The first meeting of the OECD LEED Forum of Partnerships and Local Governance confirmed that there is a demand for exchanging and comparing concrete experience and practices on partnerships and governance issues internationally. 139 experts from 33 countries, from the European Union and South-East Europe to North America and Asia Pacific, participated in lively debates in Vienna on 26-27 April 2005.
Despite a wide span of backgrounds, several views converged. Participants reaffirmed the need to take an integrated approach to economic development and social cohesion issues locally. Partnership helps combine resources from government, business and civil society, establish a joint strategy and support local initiatives. It was also clear from the discussions that partnership is a fragile construction. Built on trust, goodwill and volunteers, they can achieve great results and then disappear quickly.
Demonstration, evaluation, dissemination, transparency and accountability are key words for the success of partnerships. Partnership should work hand in hand with government, not in parallel. This means that activities should be steered and monitored jointly. The impact from working in partnership should be made clear, and disseminated widely. Evaluation should be rigorous. Proceedings should be transparent. In other words, partnership should be a normal way of working.
And yet, partnership is a different way of working. The conference raised two issues that make partnership different, and which call for further work. The first is evaluation. Partnerships’ output is broader than projects. It encompasses improvements in governance: partnerships stimulate, facilitate, co-ordinate. A result of their work may be to cancel an action that would otherwise be carried out. Such role is hardly glamorous. However, governance outcomes are no less relevant than concrete programmes. For accountability reasons and to nurture commitment, they should be recorded, monitored and duly evaluated. How can we keep track of governance outcomes? A second issue is the critical importance of skills and capacities locally. We are well in the age of networks, and yet working effectively in networks is not easy nor obvious. Bureaucratic, administrative and political concerns clash in miscomprehensions over sub-optimal uses of resources. Clearly, effective partnership depends on a core structure that has expertise in a wide range of fields (project management, organisation, strategic thinking, resource management, evaluation); on members in constituencies who know what is there to gain from partnership, and what is to be contributed; and on a civil society that is well organised and represented. How can we identify the skills gap on these three levels in order to tailor capacity building more accurately?
Read the conclusions in the second e-newsletter , published in May 2005.