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6. Training module on partnership building

What is partnership?

Partnerships are intended for joint solving of problems, resource exchange, cooperation, coordination and coalition building. The relationship among partners can be temporary (local bodies, including government, grassroots NGO’s) or permanent.

A partnership brings together institutional capabilities and human resources in the form of skills, experiences and ideas to tackle common problems that are often beyond the capacity of a single organization or group. Examples: (i) government agency like the Ministry of Education accepting the ‘help’ of a local NGO and local elected body to enhance literacy in a village; (ii) a local community-based organization (CBO) jointly with local industry associations and elected members of local council, discuss the problem of land degradation caused by industrial activities and agree on the implementation of a joint activity to address the problem.

Types of partnership

Networks - The relationships among partners within networks are often less formal or informal. The main purpose of most networks is to exchange information among members [e.g. Voluntary Action Network India (VANI), a network of voluntary agencies, NGOs, CBOs] and to share experiences in their local activities.

Coordination - Relations among members are more closely linked. Definition of specific tasks among organizations, which require resources (for representation, management, fulfillment of specific tasks) beyond information sharing.

Collaboration - Relations among members are strong with functional more broad ranging areas defined for joint activities. (e.g. Network of Collaborating Regional Support Organizations - India).

Principles of partnership


Trust is the most important if the partnership crosses many boundaries - interpersonal, inter-institutional, cross cultural - at the same time. In such conditions, relationships are open to risk of misunderstanding and there is need for a clear expression of interest and aspiration on both sides.

Transparency among partners is the basis for a solid and honest relationship. A relationship that involves the transfer of resources (e.g. from a government department to local bodies or from a government department to NGOs or from a donor to NGOs/local bodies, etc.) requires that strict business principles be followed, such as reporting, accountability and good stewardship. Yet, in most cases we have to depend on a relationship based on trust rather than legal conditions and threats of punitive action.


In this case, the partnership relations are open to dialogue and exchange of views. Respect is of utmost importance.


Solidarity means sensitivity and commitment to the problems, efforts and constraints of other partners particularly of those living in conditions of poverty and oppression. It implies a readiness to respond appropriately and in a timely manner to varied needs. If partners (even just one of the partners) are only ‘doing’ for the poor without ‘commitment’, it will be difficult to attack the roots of the real problems. Solidarity is not just a catch word; it means response to real needs and constraints based upon respect and equality in the partner relationships.


Any partnership involves rights and obligations. It is a major challenge when one partner has the resources and the other has to ask for it, or one has the power to decide who gets funds and how much, and the other is accountable for their use. There is no fully satisfactory answer to this dilemma. That fact, however, does not make partnership a less desirable ideal. It is an ideal worthy of much effort.

Requirements of effective partnership

Governments in many Asian countries have launched a massive programme of decentralization and have empowered their community institutions through local democracy. Many governments and NGOs are extending support to make this programme a success. Yet, NGOs are often skeptical of the role of local bodies in rural development.

There is also a certain amount of tension in the relationship between grassroots voluntary organizations and public agencies, despite some common interests. Both believe in decentralization and the great potential of civic action at the grassroots level. Yet, the cooperative relationship, which ought to exist between elected local bodies and the NGOs, is often lacking. Similarly, cooperation between government staff and the members of local elected bodies is missing.

Sources of conflicts in a partnership

  1. Value disagreements.
  2. Personality conflicts.
  3. Communication misunderstandings.
  4. Doubts about priority need for partnership.
  5. Confusion over differing degrees of members’ autonomy.
  6. Different power interests.

Table 8.1 Exercise on collecting data on sources of conflict in a partnership. (Format to be used)

Example of possible conflict sources


Level of Importance

This is a source of conflict because of differences over:






Perceived power to influence decision

The importance of resources received or expected from other partner.

How little some members know about the partnership

The acceptance of partnership’s purpose and objectives

Interpersonal styles

Perceptions of other partner’s ability to contribute constructively

The real or hidden motive of the other partner

The impact of the external environment on the partnership.

How to address/reduce partnership conflicts

Conflict management in partnerships should focus on encouraging open communication and ways of negotiating expressed differences to meet at least some of the needs of all partners.

  1. Choose a person who is seen as being neutral to serve as a process observer. The role of this observer can vary from keeping time, offering clarification or remarks, to suggesting possible ways of managing or resolving the conflict. It is important, however, that all partners agree upon the process observer’s role.

  2. Select a specific conflict that is important to the partnership and the partners concerned.

  3. Have the conflicting partners state their positions without interruption.

  4. Have each opposing partner paraphrase the other side’s explanations or point of view. This effort to understand more clearly and fully each other’s position often results in useful conflict management. However, more work may be needed.

  5. Start an open dialogue for questioning, obtaining more information and further explanation. This helps ensure that each side understands the other. As the dialogue continues, it is necessary to move beyond explanations. This would require two interacting skills - both parties should behave assertively and cooperatively.

  6. Summarize the position of each party, emphasizing their major points of view. Provide an opportunity to each party to correct misinformation or clarify points.

Future perspectives

A community meeting on future perspectives in local development planning is a way to create a shared vision for partnership building. It enrols those stakeholders, who have the power of information on the topics at hand and those who are affected by the outcomes.

For this exercise, 64 people are involved in local networking. Form eight tables of eight stakeholder groups. Examples of such groups are young people, local authorities, local bodies, etc. They take part in a highly structured two-and-a half day process covering five stages:



Day one

Review the past

Participants write key events in their lives, in the community and the world as a whole, in three parallel time lines

Explore the present

Trends affecting the local community are analysed

Stakeholder groups identify important current trends and future perspectives

Groups share what they are proud of and sorry about in their community

Day two

Create ideal future scenarios

Small mixed groups develop visions

Barriers to the visions are identified

Each group acts out its vision

Identify shared vision

First the small groups, then the whole group, work out the shared vision; what potential projects can help realize it and any unresolved differences

Day three

Make action plans

Groups plan projects and publicly commit to their action as a collective

Features to empower participants:

  1. Principle that people are experts in their own lives. There are facilitators, but no other experts.
  2. Emphasis on self-management in small group work.
  3. Openness - everything is written on flip charts and displayed.

A future perspectives exercise is worth considering when:


People: At least one facilitator and a committed partnership group to plan and invite people.

Venue: A room large enough for 64 people to be seated in separate groups of eight and plenty of space for display.

Source: Participation works - 21 techniques of community participation for the 21st century, New Economics Foundation, London.

Joint management of sectoral programmes

A partnership between the state and civil society for the management and delivery of social and productive services to local population, particularly rural poor, is an ideal form of responsive networking by the government, with the boundaries between the citizens and the state blurred and citizens themselves making decisions.

Reasons for joint partnership in management of sectoral programs:

Case studies

Forest protection committees (FPC), West Bengal, India

There are local partnerships between forest dwellers and frontline forest officials for implementing the joint forestry management (JFM) programme in West Bengal State. This programme aims to end the adversarial relationship between forestry workers and villagers living on the forest fringe who were blamed for forest degradation. In some instances, conflicts led to violent assaults on forestry workers.

The FPCs engage local residents in the regeneration, protection, and maintenance of forests and plantation, and to keep encroachers out. In exchange, each FPC is entitled to 25 percent of the net income form timber sales and certain categories of forest produce.

However, JFM has not met with success elsewhere in India where service providers from the bottom to the top of the forest department have been reluctant to cede management responsibilities and rights of forest produce to the local people.

In this successful west Bengal case, frontline workers were responsible for pushing the forest administration for full implementation of JFM. Indeed, they mobilized client communities to seek more participation and rights to forest produce. They did so because of a collective interest - expressed through their union - in ending the violence and intimidation they faced from villagers and in improving their working conditions.

Watershed management, India

According to Government of India guidelines issued in 1994, local level watershed management in rainfed areas is to be subject to community control. The guidelines list progressive arrangements to ensure community mobilization and autonomous planning and management of rainwater conservation constructions.

All community residents in the watershed area are members of a watershed association, which appoints a committee with representatives of user groups, a local community-based organization, and the Gram Panchayat. This committee conveys local needs to the Project Implementation Agency (PIA), which can be a government agency or an NGO appointed by the District Rural Development Agency. The PIA can seek the committee’s help in mobilizing community funding or labour to implement or manage watershed control facilities.

There are very few cases of full or successful implementation of these guidelines and the rare successes depend on proactive NGOs or community groups putting pressure on authorities for proper implementation. Otherwise, watershed committees and user groups are simply set up by authorities to meet targets. Success also depends on the capacity of the civil society partner to generate substantial funds to compensate for resource scarcities in the administration with just 50 percent of PIA staff costs being covered by the government.

Education guarantee scheme (EGS), Madhya Pradesh, India

Set up in 1997 by the Madhya Pradesh State Government, this is a rights-based initiative to universalize primary education under which the state government has guaranteed establishment of a school within 90 days of its demand by a community, which lacks easy access to a school.

The community has to show that it has 40 learners (25 in the case of tribal communities). The district provides the teacher, training and basic learning materials, while the community provides the land for the school and the Gram Panchayat appoints the teacher. Communities are encouraged to suggest a suitable local resident as the teacher to avoid teacher absenteeism.

The community supervises the functioning of the school and the maintenance of its physical facilities. Community involvement is encouraged by the threat of withdrawal of funding if dropout rates are high. Over 15 500 EGS schools were established in the first year of the scheme.

Source: Bringing citizens’ voice and client focus into service delivery. Anne Marie Goetz and John Goventa, Working paper no. 138, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) 2001.

Contributed by Chandan Datta, PRIA, New Delhi.

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