Partnership and social progress: multi-stakeholder collaboration in context
‘Partnership’ has become a buzzword in development circles. The term is used to describe almost any relationship that pools the resources of different actors to address societal challenges and concerns. Because it encompasses such a broad range of perspectives, the contention of this thesis is that partnership can only be fully understood in relation to practice. A critical assessment of a selection of my research publications is used to explore how partnership is interpreted in different contexts, why and by whom, and to what extent it might offer possibilities for achieving social progress. This review finds that partnership can be construed as both a structure and a process, and as a means to an end and an end in itself. Attention thus needs to be given to its instrumental value as a development tool and to its intrinsic worth in cementing social capital. Consideration is given to connections between these different forms of partnership and other development ‘solutions’; the complex interplay between external, organisational and individual drivers for multi-stakeholder collaboration, and evidence for the benefits of working in this way. This analysis reveals that it is hard to judge the effectiveness of partnership due to the complexity of different levels of interaction; lack of clarity on goals and motivations for partnering; and, because process-related results generally emerge in the long term, attribution is a challenge. It is thus suggested that assessments of partnership might more usefully focus on methodologies that enhance its potential to generate individual and societal value. The attributes of such ‘transformational’ arrangements, and how these compare with other collaborative connections, are examined using a typology that builds upon a transactional-transformational partnership continuum. Further investigation into the nature of stakeholder participation, and related power dynamics, indicates that partnership can both promote and embody social progress when participation is carefully facilitated by ‘partnership brokers’; embedded in sociohistoric contexts, and based upon open-ended dialogue processes that seek to comprehend different points of view rather than change them. In order to explore this potential more fully, as well as continued research into particular partnership experiences and possible alternatives, more imaginative exchanges of knowledge about working in this way are recommended.