Building Successful Partnerships A Production Theory of Global Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration

My doctoral thesis “Building Successful Partnerships” (available on Amazon) introduces a production theory which describes how contributions to a multi-stakeholder partnership translate into results. My thesis shows that technology and ownership are important determinants of the complex dynamics in multi-stakeholder partnerships: technology matters because it defines the actors’ individual returns on partnering; ownership matters because both overall investment level and the distribution of contributions influence the partners’ incentives to collaborate or defect. Across four technology dimensions it makes propositions on how technology, leadership and governance should be aligned to make partnerships work.

Building Successful Partnerships: Video Introduction 

Chapter 1: Introduction 

The chapter introduces the subject by highlighting some landmark events in the recent history of global partnerships, including the 1992 Rio Conference, the 1999 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development. Given the lack of clarity on what is a global multi-stakeholder partnership, it then analyzes and synthesizes key definitions in the literature to arrive at its own definition tailored to the needs of this publication: global partnerships are voluntary and institutionalized relationships between two or more actors who jointly commit to invest resources into the production of global public goods. Next, it introduces the research question: what structures and lead to the success or failure of global partnerships? Finally, the chapter presents the research methodology as well as the main line of argumentation.

Chapter 2: The Rise of Global Partnerships

The chapter discusses different perspectives on the rise of global partnerships. On the macro level, one group of explanations suggests that collective learning processes changed the conception of interests in both public and private actors and increased their willingness to collaborate. This is contested by explanations which suggest that partnerships mainly exist because they enjoy the support of powerful states and corporations that use the approach to protect vested interests and avoid more rigorous measures. On the micro level, neoliberalists argue that partnerships emerge when the pooling of resources, skills, and expertise pays off for the partners. This is challenged by views which argue that partnerships are more about distribution than synergy. The key takeaway from this chapter is that, whilst their social benefits are sometimes contested, the growing relevance of partnerships in a ‘global public domain’ is widely acknowledged.

Chapter 3: Mapping the Partnering Landscape

The chapter provides an overview of the partnering landscape and identifies two main groups: policy and implementation partnerships. The former focus on the design and strengthening of norms and standards. Based on the relative influence of private stakeholders, they can be divided into cooptation, delegation, coregulation, and private self-regulation partnerships. Implementation partnerships concentrate on the generation of outcomes within a given institutional context. This book distinguishes partnerships directly involved in the provision of goods and services, partnerships for mobilizing resources, and partnerships that facilitate learning and sharing to catalyse change. The key takeaway from this chapter is that partnerships serve diverse purposes: implementation partnerships replace a spot market transaction with a relationship-based approach, either to address market failure or to add an equity dimension to the exchange; policy partnerships curtail the coercive element associated with public interventions, either because this element is missing or to implement a policy more efficiently.

Chapter 4: Governing Collaboration

The chapter reviews the literature for answers to the research question of this dissertation: what structures and dynamics lead to the success or failure of global partnerships? To organize the literature, it begins with a reflection on different notions of success, arguing that efficient delivery and distributional impact are the main dimensions against which success should be measured. Based on these dimensions, it divides the literature into distribution and efficiency-oriented perspectives: the former are interested in design principles that align the behaviour of decision-makers with the needs of those on whose behalf they advice claims; the latter concentrate on design principles which align the behaviour of decisionmakers with the partnering mission. The main takeaway from this chapter is that efficiency-oriented and distribution-oriented design principles should be framed as complementary rather than competing: the respective relevance of both perspectives hinges upon the type of the partnership, the partnering body, and the evolutionary stage. That said, a framework that wants to yield meaningful results should choose its perspective and definition of success. This volume chooses efficient delivery as its analytical perspective.

Chapter 5: Partnering as Joint Production

The chapter assembles the building blocks of a dynamic partnering model which consists of a behavioural and a structural component. On the behavioural side, it integrates the assumption that partners act rationally, yet are restricted by incomplete information and limited computation capacity. The structural component describes the incentives partners face. These are defined by the consumption characteristics of the partnering output – i.e., its non-excludability and non-rivalry – as well as the production characteristics of the partnering input, i.e., the way contributions need to be combined in order to generate the outcome most efficiently. As the latter are at the centre of the analysis, the framework is referred to as production theory of multi-stakeholder partnering. The main takeaway of this chapter is that in partnerships technology and ownership matter: technology matters because it shapes the individual returns on partnering; ownership matters as in most cases the incentives actors face depend on their relative and absolute shares in the partnership, i.e., different distributions of contributions lead to different dynamics and ultimately different outcomes.

Chapter 6: Technology and Behavioural Dynamics

The chapter uses the framework to assess behavioural implications of different collaboration technologies. It focuses on three partnership types which differ in terms of how individual contributions are combined (supplementarity versus complementarity), as well as the share of fixed costs in total costs which are a function of demand side restrictions: in the first group, the so-called more is better partnerships (MBP), inputs are supplementary, and no demand restrictions apply. In the second, called expedient alliance partnerships (EAP), actors combine complementary skills and resources, again in the absence of demand restrictions. In the third group, referred to as one for all partnerships (OAP), inputs are supplementary and demand side restrictions lead to a large share of fixed costs in average costs, generating a situation similar to natural monopolies in markets. Whilst an MBP setup constitutes – implicitly or explicitly – the foundation for most analyses of voluntary collaboration, expedient alliance and one for all partnerships without demand restrictions it can be assumed that variable costs dominate average costs; yet, if demand restrictions apply, fixed costs constitute an important part of average costs; as a result, marginal cost curves in the former case are typically increasing (the shape of the classic supply curve) whilst in the latter case they may be decreasing (the shape of a supply curve in the special case of natural monopolies)

Chapter 7: Technology, Leadership and Governance

The chapter systematically explores the four dimensions of the research question in the context of the four technology dimensions above (44 framework): (1) how are contributions translated into outputs? (2) how does this relationship – referred to as collaboration technology – shape behavioural dynamics? (3) how can individual leadership influence these dynamics? and, (4) how can behavioural dynamics be controlled by governance structures? Section 7.2 explores the same questions for variations of the utility partners are able to extract from the partnership. The theoretical framework leads to the following propositions:

  • input relations: more is better partnerships (MBP) where inputs are supplementary and no demand restrictions apply offer poor prospects for individual leadership and require centralized governance structures to overcome collective action problems; expedient alliance partnerships (EAP) where actors combine complementary resources in the absence of demand restrictions benefit from crowding-in effects of individual leadership and allow for decentralized governance unless output is very low; one for all partnerships (OAP) where inputs are supplementary and demand restrictions lead to high fixed costs suffer from crowding-out effects of individual leadership yet allow for decentralized governance unless fixed costs are extremely high or hold-up problems apply.
  • total scale effects: in an EAP, economies of scale allow for decentralized governance already at relatively low output levels; in an OAP, they allow for decentralized governance even at relatively high output levels; diseconomies of scale usually require centralized governance (EAP) or active coordination (OAP) at all output levels.
  • total factor productivity: high total factor productivity lowers the output threshold for decentralized governance in an EAP and lessens the need for coordination in an OAP; an increase of total factor productivity has a significant impact if the partnership operates at economies of scale, yet a limited impact if it operates at diseconomies of scale.
  • productivity relations: in an EAP, the less balanced the relative importance of the contributions, the larger is the probability of self-enforcement and the smaller is the need for a potentially more costly centralized governance approach. Similarly, in an OAP, active coordination is less important if the relative importance is imbalanced as behavioural dynamics will drive the portfolio with less friction to an efficient distribution.
  • utility relations: in an EAP, a higher valuation of the partnering outcome by one or several partners decreases the output level by which the partnership is likely to be self-enforcing. In an OAP, a higher valuation by one or several partners lowers the need for active coordination.

Finally, Section 7.3 highlights three limitations of the framework which have been left for future research: (1) the two-actor restriction; (2) the pure public good nature of the partnering output; and (3) the underlying rational choice hypotheses, as well as the deductive–nomological approach as such.