Partnering for Effective Development Outcomes: 10 years, 10 Lessons
Partnering and collaboration has been the EDP’s core business over the past decade, and we have accumulated many different partnering lessons learnt through trial and error, listening to our partners, codifying our methodologies, and practicing the ‘EDP way’.
Our Partnering Framework combines theoretical and systems knowledge with practical tools and instructions grounded in experience, allowing us to guide people and their organisations on journeys of change for the benefit of all society. We share our top ten lessons as an intermediary organisation.
- Collaboration adds value: It is hard for one entity to deliver solutions to complex problems on its own. Combining energy and resources across sectors exponentially increases solving power and delivers collective impact. Realising this is the starting point of a partnering journey.
- Start with the system not the mandate: Look for systems – with their interdependencies and relationships, and patterns and cycles of recurring behaviour – not mandates. The challenge is that people don’t work for a system but rather a department or organisation. People and organisations should be enabled to ‘see’ their place in the system behind their mandate.
- People need to feel safe to do things differently: Change making requires stakeholders to work closely together, step beyond mandates and act, despite uncertainties in the system, to create real change in society – a way of working that is characterised by experimentation and failure. A fear of failure and its potential consequences often prevent actors from experimenting and adapting. We encourage partners to change this by creating spaces within which stakeholders feel confident enough to innovate.
- Focus is key: Avoid attempting to cover too much ground too soon. Partnerships deliver results quicker and more effectively if they focus on specifics. Start by getting agreement on the problem, rather than the solution. Then determine who needs to work together to make things happen on this issue.
- Establish mutual goals: People don’t have to agree on everything to collaborate. Start by getting agreement on a few common goals and steps to take together, despite possible differences, towards a shared vision. Effective partnering is based on encouraging win-win solutions, not win-lose negotiations, so encourage partners to take off their organisational hats.
- Partnering is a verb, partnership a noun: Promote joint action (the verb) as soon as possible. A partnering process can get side-tracked if too much time is spent on debating governance arrangements and structures (the noun). Trust is best built by doing things together.
- Listen twice, talk once: Successful collaboration depends on an ability to listen openly and deeply to what others are saying. Even if you disagree with another’s position or beliefs – listen for the message behind the statement. Talk to communicate, not dictate.
- We feel before we think: Human beings don’t always start with what is logical, so evidence-based planning doesn’t always work. In a partnering process, ‘soft’ issues of history, memory, identity, and culture often carry the same value as ‘hard’ data and information do, so don’t shy away from these issues.
- Relationships are critical but require effort: We know collaboration is essential to meaningfully address development challenges, yet often ignore that relationships are the bedrock of impactful collaboration and need to be truly valued. Relationship building doesn’t happen automatically either – it requires intentional effort. The most successful collaborations dedicate time and resources to building and maintaining relationships between partners.
- Unacknowledged power can disrupt collaboration: A neutral platform is essential if all partners are to engage meaningfully, especially if positions and levels of authority are unequal. This requires that both formal and informal power dynamics are acknowledged, so that they can be formally addressed through the governance platform supporting the collaboration. Perceptions of power dynamics can be disruptive if some partners feel that the process is unfair or that one voice is louder than others.
This article features in our special commemorative EDP10 publication ‘10 Years of Partnering and Collaboration in Action, celebrating a decade of effective partnering and collaboration.