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Newsletter, October 2006

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Partnerships - the missing links in sustainable development

The end of September saw a remarkable gathering convened by the Prince of Wales's International Business Leaders Forum, the Cambridge Programme on Industry and the Overseas Development Institute.

Some 130 specialists in brokering and managing partnerships arrived from all over the world to discuss the importance of partnering to sustainable development and to sign a declaration to this effect. They build partnerships among business, governments and non-government organisations in contexts ranging from the Ogoni delta in Nigeria to Aboriginal communities in Australia. You can see the final declaration at www.thepartnershipdeclaration.org.

What has this got to do with Dialogue by Design and engagement processes? Those of you who have attended one of our training events know that we always start by explaining that 'consultation' and 'engagement' come in different forms across what we call the 'Spectrum of Engagement'. One part of this Spectrum is devoted to 'collaboration' such as, for example, Local Strategic Partnerships.

We emphasise collaboration and partnerships because many of the problems we face, whether in local communities or in the wider world, cannot be solved by any of us working alone. Conventional forms of engagement and consultation need to be supplemented, if not replaced, by more pro-active forms of partnership.

This is particularly true of sustainable development issues such as waste and resource management, climate change and energy use - issues that feature regularly as the subject of consultation processes.

There is another aspect of partnerships that we should also value. In recent editions of this newsletter we have advocated the use of engagement processes as a prelude to conflict resolution. Partnerships, at their best, are a potent means of conflict prevention. The partnering processes discussed at Cambridge last month centre on the need to create structures and relationships resistant to the common causes of conflict, and this was indeed the focus of Dialogue by Design’s input at the event.

We concentrated on planning partnerships in a way that identifies areas of possible conflict at the outset so that steps can be taken to prevent it. We stressed three main points:

1. Partnership planning needs to identify clearly the ambitions, priorities and benefits or potential benefits of the partnership for each partner.

2. The planning stage also needs to address the internal divisions, external uncertainties and differences of power and culture that can scramble communications and inhibit the openness that effective partnering demands.

3. Every partnership has to balance three things: the needs of individual partners, the needs of the partnership as a collective, and the needs of the project whose needs the partnership is designed to meet. Any emphasis of one of these sets of needs over another is likely to cause problems within the partnership.

We are pleased and proud to have contributed to The Partnership Declaration, and we share the Prince of Wales's belief that this event is "a milestone in the worldwide movement towards sustainable development through partnership".

Andrew Acland is an external examiner for the professional Partnership Brokers Accreditation Scheme (PBAS) initiated by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF). For further information about PBAS please go to http://www.odi.org.uk/pppg/PBAS/index.html.

For further information about partnering or preventing or resolving conflict within partnerships, please contact [email protected].


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