Betwixt & Between

Issue #3

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Increasing reach and impact of partnership brokers through training

Abstract: The Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) is the only entity running a unique international professional training programme for brokers, promoting partnership brokering and supporting a sizeable community of partnership brokers worldwide. Drawing on PBA’s training model, World Vision International (WV) has developed an equally unique internal training programme aimed at embedding partnership brokering within its organisation and supporting the adoption of its local community level approach. Both initiatives have gained momentum and influence, underpinning their individual and collective commitment to building brokering competencies and a strong sense of determination to make effective collaboration the norm not the exception in development. The article explores the characteristics of the PBA and WV training initiatives and the issues and opportunities they face in extending the reach and impact of partnership brokering.

Increasing reach and impact: How the partnership brokers training course has been effectively adapted for those working at the grass roots [1]

In 2003, the first partnership brokers training course was held in the UK. It attracted individuals from business (Shell, Rio Tinto, Nike and others), NGOs (Care International, World Vision International and others) and international agencies (UNDP, WHO and others). What drew people to the course was a sense that they / their organisations needed to work in new ways if their partnership aspirations were to be successful. They appeared to recognise that a ‘business as usual’ approach to many aspects of their development work was no longer effective or fit for purpose in the light of 21st Century needs and challenges.

So was born a movement (under the guise of a training course) that has gained momentum not by shouting from the rooftops but by bringing about change wherever individuals or opportunities have presented themselves. A movement of those committed to learning from practice as well as building new competencies underpinned by a strong sense of determination to make effective collaboration the norm not the exception.

The partnership brokers training work, established by the UK’s Overseas Development Institute and the International Business Leaders Forum, has expanded considerably and is now run by the Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) [2] – established as an independent non-profit organisation in 2012.

“It is gratifying to see how the initial partnership brokers training programme has grown (in terms of both quality and reach) in just 10 short years. I have been constantly surprised by how often and how quickly participants on the PBA training course identify with partnership brokering as an exciting, new and much needed ‘profession’ Each trainee has a sphere of influence in their organisations, partnerships and sectors that make it all but impossible to know how far this work has truly challenged and changed practice and systems already. But it is, I am fairly confident, not wholly insignificant.” Ros Tennyson,Development Director, PBA

In 2009, World Vision International (WV) decided that the time was right to embed partnership brokering within their organisation worldwide, supporting the adoption of its local programme approach. So was born an initiative (under the guise of a training course) that has gained momentum and influence by systematically re-aligning thinking and practice about development and addressing the root causes of poverty at the grass roots level.

“Sustained change for vulnerable children can only be achieved by addressing the complex ecosystem of actors who affect children’s lives. Staff have seized the opportunity of partnership brokering as a way to maximise their work, cut through the complexity, leverage resources, and so reach out, join hands, and achieve child well-being with others.” Ian de Villiers, Local Partnering Advisor, World Vision

There is considerable similarity between the two courses and a few interesting differences:

Intention To build an international cadre of skilled practitioners who manage the partnering process effectively and thereby ensure multi-stakeholder partnerships achieve their ambitious development goals To enhance the skills of key staff to manage the partnering process effectively and thereby ensure that multi-stakeholder collaboration at community level achieves the ambitious goal of wellbeing for children worldwide
Pre-course activities
  • Shorter sessions / courses introducing the idea of partnership brokering (to decision-makers, lawyers, donors as well as practitioners)
  • Growing number of action research-based case studies & publications to inform thinking
  • Basic partnering concepts introductory module: a pre-requisite for the 4-day course
  • Reading: partnership typologies, brokering the partnership idea
  • A highly interactive E-learning module designed to introduce key concepts
  • Reading: ‘Local partnering for development programmes
  • Pre-work – review of current understanding and practice of partnering
  • Access to World Vision and other communities of practice, websites and other sources of recent thinking.
  • More conceptual
  • Focus on professional development with participants applying content to their own programme delivery challenges
  • More practical
  • Focus on applying in day-to-day programming
  • Analysis of the context built in to the course (focusing on civil society) to enable careful choices in partnering approaches
  • Expectation of professional development
  • The training covers the complete 4-phase Partnering Cycle with a 30% focus on the first phase
  • Some focus on principles / ethics of acting as a partnership broker
  • An assumption that the course is applicable to a wide range of partnering / collaboration scenarios & contexts
  • PBA adopts new tools as they emerge from practice to share with participants
  • The PBA Course Workbook is more generic & covers more than the course
  • There is an  emphasis on generic professional development as partnership brokers
  • Strong focus on principles, context analysis and facilitation skills through the course
  • There is a strong focus on the first phase of the partnering cycle
  • The practical exercises are designed to be more deeply participative and to practice certain skills more than once
  • The course is targeted for a variety of collaborative engagements at grass roots level
  • The WV Trainers Kit details training sessions 
  • There is a greater emphasis on the specific roles of the trainees in their WV work
  • A sequence of 5 role plays, inspired by the PBA course, take the participants deep into the nature of different partners. They are expected to be able to assess dynamic partnering interactions and plan principled, informed, engagement.
Feedback Both training courses routinely get a very high level of enthusiastic feedback about the course [3]. Interestingly a lot of the expressed enthusiasm is for the same elements in the two courses – despite quite different trainee groups. These include:

  • Clarification of terminology (partnership / collaboration / network / brokering etc)
  • Partnering Principles (equity, transparency & mutual benefit) positioned as central to effective collaboration [4]
  • The Partnering Cycle used as a foundation for the training [5]
  • Interest-based negotiation as a key partnership brokering skill
  • Tools for mobilising and valuing diverse resource contributions
  • Work on collaboration agreements – their focus and value
  • The experiential and interactive training methodologies particularly the practise in facilitation and the use of role-plays as a learning tool
PBA participants also valued:

  • Team Roles – how your preferences impact the type of broker you are
  • Participants would have liked more on:
  • Reviewing and evaluating partnerships – specifically the brokers role
 WV trainees also valued:

  • The Decision Gate – a tool to assist brokers in working with partners to agree the partnership approach to be adopted

Trainees would have liked more on:

  • Managing and maintaining
  • Reviewing and revising
  • Sustaining outcomes and transition planning 
Follow up
  • Individual feedback by email from trainers
  • Course graduates join the PBA alumni group, can access more resources and take an active role in PBA
  • Quarterly PBA up-date
  • Encouraged to join PBA Communities of Practice & Regional Networks
  • Invited to share their experiences / knowledge, & to contribute to Betwixt & Between
  • Encouragement to join national and international learning networks / communities of practice
  • Encouragement to share skills with partners
  • Specific planning at the relevant level 
Further training opportunities In place:

  • Level 2: Professional Accreditation
  • Level 2: Training Skills Certificate
  • Level 2: Research Certificate
  • Level 3: Advanced Practice Qualification

Under discussion:

  • Further Level 2 courses
In place:

  • Local training opportunities for community leaders / CBO representatives: less technical than the main course and delivered in local languages (this is emergent practice and depends upon local practitioners, some of whom are also trainers)

Under development (to be delivered in different modalities):

  • Short sensitisation courses for senior leadership / management including finance officers
  • Short ‘refresher’ courses for all development facilitators. Further training on:
  • 1/ Managing, maintaining & implementation
  • 2/ Design, monitoring and evaluation processes for partnering
  • 3/ Sustaining outcomes, managing transition and exits

The PBA model is based on the notion of a ‘non-profit business’ – the majority of its income (currently in the region of 95% though this has at times has been lower and is likely to change as new funding models are explored) comes from earnings – fees for training (paid either by the individual or their organisation), Intellectual Property fees for delivering commissioned training, and income from delivery of partnership brokering services. In some instances PBA is able to offer modest bursaries or, for suitably qualified participants who may take an active role in the PBA’s work in future, some kind of ‘barter’ (a free place in return for contracted pieces of work).

This model is a good one as it is transparent and sustainable. It does not rely on external donors or on the competing funding priorities typical of large organisations in which training is only a small part. Surplus earnings can be dedicated to follow-up, learning activities, networking and new thinking that in turn inform and update the training itself. The disadvantage is that it excludes those who are unable to find the necessary funding – PBA is, for example, currently exploring whether it is possible to get grants to enable the delivery of the training in vulnerable contexts where it is urgently needed but not financially viable within the current model.

The WV model is different, because it is primarily internal to the organisation.  Training capacity has been very carefully cascaded to each national office, so that training can be provided at minimum cost and maximum contextualisation.

Provision of the training is then based on national strategies and staff competence needs. Costs are covered from an allocated budget. Those who need the training can take it, depending upon local priorities and time and budget for staff learning.

The challenge here, therefore, is to ensure that decision makers value the course, and to maintain the quality of training across many different national offices. It is particularly important here to make the case for a skills and principles based course that depends on face-to-face interaction in the face of other, cheaper remote learning modalities that are available but do not deliver the same learning outcomes.

Both courses were created in English that has meant some limitations on who can take the course – far more limiting at the grass roots level where English does not have the same status as an international language. The WV course is now offered in several local languages, from Albanian to Khmer, whilst the PBA course is currently only available in English (though French and Spanish versions are under development).

PBA makes (relatively small) adaptations to context and has been encouraged by the high level of cultural acceptability the current course has.

The PBA training programme has been rigorous from the start in setting high standards and quality control in terms of delivery – this also applies to its growing band of trainers operating in different places. The widening pool of  ‘co-trainers’ have all completed the 4-day training course and shown an aptitude for training (many being experienced trainers already), they are also required to complete the Level 2 Accreditation programme and the Level 2 Training Skills Certificate.

There is a comprehensive Authorised Trainers Pathway for those wanting (and deemed suitable) to become PBA authorised lead trainers. Lead trainers have a number of responsibilities for each cohort they lead, they have the authority to create and deliver their own Level 1s in new contexts and they commit to being active in the PBA’s Training Community of Practice – where the PBA courses (including Level 2) are reviewed, experience is shared and decisions about adaptations are agreed.

Maintaining quality has also been key for WV’s in-house trainers, who need to know the material well, as well as internalising the training methodologies. WV has a number of ‘master trainers’ who help ensure the quality of the training team and elicit feedback on how the staff that have completed the training are assimilating the partnership brokering approach. Trainers are recognised using World Vision’s formal accreditation scheme. This enables different offices to support each other whilst maintaining quality.

There is an underlying question (sometimes spoken about, sometimes simply navigated through) for both organisations about the extent of challenge that is / should be embedded in the training. Is the training designed to enable the development and maintenance of better (more innovative, efficient, valuable) partnerships essentially through working within and improving the partnership ‘status quo’? Or is the training designed to create a cadre of professionals capable of challenging and changing today’s norms?

There is no easy answer to this question – it may be that every trainee / participant (and indeed every trainer and every decision-maker in the two organisations) is in a different place on this issue. It may not be (it may not even be desirable that it is) resolvable. Those in the shaping roles for the two training programmes do recognise that, however subtle or unspoken, this is a key issue impacting design and, of course, impacting what constitutes success.

Both entities are aware of that their training courses are on the crest of a wave – the right thing at the right time that has captured the imagination and engagement of many. Of course, circumstances change and today’s leading edge activity can become ‘yesterday’s news’ quite quickly – often way before the full extent of the work has been reached and even when the need for it remains. Both training courses are vulnerable to economic down turn since training is often one of the first things to be cut in the budgets of organisations (or individuals in the case of PBA) under pressure.

The key questions we have about this training approach are: can our partnership brokers training really have the impact on contexts and systems that is needed to bring about necessary and transformational change? And if so, will that impact happen fast enough and in enough places to meet the urgent needs for effective collaboration in our increasingly fractured world?



RosTennysonRos Tennyson is a pioneer in the field of multi-stakeholder partnerships and partnership brokering, Ros is the author or co-author of a number of practical tool books, reviews and case studies – from the first (Managing Partnerships) published as part of a World Bank project in 1998 to the most recent (Level 1 Workbook for Partnership Brokers) published by the Partnership Brokers Association in 2012.

Ros led the partnership work of the International Business Leaders Forum from 1992 to 2011 – where her work took her from Bosnia to Brazil, from Canada to Cambodia and from Italy to India (and many other places!). Now an independent operator, Ros is currently working as the Development Director of Strategy at the Partnership Brokers Association; a Senior Associate for The Partnering Initiative as well as undertaking new and interesting projects in the partnership and partnership brokering sphere.


Ian de VilliersIan de Villiers works for World Vision as Local Partnering Advisor, leading and coordinating the development of partnerships for child well-being in World Vision’s development programmes. He has worked extensively in developing collaborative responses to children at risk issues widely in Asia and Africa for over 15 years.


[1]  This is a companion piece to ‘Brokering Local Collaboration’, research into how WV’s partnership brokers training course has affected its work; available on the Partnership Brokers Association website:
[2] For more information about the Partnership Brokers Association and its training programmes please go to:
[3] Both PBA and WV issue  written feedback forms in the last session of the course and participants are asked to complete before they leave. As part of a wider research programme, we have been able to get confirmation of the views of the WV trainees from a recent online survey.
[4] These were identified by the International Business Leaders Forum in1998 in Managing Partnerships and have been widely used by partnership practitioners since
[5] The Partnering Cycle was created by The Partnering Initiative in 2004 in The Partnering Toolbook it has subsequently been revised by PBA to incorporate the changing activities and roles of a partnership broker.

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