Partnering and the SDGs – Towards a common language at last?

Why the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have unlocked the transfer of partnering knowledge


Back in 2015, in a quiet corner of the UN system, a technical paper emerged arguing thoughtfully that the SDGs represent a breakthrough for integration. They are a new benchmark for development, based on the idea that water (for example) cannot be considered in isolation from energy or education; that development in poor countries cannot be viewed separately from that in rich countries; or that the operations of the private sector cannot meaningfully be understood as a distinct sphere of activity from the activities of the public sector.

In short, the SDGs are universal and indivisible. By providing an interconnected framework, rather than a linear and partial list of targets – as we saw under the MDGs – they reflect the collaboration and interlinkages that are at the heart of human and natural systems. All development activities – and arguably, all areas of human societies and economies – can now be considered in the context of the SDGs.

Before 2015, one of the main barriers to sharing knowledge on partnership was a lack of agreement on definitions of key terms, the absence of a common language with which to discuss and share experience. With the SDGs, this barrier has been removed. We now have a common language.

Partnership is not just the seventeenth Global Goal, but it is explicitly recognized as a key means for implementing the SDGs. The goals are underpinned by a holistic mindset, and a spirit of collaboration and integration. They demand an interdependent response.

The PEP Facility attempts to follow the lead set by the SDGs. We seek to reflect the open, inquiring approach of the SDGs. This is why we have very deliberately avoided trying to produce a step-by-step ‘Idiot’s guide to partnering’, and instead embraced the complex and iterative nature of the SDGs.

Just as the SDGs should be thought of not as a list but as a network, so partnering knowledge cannot be presented in the form of a list, or an engineering blueprint. All partnering endeavours are context-specific and it is ultimately up to each collaborative venture to find its own solutions.

Like the SDGs, the partnering process is a rapid and steep learning journey. The hard-won experience of others can provide us with many handholds along the way. Tools and guidance and thought leadership produced over the last 20 years or more helps to shine light on many of the most common partnering questions.

Some of this knowledge is hard to access, or available only in technical manuals. And more recently, knowledge can be hard to find through search engines because it only appears in video or audio form. We also see enormous duplication of effort, as the same answers are identified time and time again to solve common partnering problems. Part of the ambition of PEP is to help increase accessibility and reduce duplication of effort by making it easier to identify proven knowledge.

In this regard, the selection of information that appears on the PEP site is not random. It has been put together based on the decades of experience of its five founding partners: an initial quality filter has been applied.

PEP is a self-service resource which is most effective when you are highly specific about the partnering challenge you are facing, and open minded about the kind of solutions that might be available. We are not so much seeking to generate new knowledge, rather we seek to apply more effectively knowledge that has already been produced.

Finally, we recognise that there are limits to the amount of knowledge that can be gained from an online platform. There is a real-world support system emerging to inject speed and scale in partnering endeavours, and we would encourage you to seek them out.

Graphic: Collaboration for the SDGs: Exploring the support system for effective partnering.
TPI / PEP, November 2016

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