Partnerships in Practice – The Political Economy of Research Partnerships in International Development in Canada

Academic research institutions and civil society organizations (CSOs) across Canada are motivated to collaborate on research partnerships as a way to produce rigorous research, improve practice in the field, and shape evidence-based international development policy. But how do we ensure such partnerships remain fair, equitable, and effective? This summary report shares the initial findings from a multiple-case study of seven research partnerships across Canada that examines the power dynamics, and the political and economic contexts that affect how partners structure—and make meaning of—collaboration.

Partnerships in Practice


Three Things to Know about Partnerships for Development

Three Things to Know about Partnerships for Development

By Emilie McGiffin, Andréanne Martel and Gavin Charles 



  • One crucial form of partnership is collaboration between development practitioners and academics
  • A recent report resulted in three key findings that are instructive for how governments, CSOs, and academic institutions can enhance partnerships in the years to come.


If the countries and people of the world are going to meet the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we will need to meet SDG 17. This last (but not least) of the Goals emphasizes partnerships as an important means of achieving sustainable development. One crucial form of partnership is collaboration between development practitioners and academics – to ensure that development work is grounded in evidence, and that research is informed and guided by practice.


In the North American context, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) in partnership with the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) recently released a report that identified and compiled the knowledge on collaborative partnerships in Canada and the US. These partnerships take a variety of forms, including collaborative research projects, practitioner placements in academic contexts, student internship programs, and input on training programs by civil society organizations (CSOs).

Specifically, we asked whether similar trends can be seen across North America, and whether differences between the institutional environments in Canada and the US affect the frequency and effectiveness of collaborative partnerships. The three key findings are instructive for how governments, CSOs, and academic institutions can enhance partnerships in the years to come.


1. Success depends on both internal and external factors. As demonstrated in previous studies, the success of these collaborations is determined in large part by the quality of the relationship between individual academic institutions and CSOs, which is in turn influenced by a variety of factors including the trust established through transparency and clear lines of communication.

The long-term research collaboration between Purdue University and Catholic Relief Services is an interesting example of an institutional partnership focused on mutual learning. This case and others also reveal the human factor – the importance of having people with a strong understanding of both research and practice alike, who can support and build innovative, sustainable, and meaningful partnerships.

However, larger structural factors also play a role in determining the frequency and effectiveness of collaborations. These factors include government priorities, the strategic orientation of funding agencies, the presence of organizations playing supportive roles, and broader academic and CSO cultures.


2. There is little direct government funding for academic-CSO development partnerships. With a few exceptions, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Connection, Engage and Partnership programs, large federal funding agencies in North America (and particularly the United States) have not prioritized collaborations between academic and non-profit organizations. With few resources available, the logistical and coordination challenges of scaled partnerships may be intimidating for many CSOs and academic institutions.

By contrast, the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC-UK)has taken a much more proactive approach to facilitating collaboration – offering resources to help researchers identify what impact is and how to achieve it, encouraging research produced with rather than on people, and urging researchers to embrace sharing information rather than merely disseminating results (the latter often in inaccessible ways). Similar initiatives in Canada and North America could substantially strengthen the number and quality of researcher-practitioner partnerships at national and regional levels.

Targeting non-academic and CSO partners as co-investigators in grant programs would help support collaborative work along with creating new funding windows for applied research focusing on societal impact.


3. National platforms and networks have an important role to play. Like CCIC and CASID in Canada, InterAction and the Society for International Development (SID) are coalitions of members committed to end poverty in the US. They act as conveners, advocates and leaders in the global development sector at the national level. These networking and capacity-building organizations could play a powerful role as bridging bodies, capable of facilitating academic-CSO partnerships and liaisons between other entities.

As a starting point, they could use their memberships to run pilot programs to enhance collaborations between CSO members and academic research partners, such as secondments, placements, research partnerships, etc. As umbrella organizations with access to many CSOs, they could map existing partnership agreements between CSO members and academic institutions to learn more about how they evolved, the benefits of the relationship, and what outcomes and impacts have been identified to date.

Partnership is easier said than done – but the ambition of the SDGs, and indeed of Canada’s own Feminist International Assistance Policy, demands nothing less. The lessons taken from this study can help build a more enabling environment for successful development partnerships between academic researchers and civil society practitioners, through the joint contributions of government, national platforms and networks, and the partners themselves.


Emily McGiffin is a postdoctoral fellow at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. She is also a research assistant on the Next Generation program.

Andréanne Martel is the Program Officer of the Next Generation program, a research partnership between the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) in Ottawa and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID).

Gavin Charles is the Policy Officer at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC).



Link to original article: SDG Knowledge hub


A Series on Innovative Models of Collaboration between Academics and Practitioners

A Series on Innovative Models of Collaboration between Academics and Practitioners

The Next Generation Program is thrilled to announce the launch of an initiative to share learnings from a series of innovative models of collaboration that aim to bridge theory and practice in the global development sector! This initiative will develop a series of in-depth case studies on the challenges, strategies, business models and successes of these collaborations.


The purpose of these independent case studies is to engage and inform leaders within our sector on strategies and best practices on how they could better work collaboratively – and to inform a wider readership by making these studies publicly available.


What do you need to know?


So far, three models of collaborations from different Canadian CSOs have been selected. The Next generation program will launch the first cases in Spring 2018. The cases will provide an in-depth understanding of these models and will share learnings for the sector.  Graduate students from various Canadian universities will conduct, design and write the case studies.


The Next Generation will identify other innovative models to include in this series over the course of the program.


The Ivory Tower And The Trenches: Finding Common Ground

By Emily McGiffin


In a new era of global cooperation and sustainable development goals, the effectiveness of Canada’s participation rests more than ever before on the ability of various sectors to work productively together, sharing their knowledge and expertise and generating better evidence. When it comes to development and humanitarian assistance, Canadian civil society organizations (CSOs) and academic communities have much to learn from one another, and much to gain from successful collaborations.


Unfortunately, despite the rich potential benefits of collaboration and its very real potential to increase the success of development and humanitarian assistant efforts, collaboration between these two sectors is less frequent—and often less effective—than it could beDivergent priorities, approaches, and organizational cultures can lead to misunderstandings on both sides and prevent long-term partnerships from emerging. Even worse, such divisions have often driven CSOs toward commercial consultants and away from the rich intellectual resource of Canada’s academic community. This divisive trend can limit the scope and reach of much CSO research even as it drives academics towards research focused on theory and concepts, and divorced from policy and other practical applications. In fact, Canada stands out among Britain, the US and other G7 countries in terms of its gap between research and practice. Yet with shrinking funds to the international development and humanitarian assistance sectors (and particularly to their research-related projects), it only makes sense to seek ways to integrate the work of academic scholars and development practitioners.


Faced with this scenario, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation(CCIC) and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development(CASID) have partnered in a decisive step toward change. Their new three-year program, Next Generation: Collaboration for Development, aims to identify and promote new and existing ways in which practitioners, researchers, academics, students and policy developers can help create the right conditions for collaboration between academics and civil society organizations working in international development and humanitarian assistance.


As a first step, the program launched a literature review to discover what has been written on the topic of CSO/academic collaboration specific to international development and humanitarian assistance in Canada and to assess knowledge gaps. The review involved systematically searching research databases for key terms and concepts then assessing successes, trends, and lessons learned in the gathered resources.


One key finding of this review was that although many valuable lessons can be drawn from other sectors and from other country contexts, relatively little information exists specific to academic/practitioner collaboration in the development field in Canada. Despite this gap, existing information from both Canada and abroad points to several prominent trends. Most importantly, the success of collaborations generally hinges on the quality of the relationship between academic institutions and CSOs. Several writers described cultural or institutional challenges that worked against successful relationships, preventing successful collaboration. Such challenges include financial or resource inequalities, power dynamics, and the inability to overcome their differing orientations. Predictably, the role of good communication figures prominently in addressing these challenges. The nature and quality of relationships can also be influenced by the alignment of development studies programs or other academic departments undertaking the collaboration. Critical or theoretical approaches may be at odds with the practice-based approaches of CSOs, who may be further deterred by the critical nature of some academic writing that may not align with the upbeat tone of CSO communications that focus on solutions.


At the same time, a variety of effective strategies for addressing these challenges also emerged. Co-production, in which all parties are involved in developing research projects from the conceptualization and design stage onward, ensures that all parties are heard and have input into the research process. Gateways to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise can take the form of resources, such as databases or “hotline” email addresses or phone numbers that can help link practitioners to relevant academic personnel. Such channels improve the accessibility of academic institutions and experts that may appear threatening or unapproachable to non-experts.


Collaboration can also take a variety of forms beyond research. It can involve student placements, volunteer postings, training opportunities, or visiting fellowships. CSOs can offer valuable opportunities for practice-based research with impact, while academics can provide avenues for publication and research resources. Given the importance of student placements as a form of academic/practitioner collaboration, increased professional training could help ensure that students arrive at their placements well-equipped with professional skills of value to partner CSOs.


As project funding continue to shrink and research funding increasingly calls for applied projects and/or collaborative project structures, demands on both academics and CSO practitioners to forge productive partnerships are likely to increase. While such collaborations can be win-win in many respects, they can also create headaches for both parties as they struggle to find common ground. More work is needed to identify specific barriers, issues and concerns as well as strategies for learning and sharing and pathways to success in a variety of Canadian situations. When it comes to collaborative approaches, documentation and sharing could help lead to partnerships that survive and flourish.



Emily McGiffin is a postdoctoral fellow at York University’s Faculty of Environmental studies.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.


Link to original article: HuffingtonPost