Perspectives on partnership: A literature review

By Douglas Horton, Consultant, Gordon Prain, International Potato Center,
Graham Thiele, International Potato Center, November 2009. 101 pages

Hard copy available via the IPC website

Download pdf here


This paper reports on a wide-ranging review of the literature on partnerships and other closely related forms of collaboration. It aims to contribute to knowledge of the actual and potential roles of partnership in international agricultural research for development.

The paper summarizes conclusions and insights from four distinct professional literatures: research studies; professional evaluation literature; practitioner-oriented reviews, guidelines and assessment tools; and CGIAR-related reviews, evaluations and policy documents. It identifies and analyzes key cross-cutting themes and success factors, highlights gaps in current knowledge, and identifies high-potential areas for further study. A wide range of research-based publications is reviewed, including studies in such fields as management and organizational development, public administration, economics and international development. Work in these fields covers such diverse topics as the role of inter-organizational collaboration in strategic management, public–private and cross-sector partnerships, North–South partnerships, roles of partnership in linking research with action, networking and transactions costs.

The different literatures talk little to each other and are highly  self-referential. Nevertheless, some common patterns, themes and concerns emerge related to definitions, partnership drivers and dynamics, trust and mutuality, power asymmetries and inequities, and success factors.

It is noteworthy that empirical studies of partnerships are rare, particularly in-depth case studies. Theoretical pieces seldom present empirical tests of hypotheses, and practical guidelines are seldom grounded in theory. There is a clear need for more systematic and in-depth empirical research on partnership experiences.

Although partnership is now considered an essential way of working in many fields, several authors caution that the costs of working in partnership may often exceed the benefits. Before establishing a partnership, one should identify a clear value-added proposition.

Many reports on partnership prepared for the CGIAR are available only in grey  literature, leading to difficulties in accessing them and risking a loss of knowledge. Gaps in knowledge are identified at the level of individual partnerships, the level of the organizations that participate in or manage portfolios of partnerships, and the level of research or innovation domains that are characterized by networks of partnerships.

A Transaction Cost-Based Approach to Partnership Performance Evaluation

Denis Jobin

National Crime Prevention Center, Public Safety Canada, Canada,,

Partnerships are often considered an alternative way to deliver programs provided by governments and organizations (potentially) more cost effectively. However, this assumption needs to be verified. Evaluators and auditors now face a challenge: how to assess the performance of this hybrid organizational form.This article suggests one powerful way of evaluating partnerships: transaction cost economics (TCE). A key hypothesis of TCE is that partners choose a governance structure that minimizes transaction costs (TCs). If a partnership’s governance structure is misaligned with its transactions, higher TCs will decrease the partnership’s performance. Hence, measuring the partnership’s TCs is essential. After defining what constitutes a partnership, the article introduces the TC framework. It then identifies relevant factors in the literature affecting partnership performance. It concludes with key steps in applying the framework and shows how it fits into partnership performance evaluation.

Key Words: evaluation partnership • performance • transaction cost

Evaluation, Vol. 14, No. 4, 437-465 (2008)
DOI: 10.1177/1356389008095487

BOND Quality Group meeting: Managing partnerships

Date: 8 October, Time: 13.30 to 17.00
Venue: VSO International, Carlton House, 27A Carlton Drive, Putney SW15 2BS, London, UK

Topic: Managing Partnerships: what does it mean for quality and effectiveness?

Many INGOs operate in partnership with national and local NGOs. The tools we use to manage these relationships have a major effect on everyone involved, and the effectiveness, quality and relevance of our work. This session will offer an opportunity to engage with two initiatives which focus on making these relationships work better.

  • Tracey Martin will present the Barefoot Collective’s approach to supporting organisations to develop their potential to bring about change.
  • Natalia Kiryttopoulou will share Keystone Accountability’s feedback surveys which help organisations understand how partners perceive their work.

These approaches present exciting challenges to the way that we manage performance and measure results with partners. Come along to join the discussion!

This is an open event, for BOND members and others. Please pass this invitation on to others who may be interested.

BOND members can reserve their place online at Click on the ‘Quality Group’ then ‘Meetings’.

Non- members should send an email Ivan Kent at .

Follow the links below to find out more about these presentations:

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