The term ‘partnership’ is often not defined, or even explored, by those who are operating as partners – in fact it is not uncommon for partners to hold very different views of what being in a partnership means even when they are part of the same partnership!

In addition to that, there is a growing number of new terms that are being adopted for multi-stakeholder working relationships which suggests that the term ‘partnership’ is now seen as restrictive and that a wider portfolio of terms is needed to reflect the plethora of collaborative relationships that are emerging.

Different Terms Used for the Collaborative Model

Term Definition Comments
Alliance A relationship among people, groups or states that have joined together for mutual benefit and / or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not there is an explicit agreement between them. (Wikipedia) Interesting to note that an Alliance can be quite loose / informal in character held together by an agreed common purpose and sense of mutuality (cf GACP). Alliances include leaders, but their impact comes from the symbolic as well as the actual commitment to a shared objective.
Association An organisation of people with a common purpose that has a formal structure Like an alliance but between individuals rather than organisations and more fixed / formal in character. Leadership is embodied in the governance structure of the organisation.
Coalition   A form of alliance, especially a temporary one, between persons, factions and / or states. Used less in relation to collaborative approaches to sustainable development and more often associated with military intervention and / or peacekeeping. The focus is usually on a task or intervention.
Consortium   A combination of institutions working together in order to undertake operations that require larger-scale resources / capital. Increasingly used by the INGO sector as a vehicle for working together to tackle a major crisis / issue. It is also used by donors to encourage INGOs to apply together for larger-scale funding (Start Network started as a ‘consortium’ of UK-based Humanitarian INGOs)
Forum A place of assembly for people to meet for the discussion of questions of public interest. This definition comes from the Greek notion of the market place, but is used nowadays to describe a far more committed, on-going, membership-driven arrangement. That focus is on creating and maintaining space for dialogue, interaction and controversy (cf IBLF, WEF)
Network   Any netlike combination of filaments, lines, veins, passages or the like. This is probably the ‘loosest’ of the collaborative models – increasingly used interchangeably with ‘platforms’. The key feature of networks is that there is no-one ‘in-charge’. Most typically, they work through social media. (cf CDAC-N).
Partnership An on-going working relationship between people or organisations where risks and benefits are shared. (IBLF – adapted from the Oxford English Dictionary) There have been many attempts to define ‘partnership’ since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Some now work with this definition, others do not have a definition and their ‘partnerships’ are far more transactional in character than this definition implies.