Action research

What makes a good partnership? How to make a good partnership better? An action-research program led by the Partnerships Resource Centre in Rotterdam is helping to find the answers.

The research provides insights on how the design and structure of partnership arrangements contribute to (or hinder) inclusive development, and how these arrangements could be improved. The findings also help to identify leverage points for scaling out successful partnership models.

The basic tool is the Theory of Change, which is essentially a causal framework connecting the actions and strategies of a partnership to a sequence of events and intended outcomes. The researchers worked with field teams to develop Theory-of-Change frameworks for 32 partnerships, covering a range of commodities in seven countries. A customized information management system, designed by the research team, helps compile and analyze data on each partnership. The key is to begin at the end – identify what outcomes you want, and work backwards. What interventions, and in what sequence, are needed to achieve these outcomes? What are the risks and how can they be avoided?

These frameworks are not simply theoretical; they are being used in day-to-day implementation, to identify risks and tensions within a group, to monitor change, and to refine the partnership’s strategies to make it more inclusive and more creative. Detailed case studies in five countries have led to a deeper understanding of how partnerships contribute to inclusive development. Specifically, the studies look at whether and how the arrangements between companies and farmers (or cluster actors) influence the terms of inclusion. One study in Uganda examines sourcing arrangements (supply contracts) between beer companies and sorghum farmers. A comparative study in Benin, Mali and Nigeria investigates how food processors or buyers ensure a reliable supply of raw materials while balancing two conflicting requirements – farmer loyalty to a single company versus the farmer’s freedom to look for alternative buyers. Studies in Benin and Ethiopia focus on low-cost approaches in niche markets. They examine how the development and marketing of nutritious but affordable food products for poor consumers affects the terms of inclusion for small-scale farmers and women marketers.

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