Neil Palmer / FAO PPLPI

How Strategic Are Your Partnerships?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) elevated partnership to the level of a goal (SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals), indicating that the innovation required to shift agri-food systems to a new and sustainable level of prosperity cannot be tackled effectively by single stakeholder groups. Global Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (MSP) have been one response to the implementation challenges of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. A full range of partnership from local to global level will be needed to deliver the SDGs, giving both focus and urgency to the direction of Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) partnership policy and practice. 

AR4D in different partnership modes and impact settings

The emergence of global MSPs as a core approach of SDG efforts provides a useful opportunity for AR4D to clarify its role. Shifting to a more strategic partnership model, will mean enhancing the role of AR4D as a service provider and trusted advisor. These roles, if effectively linked to foundational science, becomes a critical component of knowledge application and systemic change agendas.

A key element of global good practice is the creation of (or at least participation in) initiatives that link local and global agendas, that address defined problems locally, but that also address system change at appropriate scales. This is challenging for research organizations as it inevitably means that its route to achieving impact at scale involves working with non-traditional partners in broader developmentally-framed architectures of MSPs of the sort implied by the SDGs. 

The second and probably the most challenging aspect of AR4D partnering with broader developmentally-framed MSPs, is that it will need to clarify its role and mode of engagement: international research agencies are unlikely to be best placed to lead global development MSPs where solutions involve much more than technology and research findings. So the challenge is defining which roles are most appropriate under different circumstances.

The ‘modes of partnership’ table below highlights the increasingly complex framing in which the CGIAR’s AR4D endeavours sit. Now, this does not suggest that any one of these modes is more important. Rather the message is that all have intrinsic value. The ability, however, for any of these modes to have impact, and the scale of that impact, is contingent on linking local to global scales,  as a way of reconciling immediate and long-term development agendas. The priority is to ensure that efforts at different levels articulate, rather than establishing new parallel and competing arrangements.

Role of AR4D in different partnership and impact settings


Strategic considerations for AR4D

The principles of comparative advantage and subsidiarity are key to building strategic partnerships, both in terms of effectiveness and in terms of capacity building. AR4D agencies need to find an appropriate way to engage with the emerging global MSP architecture and this in turn might mean a reframing of roles and responsibilities. 

A key priority for building capacity is going to be strengthening learning in and around MSP practice. The development of widely accepted evaluative and analytical frameworks to help assess partnership performance is important. AR4D organisations could and should play a much stronger role in developing these frameworks. 

Recognising the different modes of partnership and their interrelatedness provides a lens to explore innovation and partnership practice. CGIAR’s understanding of the wider system in which it operates, and the ability to ensure the continuous improvement of innovation and partnership practice at different operational and governance levels will be central to its contribution to the SDGs.

Submit your comment