The Project

“The objective of this project is to develop a new research agenda, which is both of theoretical importance for understanding complex governance systems and of pressing policy significance for sustainability.” – Liliana B. Andonova

The project on ‘Effectiveness of Partnerships for Advancing the SDGs: Behavioural Pathways and Impacts‘ was a 3-year research project coordinated by the Centre for International Environmental Studies (CIES) at the Graduate Institute, Geneva and supported by a grant of the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) under its call for projects 2017. It started its activities in the fall of 2017 and ended in December 2020.

The project was carried out in partnership with the University of Geneva’s Public-Private Partnership Centre, the University of Zurich, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University and the Grenoble Ècole de Management. It was coordinated by Prof Liliana Andonova, co-director of the CIES and Professor of International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.

The objective of the project was to bridge the gap between the growing role played by transnational partnerships as mechanisms of governance and the limited systematic assessment of their actual effects on overcoming collective action failures, contributing to innovation, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the United Nations in September 2015. While such partnerships are often touted as a promising mechanism to meaningfully address complex problems and implement global sustainable development agendas, no established framework exists for their evaluation. There is no agreed-upon list of performance indicators for partnerships and no consensus on how to determine if partnerships are effective.

The project sought to address these research gaps in three ways. First, it presented an inter-disciplinary conceptualisation of partnership effectiveness that should be broadly applicable. Second, it theorised a set of plausible pathways and conditions for the variable effectiveness of partnerships. Third, it employed multi-disciplinary methods to present new data and case studies on partnership effectiveness with respect to the multiple objectives advanced by the SDGs. As the international community seeks to accelerate its efforts towards the implementation of the Goals, the research agenda opened by the project is thus of great theoretical importance for understanding complex governance systems, as well as of pressing policy significance for sustainable development

Several core questions guided the research:

  • How can we conceptualise and operationalise effectiveness for partnerships?
  • Through what mechanisms are partnerships’ effects likely to materialize?
  • What are the sources and limitations of the effectiveness of partnerships for sustainability?
  • What outcomes have partnerships contributed in advancing objectives related to specific SDGs?
  • How do partnerships interact with other forms of governance at the international and sub-national level to influence results for the SDGs

A summary of the project’s findings is available below, in the Summary Report.