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Making partnerships work: The FDW programme approach

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An essential element of FDW projects is working in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Over 10 years, FDW has developed a unique portfolio of 42 partnerships. But what exactly are partnerships, and how do they work best? The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) has funded a PPP reflection study co-created by IRC Wash and Partnership in Practice. Ella Lammers, senior advisor at RVO, and Ken Caplan from Partnerships in Practice talk about the study on making partnerships work.

FDW partnerships are as diverse as the contexts in which they operate, which makes it difficult to make generalisations about their structure, effectiveness, and impact. Diversity aside, all partnerships use different stakeholders' much-needed skills and resources. Partnerships may contribute to greater acceptance of proposed solutions, a higher level of integration around proposed responses, and a more substantial chance of ensuring that approaches and solutions are sustained over time due to greater local ownership.

"Over 150 partners are engaged in FDW projects, working in 24 countries. This has resulted in a portfolio that spans many PPP models and approaches."

What do partnerships focus on?

Ken Caplan is the author of the policy brief that came from the analysis. He says, "We assumed we could categorise partnerships according to the themes they are working on, such as Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), and Water Efficiency. Instead, we found something else. We started to see other patterns. Partnerships focus on specific goals rather than themes."

The study showed 3 types of goals:
1.    Reshaping the rules. Partnerships aimed at influencing policy.
2.    Reinforcing public institutes. Partnerships that focus on institution building.
3.    Responding to a public need with market solutions. Partnerships whose aim is to provide a product or service delivery at the local level.

Ella Lammers explains, "The 3 types of goals capture the essence of the FDW portfolio well. It fits. Once Ken explained it to me, they seemed very logical. The process of categorising the projects seems easy now, but it was not. It took us several rounds of trying. Knowing these focus goals now makes understanding and explaining our partnerships easier."

"No category is more important or better than the other. The challenge is to recognise which approach will yield the optimal result or is the most workable and appropriate in a given context."

How do partnerships achieve change?

After the categorisation, we worked out the role of each type of partner for each of the 3 focus goals. This gives future partnerships and RVO a framework to better assess and guide partnerships and their roles. Ken says, "Understanding your context and starting point as a partnership is important to achieve change, to give people access to whatever it is they are lacking." The policy note summarises the findings. A more detailed report includes case studies of projects from a specific category. This report accompanies the policy note and is aimed at implementers and PPPs.

"The conversations in the FDW partnerships are more likely to lead to a strategic, joint understanding of the tipping points that will transform a situation rather than just tinkering around the edges."

The difference a partnership can make

Ken explains, "For a partnership to be successful, partners should understand each other's leverage points and incentives. There has to be a way to optimise partner contributions and engagement. Over time, partnerships may evolve from one category or focus goal to another. A partnership working on market solutions may evolve into a partnership changing the rules by involving the relevant public authorities to strengthen necessary rules and regulations."

An essential element is partnership monitoring and evaluation. Ella concludes, "Of course, it is important to understand how many people benefit from the FDW projects. But it is more important that we aim for system change to get to the point where stakeholders can continue their interventions without external support. We should keep this in mind when monitoring cost-effectiveness."

Working in partnerships can lead to sustainable and inclusive impact. How? By taking a long-term perspective on development, building consensus and developing shared objectives, and complementing and building on each other's strengths and responsibilities.

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