The principles

For all its benefits, partnership itself is never a neutral good. Different motivations, experiences, skills and incentives all contribute to influencing power relations external to the partnership and the dynamics within the partnership itself.

Many recommendations and suggestions emerged from the data and discussions of this project. From these we identified the following eight principles which can be applied by different stakeholder groups to engage with the politics of partnership and to help with developing fair and equitable partnerships. Targeted support for translating these principles into practice is available here

1. Put poverty first

International development research that is funded as part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments has to have an impact on poverty. To live up to this principle, partners need to constantly question how the process and activities of the research are addressing the end goal. This requires a consideration of whose knowledge and agendas count and greater attention to research uptake and use long after initial funding might end. This might involve better considered pathways to development impact (with potential learning from the monitoring, evaluation and learning practices of development practitioners and use of existing data systems). Research governance through agenda-setting and evaluation should also reflect this principle.

2. Critically engage with context(s)

A commitment to this principle requires conscientious analysis of the contexts of research governance, implementation and use. This should include a systematic mapping of the relevant stakeholders, as well as consideration of the representativeness of both partnerships and agenda-setting/evaluation committees and review colleges. Some assessment should also be made of the national and regional inequalities that might be exacerbated by an over-reliance on partners from higher income countries and capital cities. Funding should respond to the realities of institutions in the global South, which may be more under-resourced than UK-based counterparts.

Finally, capacity-strengthening initiatives should build on analyses of context to develop sustainable responses grounded in existing national and regional institutions. This might involve granting more power to regional funders such as the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) and funding more national and regional networking and agenda-setting events.

3. Redress evidence hierarchies

To live up to this principle, funders, brokers and partners should recognise that different stakeholders (including those from different academic traditions as well as other development professionals) will have different expectations as to what ‘quality evidence’ means to them. This influences whose knowledge is valued, how research is designed and implemented, what types of research outputs are produced and which audiences are considered. Clarity about evidence preferences at the start of the process will enable productive discussions across a range of issues throughout the partnership process.

A conscious effort should be made to redress evidence hierarchies by incentivising intellectual leadership by Southern-based academics and civil society practitioners and engaging communities across all dimensions of research. Existing networks grounded in community-based research (such as the UNESCO Chair’s Knowledge for Change initiative and Africans Rising’s People’s Assembly can provide existing mechanisms for this).

4. Adapt and respond

International development activities rarely follow neat paths, and research is no exception. To live up to this principle, every actor should take an adaptive approach that is responsive to context; constantly review and renegotiate all the research parameters. Funding initiatives to support this might include seed-corn funding to test ideas and partnerships, a mandatory inception phase for co-creation, multi-stage budgeting and bridge or follow-on funding. Within partnerships, flexibility is dependent on good communication and this might be improved by opportunities for face-to-face interaction.

5. Respect diversity of knowledge and skills

To live up to this principle requires time to be taken at the outset to explore the knowledges, skills and experiences that each partner brings and contributes to making the partnership greater than the sum of its parts. All contributions should be made explicit and be respected. Time should be taken to understand the institutional contexts of each partner with physical visits to the different institutions if possible. Researcher development initiatives should also consider a range of alternative skills for fair and equitable partnering that goes beyond traditional academic skill development and takes into account different languages and types of representation. 

6. Commit to transparency

To live up to this principle, put in place a code of conduct or memorandum of understanding that commits each partner to transparency in all aspects of the project administration and budgeting; and that sets out clearly the rights of all partners regarding acknowledgement, authorship, intellectual property and data use. 

7. Invest in relationships

Strong relationships are the backbone of effective partnerships but take time to develop. Living up to this principle requires significant investment in creating spaces for new partnerships to emerge and for existing relationships to develop and sustain through funded time for meaningful communication. Relationships also benefit from an institutional, as well as individual, commitment and partner organisations should be encouraged to develop longer-term collaborations which might include research, teaching and/or knowledge exchange.

8. Keep learning

Taking a learning approach enables partners to challenge and subvert traditional knowledge hierarchies and create opportunities to do things in new and different ways. To live up to this principle requires constant critical reflection and learning within and beyond the partnership. It also requires learning and capacity building to extend beyond individual partners to their organisations, as well as to research funders and policymakers. Funders might help promote a learning culture by including a narrative section on learning in reporting systems and creating spaces to ‘learn from failure’.