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[EN] Innovation Hub Blog

Successful partnerships for system change; the extra mile

What characterises successful partnership strategies? What is required to achieve system change from a perspective of the context, the partnership and positioning yourself? After 8 years of working through 16 public, private and multi-actor partnerships, Woord en Daad asked itself: what exactly is the influence we have through our partnerships on system change outcomes? And are the partnerships we are funding indeed applying adaptive management as we assume this is important for achieving system change?

By Pascal Ooms – Woord en Daad

23 oktober 2023

How the study was done

Woord en Daad studied both valuable insights from practitioner literature and conducted a survey among funding partners (like Netherlands Enterprise Agency, Norad and Dutch MoFA), southern partnership representatives, and internal project leaders. A framework was formulated and tested based on the literature study. With a comprehensive interviewing round, they made a deep dive.

Woord en Daad looked at a portfolio of 16 projects between 2015 and 2022, for which we were in the lead, ranging from public-private partnerships, multi-actor partnerships, and system change initiatives. The results are published in the report ‘Analysis Partnerships aimed at System Change’ (January 2023) and can be found here:

Open the analysis

Major outcomes of the study: the big four for system change

The analysis showed there are three strong and significant correlations between the following components:

  1. Favourable funding mechanisms of government donors,
  2. Understanding and application of adaptive management,
  3. Continuous context mapping and analysis;
  4. These correlations are reinforced by orchestrating and collaborative leadership for conditions for system change.

Together, we call this the ‘BIG FOUR’.

The partnership strategy for achieving system change thus requires an approach in which the donor understands and allows for an adaptive (and thus partly ‘unknown’) activity scope. Members of the partnership continuously look beyond the borders of their intervention to see what happens in the system (the wider intervention context) and adjust accordingly. For the partnership, this means navigating towards desired system behaviour instead of the successful implementation of a pre-defined project. In terms of positioning, this means being in touch with a range of stakeholders not directly in the partnership. A strong orchestrating role needs to be played to keep an overview of developments in the context. The give-and-take of partnership members and communicating to all sides required manoeuvres for the sake of the system change ambition. Compared to the ‘project implementation’ we know, this asks for a very deliberate extra mile from all involved!