Betwixt & Between

Issue #2

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Welcome to the second issue of the Journal of Partnership Brokering ‘Betwixt and Between’!

This issue is focused on partnership brokering and evaluation.  As the deployment of individuals and brokering units to facilitate cross-sector partnerships rises, so does the interest in the partnership brokers’ role in evaluating / reviewing partnerships – what role should they play and how can they add value to the assessment process? It is also important to assess the impact of the partnership brokering approach and its added value.  There is the growing interest in knowing more about the efficiency and effectiveness of partnership brokering – whether from donors, partners or the growing number of those operating as partnership brokers. All this will aid a more rigorous assessment of the partnership broker approach as a paradigm capable of comparison with other approaches to development collaboration. Evaluation is as much about examining the nature, quality and efficacy of the core processes and practices adopted as it is about the performance and impact of the partnership broker in partnership effectiveness.

Such a multidimensional perspective can be found in the four-fold brokering evaluation framework developed by the Partnership Brokers Association (PBA).  Joanne Burke describes this framework in her article reporting on the outcome of a PBA- organised workshop on brokering evaluation. This brought together a group of partnership brokers from different organisations and sectors to discuss current practices, challenges and opportunities in brokering evaluation; and used the framework to explore four different types of roles a partnership broker can perform in evaluation.

The benefits of brokering evaluation are numerous. At the most fundamental level, the broker’s intervention helps the partners see the evaluation process as a welcome opportunity to take stock of and celebrate their achievements and identify where things could work better. A broker can facilitate them to work through the evaluation process, share an understanding of what is needed to maximise the potential of the partnership, and take ownership of how the findings are acted upon. Done well, evaluation can foster a climate where partners feel they can be more confident, innovative and ambitious. Evaluation of the brokering approach can also help the partners and the broker assess how well the brokering process and broker-partner relationship is working and where changes might be required.

The task of facilitating partners to evaluate their partnership or the brokering relationship and process, however, is not always easy. There can be technical and behavioural challenges, relating to perceptions, competency, capacity, processes, evaluation approaches and methodologies.

For instance, fear of what an evaluation might reveal about a partner/individual or how its findings might be used to criticise, apportion blame or penalise an individual or a partner can make the partners reluctant.  In her article, Julie Mundy argues that such negative perceptions are not conducive to building trust and strong, open and resilient partnerships.  She advocates taking the time to build and manage a progressive approach to partnership review and evaluation, so that there is a genuine partner engagement and openness to learning through the review process.  Evaluation should be positioned as an important trust building mechanism in the partnership cycle.

Staying on the theme of engagement and relationships, can emotional capital be a useful asset in fostering good partnering practice?  Based on her experience of carrying out a partnership review, Judith Nichol reflects on the importance of emotional capital created through the relationship between the partnership managers as an important measure of the effectiveness of a partnership. She wonders whether it has a place in brokering evaluation.

Both internal and external brokers can be involved in facilitating a partnership review or broker assessment. This can be done as a regular, ongoing activity in the partnership management process. In other cases, the evaluation may be done as a one-off activity and with a very specific purpose in mind. For instance, the partners may feel more can be done to realise the potential and sustainability of the partnership and bring in an external broker to provide a fresh perspective – help them identify specific areas where they can make strategic adjustments to the project or the partnering arrangements.  Or it may be that the partnership is entering the ‘moving on’ phase and the partners feel an independent evaluation can help inform their decisions on the options they have for embedding, scaling up, reframing, renegotiating or disbanding the partnership. Or in a few cases, the partners – or indeed, the project donors – may feel the partnership has been unsuccessful or under-utilised and need to understand the underlying causes.

This latter situation is illustrated in Tom Harrison’s article, where he relates his experience as an external broker assigned to evaluate a public-private partnership around a pilot tuna fishing operation in Ghana.  He offers insights into the challenges associated with capacity, process and commitments to partnering and emphasises the importance of timely brokering interventions in dealing with some fundamental partnership challenges.

In their article, external brokers Marion McCahon and Nina Mitchelmore tell the story of a review they carried out for a partnership within a cluster of heritage organisations in Newfoundland, Canada. They highlight the tools and techniques they used and explain how they used the review findings to help the partners to understand the current status and effectiveness of their partnerships.

When partnership brokers undertake the evaluation role, there are several attributes which can help them be highly effective: having credibility with all the partners as being non-judgmental and good listeners; having the authority to manage the review process without hindrance or bias towards any particular outcome or partner; knowledge of the particular partnership context and of partnerships more generally as development mechanisms. In addition, the brokers also need a good set of tools and methodologies for data collection and reporting.

Drawing from her experience of conducting an evaluation of a broker approach for Oxfam in Jamaica, Surinder Hundal suggests some building blocks to help develop a methodology for assessing both the partnership brokering approach and the work of partnership brokers themselves.

One particular challenge highlighted in the evaluation workshop described in Joanne Burke’s article and elsewhere by brokers is the low visibility of evaluation work focused on brokering. Whilst there is more activity around evaluating the outcomes and impacts of partnerships, the emphasis on how well brokering interventions have contributed to the success of a partnership is less defined. Developing a body of knowledge in this area will play a crucial role in building evidence of the importance and benefits of partnership brokering. As the number of tools, frameworks and case studies around brokering evaluation are developed, they will also provide useful resources to individual partnership brokers, brokering units and others taking on some brokering role in collaborative development projects.

The PBA in particular is looking to build a repository of evaluation tools, frameworks and learning case studies to support both its LearningTraining and Transforming activities and its network of professional partnership brokering practitioners.  As editors, we hope that this issue will stimulate some ideas for brokering evaluation as well as bring to the surface the experience and knowledge that might already exist and can be shared more widely with peers.

As with the previous issue, the Journal’s content is sourced primarily from those operating as partnership brokers. That should not put you off. We also encourage contributions from individuals in public, private, NGOs or international agencies, who have instigated or provided funding for partnerships or have been involved with systemic change or  policy making and may have personal or institutional perspectives, insights and ideas about partnership brokering.  We hope that you will consider contributing to future issues of Betwixt and Between. The next issue is scheduled for March 2014.

Guest Editors for Issue 2:

Herman Brouwer
Surinder Hundal

This Issue: