and phrases in the definition above give guidance about what is needed to establish an effective partnership arrangement. A good partnership needs to be negotiated between all the parties, as opposed to everyone assuming they know how it will work or one party imposing the terms on others. One of the most common causes of partnership breakdown is the failure to explore what will happen and how, and what everyone’s expectations are of each other. A good partnership also recognises and respects the difference between the parties and what they each bring to working together for the achievement of a shared purpose. The critical aspects of partnership are about deciding together and acting together. But this does not mean that all partners are involved in the same activities, it means that their contributions and actions are coordinated to create a cohesive whole.
Steps in the process
- The first step is to clarify the aims and objectives for forming a partnership. What is it intended to achieve?
- Once the aims and objectives are established it will likely be necessary to identify a number of organisations that might have similar aims and objectives in relation to the capacity development goal and then explore with them the potential and common ground for working together. This should include:
- Reviewing the mandate, role, interests, approach, motivation, expectations and existing capacity of each organisation that might join the partnership
- Creating a vision and shared agenda for action – ‘What can we do together and how?’
- Further questions to help explore the relevant issues include:
- What, if any, governance structure would this the partnership need?
- What will be the agreed indicators of mutual trust and respect?
- What will we do to resolve conflicts?
- What can we do to ensure that as we work together we all grow and strengthen?
- How can we monitor the impact the partnership has on each of the partners?
- How long will this partnership last and how will we bring it to a close when it is no longer needed?
- Consideration is also needed about whether each potential partner needs some capacity development of their own in order to be able to fulfil their role in the partnership.
- When agreement has been reached a partnership document should be drawn up to cover core aspects of the agreement plus important operational factors such as: how power for decision making is to be distributed among the partners; partnership management and accountability; planning, monitoring and evaluation of activities; communication and information sharing; how to systematise learning; shared values that will underpin the work; and, mechanisms for regular and ongoing consultation between partners to review both how the work is progressing, and how well the partnership is working.
Some lessons learned about partnerships
- Setting up a good partnership takes time. Rushing negotiations or bypassing important steps in reaching agreement can result in problems because essential aspects of the partnership have not been clarified at the start. This is especially true of scale up because it can be very complicated to get one organisation to understand, adapt and adopt content and process to their own context when it has been developed by another organisation in different context. Apart from dealing with differences in the context the original organisation might be reluctant to see their process changed and the receiving organisations might want to make inappropriate changes to impose their own ideas. All steps in the transfer therefore need careful management and monitoring.
- Attention needs to be given to the partnership itself, not just to the work it is set up to do. A partnership of any size and scale will need specific support mechanisms, for example a secretariat to facilitate the flow of communication and learning, and other aspects of implementation.
- Shared working practices in partnerships can lead to some very big changes in each of the partner organisations and these need to be acknowledged and managed.
- There will be no sustainable capacity development unless the target participants are appropriately involved in some aspects of the partnership arrangements.
Case study from the FAO: Farmer Field Schools on Integrated Pest Management for Cotton in India
A long-standing partnership between the Government of India and FAO facilitated central and state governments, development partners and a range of other organisations and groups to come together over more than a decade to scale up a successful capacity development initiative. At different times some or all of the following were involved in the work: policy makers in central government; the FAO and the European Union; policy makers and agriculture extension staff from state government; national and international scientists and agriculture experts; research institutes; non-government organisation staff; and, experts and facilitators in participatory approaches. In the later stages alumni farmers worked as facilitators and their alumni groups became an important resource for the extension support activities. As a result, across four states there are is now the capacity to train up to 100,000 a year in a proven integrated pest management methodology for cotton production. This example shows how a diverse range of actors can each contribute to the overall goal, even though they don’t all work directly together or at the same time. The partnerships operated in different ways for different needs and steps in the process.
Looking at the list it can be seen that the partners involved fell into some key groupings, namely: decision makers; funders; experts; implementers; and, participants. Sometimes one agency might fall into more than one of those categories, for example many funding agencies have their own experts who provide valuable knowledge and skills resources in addition to money. While this is not a fixed list that can be applied to every capacity development process, it is likely that over the life of any initiative partnerships will be needed with agencies in all of those groups, and maybe more. Another type of partner might be an ally: someone who is not directly involved but who is interested in the agenda and is therefore willing to offer support, information exchange and so on.
The factors which contributed to the success of the programme are the following:
Government commitment: The Government is committed to innovative approaches to building the capacities of its extension service to meet farmers’ needs, and supported the introduction of the FFS approach leading to a new National Policy for Farmers in 2007.
Stable/strategic allocation of resources: The central government and governments of three states have allocated funds to programmes of farmer training in cotton IPM since 2002.
Appropriate pedagogical design of training: Training programmes for farmers and extensionists were learner-focused, with duration and content selected to match individual development goals. Learners were actively engaged over an entire cropping season, gaining practical experience and refining their analytical and decision-making skills.
Mix of modalities of intervention: A range of international meetings, workshops, and seminars were organised as complementary instruments to sensitise policy-makers on the need to adopt educational programmes enhancing farmers’ knowledge.
Quality of technical inputs and monitoring: Appropriately proficient FFS facilitators, committed to the Field School approach and working closely with government officials, were essential to stimulate participation by farmers and enable discovery learning. Governments established an appropriate system to monitor quality in FFS.
Support to collective action and empowerment: The community approach in FFS supported group formation and empowerment, generating income and fostering socio-cultural activities.
Interactions between different stakeholders: Interactions were facilitated between scientific institutions, universities, and policy-makers at state and central level, creating effective partnerships for integrated strategies/approaches.
Lessons learned and opportunities
FFSs have been used as a capacity development approach in India, both by local governments and by other FAO projects, since the end of the FAO-EU IPM Cotton Programme in Asia. However, the institutionalization process is facing challenges in maintaining the quality of training while expanding and extending the approach on a large-scale.
Among the practical constraints to scaling up the adoption of FFS have been the delayed releases of funds to support FFSs, the lack of coordination between stakeholders and the overload that FFS organization places on local extension officers. It seems that a higher integration of the rural development strategies could mitigate some of these problems.
To date, FFS programmes in India have focused on increasing farm productivity and reducing the cost of production. The present food price crisis is showing the need to support farmers beyond the farm gate to escape poverty. Improving agriculture productivity and resilience has not offered a way out of a subsistence livelihood for the majority of the poorest farmers. Low farm-gate prices and competition from large-scale producers threaten to keep small and marginal farmers trapped in poverty. The relaxation of the post-independence political instruments regulating domestic trade of national commodities has facilitated the entry of larger private companies into agri-businesses, which have rapidly established vegetable and cereal retail chains across the nation.However, small farmers are not directly linked to the market and are therefore unable to derive financial benefits from improved marketing arrangements.
New tools and specific FFS components are needed to address these issues. FFS programmes could be used explicitly to strengthen farmers’ capacity to organize them to meet market demand and should support pro-poor marketing approaches. FFSs should build more organizational capacity to enable farmers to add value to agro-products for local markets. They should also serve as platforms to link farmers’ organizations to big retail chains. In some limited areas and for specialized crops, they could also provide access to export opportunities.
An opportunity emerges: growing environmental concern has set an increasing domestic and global demand for ‘clean’ products. To date, IPM products, such as cotton, have been commercialized in local markets without any premium being paid. FFS could support the federations of small farmers’ organizations to develop niche products and microenterprises to capture this additional value.
This page is drawn from the following resources
Big Lottery Fund, Working in partnership: a sourcebook
Capacity.org Issue 30, Partnerships for service delivery and Issue 27, Partnerships and Networks (no longer available online)
Improvement Network, Finding your common ground in partnerships
Kingdom of Belgium, Federal Public Service, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade And Development Cooperation (2010) Evaluation of NGO partnerships aimed at capacity development,
World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Partnership Toolbox ( Section 4.1 on quality of partnerships)
The Partnering Initiative, offers several useful resources: The Partnering Toolbook, The Brokering Guidebook, and Moving On (which addresses the exit aspects of a partnership – a part of the cycle often unplanned or mishandled). All available at http://thepartneringinitiative.org/
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