Sustainable Development Partnerships

February 2012, Fieldwork of the SFB700/D1 project on the activities of the partnership "Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor" in Kibera, Kambi Muru, Kenya; © Johanna Sarre
Water Tank Project in Kenia

For about the past 20 years, the United Nations (UN) and its agencies have increasingly been working through partnerships with private actors from both, civil society and business. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) renewed the UN’s commitment to partnerships. SDG 17 “Partnerships for the Goals” posits effective partnerships as a central means of implementation. Already in follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a UN-data base registered more than 345 partnerships. Since then, several of these partnerships have dissolved and others have been newly established, for example during the Rio+20 conference 2012 and on the occasion of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in 2015. Today, partnerships are prevalent in many different policy areas. Despite their abundance and presence, partnerships continue to receive critique for a lack of clarity about their actual contribution to sustainable development. For this reason, the UN voiced the wish to provide better support for partnerships and to increase their transparency and accountability. To this effect, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) established an online platform and registry for ‘Partnerships for SDGs‘, and organizes annually the ECOSOC Partnership Forum and the HLPF Partnership Exchange. Also other actors, e.g. donors and funders, governments, and private initiatives, started to undertake efforts to improve the framework conditions for partnerships: Donors and funders set out to adapt their funding frameworks and services for partnerships; some governments are engaging in setting-up coordination platforms, multi-stakeholder dialogues and/or partnership guidelines; and several private initiatives seek to promote ‘best partnering practices‘ through advisory work, guidelines or standards.

From 2006 to 2017, we explored multi-stakeholder partnerships in a research project that was part of the DFG-funded collaborative research center on ‘Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood‘. During the first two funding phases, our research focused on the success conditions for and the effectiveness of partnerships. In 2006-2009, we conducted research on 21 transnational partnerships operating in the areas of the environment, health, and social policy. In 2010-2013, we delved deeper into selected partnerships, by the means of field research on their operations in South-East Asia and East Africa. In the third phase of the project, 2014-2017, we researched if and how far different actors, from (1) the UN, (2) donors and funders, (3) governments, and (4) private initiatives, draw upon previous partnership experiences when designing and implementing the framework conditions – we call it “meta-governance” – in order to assist partnerships in becoming fit for implementing the SDGs. Our publications present the key findings of our research. In addition, we undertook several further activities, e.g. participated in meetings and organized side events and expert panels to discuss our findings.

Further readings

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Anne Ellersiek

Donors and Funders’ Meta-Governance of Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

Working Paper FG8, 2018/02, September 2018, 26 Pages
Marianne Beisheim, Anne Ellersiek, Jasmin Lorch

INGOs and Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

In: Risse, Thomas /Börzel, Tanja / Draude, Anke (Hrsg.), The Oxford Handbook of Governance and Limited Statehood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 211-230.
Marianne Beisheim, Anne Ellersiek

Partnerships for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Transformative, Inclusive and Accountable?

SWP Research Paper 2017/RP 14, December 2017, 28 Pages
Lili Mundle, Marianne Beisheim, Lars Berger

How Private Meta-Governance Helps Standard-Setting Partnerships Deliver

in: Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 8 No. 5, pp. 525-546.
Marianne Beisheim, Anne Ellersiek, Lukas Goltermann, Pauline Kiamba

Meta-Governance of Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Actors' Perspectives from Kenya

in: Pauline Public Administration and Development, September 2017
Anne Ellersiek

SDG 17: Transformative Partnerships?

In: The Transformation Conversation: Blogs on the UNRISD Flagship Report 2016 and Agenda 2030, 21.09.2017, (online)
Marianne Beisheim, Nils Simon

Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned and Actors' Views on UN Meta-Governance

Paper für die ISA Annual Convention in Baltimore, 22-25 Februar 2017 (unveröffentlichter Beitrag)
Marianne Beisheim

Multi-stakeholder Partnerships for the 2030 Agenda. How to improve and review their contributions

Präsentation im Rahmen der „Partnership Exchange“ beim Hochrangigen Politischen Forum der Vereinten Nationen zu nachhaltiger Entwicklung (HLPF), New York. In: UN Web TV, 18.07.2016 (online)
Marianne Beisheim

Follow-up and Review

Working Paper Research Division Global Issues, 2016/02, May 2016, 13 Pages
Marianne Beisheim, Nils Simon

Multi-stakeholder partnerships for implementing the 2030 Agenda

Improving accountability and transparency

Hintergrundpapier für das ECOSOC Partnership Forum 2016, 11.03.2016
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