Defining and Evaluating Equitable Partnerships: A Rapid Review
Equitable partnerships are central to the GCRF portfolio overall, the interdisciplinary hubs, and specifically to the Tomorrow’s Cities Hub. Achieving the Hub’s aim of catalysing a transition from crisis management to multi-hazard risk-informed and inclusive planning for cities in low-and-middle income countries, is not possible without working through equitable partnerships with a diverse set of actors. Simply delivering the results of multi-hazard risk research is not sufficient to tackle the interactable challenge of risk governance. It requires working directly with decision makers, planners, civil society and communities within cities and beyond, and doing so in a way that builds ownership of the process as much as the outcomes of the research, so that the research can directly inform decision making and city planning processes. While the term is now gaining popularity in research circles, the idea of equitable and effective partnerships has long been part of development discourse. What equitable partnership means in practice, however, is difficult to determine as there are manifold and contested meanings of “partnership” and “equity.” A clear definition or even principles remain hard to pinpoint. Despite there being no commonly agreed criteria of what makes a partnership equitable, the review identified common features across discussions of effective (equitable) partnerships that we argue should inform how the Hub builds, maintains and evaluates partnerships, including: Acknowledge principles of equality, mutuality, reciprocity, and respect. This incorporates recognising and ensuring a mutual understanding of differences between the partners and how these differences can influence the partnership. This includes differences based on cultural and contextual backgrounds, including varying capacities, priorities, timeframes, organisational incentive structures and other practices. Acknowledge and make power differences explicit, including that funding flows affect relationships and create power asymmetries. Funding and benefits that people get from the research need to be made explicit and equity in decision making can help address power differences. Power also influences which types of evidence and knowledge are valued and consequently how research is designed and implemented and the type of outputs that are produced for which audiences. Equitable partnerships challenge hierarchies of evidence and knowledge and are inclusive of local and Indigenous knowledges. At their core, partnerships are built on interpersonal relationships that are based on mutual trust. Transparency and accountability are important aspects of building this. Open communication between all partners throughout the partnership lifetime is key. Trust is one of the fundamentals of well-functioning partnerships and takes time to establish through regular, open communication. Engage with the context that shapes the partnership and create space for mutual learning so that the partnership can adapt to the changes in the external context. This requires bringing partners into how success if valued and evaluated and enabling learning across all to inform adaptation. This includes the global funding context within which partnerships are formed. There is a dearth of evidence of how working in equitable partnerships support development impact and a lack of specific assessments of implementation and contextual differences of equitable partnerships. This highlights a unique opportunity for Tomorrow’s Cities to contribute to the emergent research topic of evaluating equitable partnerships in large-scale research for development programmes. As we note in the review, existing definitions are mainly based on ideas and research by researchers from the Global North, which adds an opportunity for the Hub to shift this trend and build equitable partnerships through leadership of colleagues in LMIC of operation. Starting points for what to focus evaluation on are to consider how the partnership is performing on the design, systemic and relational dimensions, in terms of recognition, procedure and distribution. Going beyond the “usual suspects” and opening up opportunities for those other than existing national and institutional partnerships is also seen as a potential key factor in measuring the equity of a partnership.