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Donor agencies and multi-stakeholder partnerships: Harnessing interests or herding cats?

Discussion Paper 204

November 2016

Karaki, K., Medinilla, A. 2016. Donor agencies and multi-stakeholder partnerships: Harnessing interests or herding cats? (Discussion Paper 204). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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Promoting and supporting partnerships is a complex and iterative process, requiring considerable resources, knowledge, and time. This paper studies the roles of donors in a selection of partnership related instruments, with a view to better understanding their challenges and opportunities, constraints and incentives. It shows that there is a gap between donor agencies’ policy objectives and their current practice, which in formal terms is overly passive in terms of funding mechanisms and administration systems towards supporting partnerships. This diminishes the benefits that might be gained from the large palette of resources and capabilities of donor agencies. That said, informally donor agencies go further than their roles stricto sensus, implying a gap between policy and practice.

Based on these insights, some reflections, implications, and recommendations are presented below for policy makers and donor agencies aiming at boosting the effectiveness of their support to partnerships.


Key messages


  • Promoting and supporting partnerships is a complex and iterative process, requiring considerable resources, knowledge, and time. A deeper analysis and understanding of the role of donor agencies in the partnership process is thus required to foster effective partnerships.
  • This paper studies the roles of donors in a selection of partnership related instruments. It shows that there is a gap between donor agencies’ policy objectives and their current practice, which needs to be filled to realise the full potential of partnerships.
  • Overall, donor agencies tend to limit themselves to funding partnerships, often through competitive procedures, adopting a reactive attitude to supporting partnerships. More could be done in terms of coordination between their instruments and donor agencies to maximise the effectiveness of their interventions.
  • Therefore donor agencies can contribute more significantly, by using their large palette of resources, including political connections, networks, expertise and knowledge. This depends in turn on the design of their instruments, their level of understanding of the operating context, and degree of involvement and flexibility in the partnership.

Read Discussion Paper 204


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Photo courtesy World Bank, via Flickr

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