Process learning on partnerships: building functioning research and practice organizational relationships
Implementers and researchers are responding to increasingly strong incentives to work together closely. Donors are placing a higher value on data, rigour, and evidence of impact from development assistance projects. This is seen in policy debates emphasizing value for money, and funding contingent on results and performance. In response, implementing organizations are increasingly collaborating with researchers. Such arrangements incur costs (financial and other), but the return on investment is high. Investments in relationship building, open and frequent communications, a clear understanding of partners’ objectives and non-negotiable requirements, and a mind-set of problem solving are important priorities in setting productive implementation science partnerships. We document process learning from developing a partnership between an implementing organization, Plan International, and a research institute, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina. We make the case that: effective partnerships have preconditions for success; building institutional respect takes time and incremental changes to business as usual; establishing a partnership early with a long start-up period is advisable; accountability and research relevancy increase through shared roles during project design and results interpretation; and research message development requires regular review meetings with increasing frequency toward the end of a project.