Partnerships for Sustainable Development:
An Inclusive, Cross-Sector Approach
Paper by Ruth Findlay-Brooks, Wayne Visser and Thurstan Wright
Cross-sector partnerships are increasingly being seen as a key development approach for the 21st Century, with many governments and international agencies viewing them as the most effective way to deal with complex and intractable development problems that have defeated single-sector interventions.
However, partnerships are not a straightforward option. Some see them as merely a “phase of policy experimentation” (Geddes, 2000, p797) – a short-term response to rapid global change. There can also be issues of accountability and power imbalance, when un-elected corporations and NGOs have influence in states where governments are weak or failing. Even where they are the best solution, there can be real obstacles in both the development and management of partnerships which are too easily ignored.
This research draws on the University of Cambridge Programme for Industry’s (CPI’s) many years’ experience of partnership work – and in particular on the experiences of those running and participating in the Postgraduate Certificate in Cross-sector Partnership (PCCP) course.
Through exploring the experiences of these partnership practitioners, together with current thinking on the topic, the paper concludes that, if we are relying on partnerships to bring about structural change and long-term development impacts, then they need to be firmly tied into genuinely inclusive consultation processes, operate within accountability frameworks, be properly supported and evaluated, and where appropriate lead ultimately to policy change.
Following the perceived shortcomings of the 1980s Structural Adjustment Programmes in developing countries, public/private partnerships or tri-sector partnerships are perceived as a more sustainable option, with donor agencies giving direct budget support to governments, along with the encouragement of partnership between development agencies, national governments and business. Tennyson asserts (2004, p3) that “only with comprehensive and widespread cross-sector collaboration can we ensure that sustainable development initiatives are imaginative, coherent and integrated enough to tackle the most intractable problems.”
The increasing popularity of partnership as a development solution, however, makes it all the more important to take a realistic view and to test the assumptions made about it. Two common pitfalls need to be avoided:
- that the act of setting up a partnership is seen in itself as having taken action on a problem, irrespective of its appropriateness or outcomes; and
- that cross-sector partnership is seen as a friendly, straightforward solution to development issues, resisting efforts to problematise, question or test its effectiveness.
Unless a more robust and realistic approach is taken to partnering as a development approach, then it risks suffering a backlash from unmet, unrealistic expectations which could result in its positive potential being lost. For this reason, we have endeavoured to take a critical approach to the findings of this study and look at ways in which partnership can, if it is to offer a successful way of aiding inclusive development, be supported through planning and policy …
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Cite this article
Findlay-Brooks, R., Visser, W. & Wright, T. (2007) Partnerships for Sustainable Development: An Inclusive, Cross-Sector Approach Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership Paper Series, No. 4.