Designing comprehensive partnership agreements with the Partnering Agreement Scorecard

blogimage_PartnershipAgreementsEvery week, we see new, fascinating research emerging that provides practical insight into solving society’s most complex issues  intersector issues. Practitioners continually tell us they are interested in this research but lack the time and resources to extract takeaways that are truly meaningful to their work. This is why we profile research here on our blog with a focus on practitioners. Today, researcher Stella Pfisterer walks us through the Partnering Agreement Scorecard, a tool from the Partnerships Resource Centre and The Partnering Initiative that was developed through extensive research on the range of potential issues that can be covered by partnership agreements.

By Stella Pfisterer, Research Associate at the Partnerships Resource Centre, Rotterdam School of Management at the Erasmus University

At some point in every cross-sector partnership, the partners will write and sign an agreement. This might be a very simple letter of intent stating their mutual commitment to work together; It might be a Memorandum of Understanding articulating the vision and aspirations of the partnership or a more detailed contractual document setting out the terms of the collaboration and the procedures by which it will operate.

In order to navigate partners through decisions on the content of their partnership agreement, the Partnerships Resource Centre and The Partnering Initiative have developed the Partnering Agreement Scorecard. The tool can be used in both developmental and evaluative contexts. As a developmental tool, the scorecard serves as an extensive guide to topics that partners should consider including in their agreement. As an evaluative tool, the scorecard allows partners to review existing agreements and to assess whether those agreements are fit-for-purpose: whether they cover the full range of issues relevant to the partnership and provide a clear framework for collaboration.

Takeaways for Practitioners

  • Include both relational and transactional elements of cross-sector interaction in the partnership agreement. Research and practice often highlight that successful partnerships go well beyond the transactional exchange of resources and create value through the complementarity of the partners and their willingness to use that complementarity to generate innovative solutions to shared problems. This requires that partnership agreements not only formalize the relationship and manage the risk of the joint project, but also lay out a framework for how partners interact and relate with each other.

  • Incorporate a number of rules that guide the general interactions between partners that are not tied to a particular task or activity. It is impossible for partners to accurately and exhaustively foresee all situations that may translate into risks related to partner relationships, performance, or external circumstances. Agreements cannot be expected to cover every possible scenario, limiting the degree of completeness partners can aim for in their agreements. But if partners are able to develop guidelines for longer-term relationship building that is not specific to particular situations, the agreement may serve as a valuable tool for unexpected situations, while remaining flexible enough for adapting to emerging circumstances.

  • Use the Partnering Agreement Scorecard for developing comprehensive partnership agreements at the beginning of a collaboration. When partners work together to create an initial agreement, the scorecard can be helpful to raise issues that might otherwise be overlooked. It allows partners to articulate their aspirations for the collaboration and clarify the nature of their commitment. It will also require partners to consider some of the more difficult challenges, such as what to do when conflict arises.

  • Use the Partnering Agreement Scorecard to review and assess existing partnership agreements. When used as an evaluation tool, the scorecard offers partners a scoring system for analyzing and refining their agreements. The partners  individual or together  can assign a score to each element based on the level of specificity with which each element is addressed in the agreement. The purpose is twofold: it produces an overall score so that different agreements can be compared or changes in an agreement can be reviewed over time, while also providing an indication of the balance of the agreement in terms of the attention devoted to different elements.

A Short Note on Method
The research project to create the tool focused on the range of potential issues that can be covered by partnership agreements based on (a) an extensive literature study and (b) an analysis of a sample of existing partnership agreements in terms of their actual range of contents (e.g. in Dutch development cooperation). Based on these theoretical and practical insights, the authors developed a tool that can be used either to guide the creation of new partnership agreements or to review existing agreements and enhance their relevance and value. The tool comprises seven main categories of essential elements, which are further split in 28 sub-categories with prompting questions that allow partners to reflect on whether, and to what extent, the required partnership principles are present in their own partnership agreement.

Partnership agreements are an important but understudied element of cross-sector collaborations. Not much is known on the nature of partnership agreements or their impact on the subsequent functioning of the partnership itself. The joint research project by the Partnerships Resource Centre and The Partnering Initiative aimed to start a discussion on the role and nature of partnership agreements. The authors call for a more analytical, systematic, and strategic approach to the creation and use of partnership agreements: the content of an agreement should reflect and enable the objectives of the partnership. The Partnering Agreement Scorecard aims to support organizations across all sectors in the preparation and review of their partnership agreements that will hopefully bring a higher degree of reflection and analysis into the preparation of partnership agreements, which should result in comprehensive agreements and, ultimately, successful partnerships.

Pfisterer, S., Payandeh, N. & Reid, S. (2014). Designing Comprehensive Partnering Agreements: Introduction to the Partnering Agreement Scorecard. The Partnerships Resource Centre: Rotterdam.

Stella Pfisterer is Research Associate at the Partnerships Resource Centre, Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) at the Erasmus University (The Netherlands). Her research focuses on governance and management of cross-sector partnerships in international development cooperation. She is particular interested in the changing role of development agencies when partnering with non-state actors. Next to conducting research, Stella has developed a series of training and teaching modules related to effective partnership management.