Between 1999 and 2003, the OECD conducted an in-depth study of area-based partnerships in which it examined the experience of 14 countries. The first results, released in 2001 with the publication Local Partnerships for Better Governance , revealed that the main impact of partnerships is to improve local governance. Three factors contributing to this outcome were identified. First, in all the countries surveyed, partnerships stimulate the uptake of public programmes in a way that is consistent with locally-shared priorities. Second, partnerships combine public programmes with local initiatives, and in so doing, support the development of these initiatives. Third, there are many instances in which partnerships have influenced the targeting of public programmes better to meet local needs. Partnerships may also be involved in other types of activity, but most of their impact on local governance is achieved through the impact of the three factors reviewed.
The involvement of partnerships in the delivery of services and programmes to the population appears to be comparatively weak. This comes as a surprise: most local partnerships seek to enhance their profile in this area and to deliver employment, social, training or business services, depending on their area of specialisation. Most partnerships undertake fund-raising activities towards both the public and private sectors with a view to reinforcing their capacity to develop services and projects. But the amount they obtain for such activities is in general fairly low compared to the resources of public institutions operating in the same fields (for example, the Irish partnerships’ total programme budget corresponds to 3% of the outlays on active labour market policies delivered by the public employment service). From a local governance perspective this can be seen as a good thing since emphasis on service delivery by partnership-based organisations is often associated with conflictual relationships among the partners and a distribution of tasks inconsistent with the skills and competence that the various organisations can provide. Though partnerships fill policy gaps and bring benefits to the local community, some of the new services developed by partnerships may be delivered more effectively by the public services (possibly through delegation to the private and non-profit sectors). Moreover, delivery of services in parallel with the public sector reduces the scope for the latter to learn new techniques of working and improving its methods. The impact on governance is greatest when the partnership helps the partners, including the public services, to do a better job.
In sum, partnership is a valuable tool. It can have a significant impact on local governance, as long as it is seen by the partners as a way to improve their action, not as a substitute for action. There are, however, a number of obstacles to this. Effective partnership working is often impeded by: a) a disconnection between national policy objectives and local goals. This can happen even when national ministries set the goals for partnerships and are represented in the partnerships; b) the limited administrative flexibility of many public programmes, including those which are relevant to local economic and employment development; c) weak accountability relationships, between the various partners, between the partnership and the public, and between the representatives and their constituency; and d) a tendency for partnership-based organisations to be process-driven as they seek to secure their continuity.
A series of recommendations has been made to overcome these obstacles. The recommendations aim to improve the policy management and accountability frameworks of the various partners, including central government, and to make them consistent with a partnership approach. This “strategy to improve governance through partnerships”, has been endorsed by the LEED Directing Committee. For more information, please contact Sylvain.Giguere@oecd.org
A strategy to improve governance through partnerships