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Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships

Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships J Bus Ethics (2016) 135:1–17 DOI 10.1007/s10551-015-2756-4 Four Impact Loops for Channeling Partnership Studies 1 2 3 4 • • • Rob van Tulder M. May Seitanidi Andrew Crane Stephen Brammer Published online: 3 December 2015 The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com Abstract This paper addresses the topic of this special interact. We distinguish four different pathways or impact symposium issue: how to enhance the impact of cross- loops that refer to four distinct orders of impact. The paper sector partnerships. The paper takes stock of two related concludes by applying these insights to the four papers discussions: the discourse in cross-sector partnership included in this special issue. research on how to assess impact and the discourse in impact assessment research on how to deal with more Keywords Impact  Monitoring and evaluation complex organizations and projects. We argue that there is Cross-sector partnerships  Effectiveness growing need and recognition for cross-fertilization between the two areas. Cross-sector partnerships are reaching a paradigmatic status in society, but both research Introduction: The Growing Importance of Cross- and practice need more thorough evidence of their impacts Sector Partnerships and of the conditions under which these impacts can be enhanced. This paper develops a framework that should Cross-sector partnerships are one of the most exciting and enable a constructive interchange between the two research dynamic areas of research and practice within business and areas, while also framing existing research into more pre- society relations. Partnerships that bridge different sectors cise categories that can lead to knowledge accumulation. (public, private, and nonprofit) are thriving around the We address the preconditions for such a framework and world. Thousands of cross-sector partnerships are currently discuss how the constituent parts of this framework active and/or under consideration or development, and there has consequently been a dramatic increase in the management and policy literature on cross-sector partner- & Rob van Tulder rtulder@rsm.nl ships (Gray and Stites 2013; Branzei and Le Ber 2014). Austin (2000) was the first to label these alliances the M. May Seitanidi mmayseitanidi@yahoo.com collaborative paradigm of the twenty-first century (Van Tulder 2010). Andrew Crane acrane@schulich.yorku.ca The central aim of many cross-sector partnerships is to Stephen Brammer solve economic, social, and environmental problems S.Brammer@bham.ac.uk through collaboration (Crane 1998), often by addressing institutional and regulatory voids (Fransen and Kolk 2007) Department Business-Society Management, RSM Erasmus by providing social goods such as clean water, health, or University, Campus Woudestein, Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062 PA Rotterdam, The Netherlands education (Warner and Sullivan 2004). Hence, cross-sector 2 partnerships typically emphasize an ‘imperative to realize Kent Business School, University of Kent, Kent, UK benefits for the wider community rather than for special Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, interests’ (Skelcher and Sullivan 2002, p. 752). Partner- Canada ships generally address the social responsibilities of Birmingham Business School, Birmingham, UK 123 2 R. van Tulder et al. participating organizations, either in response to external Seitanidi et al. 2010), and modest or partial consideration pressures (reactively), in anticipation of potential social and evaluation of anticipated outcomes and impacts issues that may arise in the future (proactively), or as part (Margolis and Walsh 2003). The anticipated benefits for of the process of interaction by adapting to emergent issues the actors involved in cross-sector partnerships have been (adaptively) (Seitanidi 2008; Van Tulder et al. 2014). extensively discussed in the literature, but realized out- Cross-sector partnerships are, therefore, expected to deliver comes, benefits, and impacts are much less often discussed improved and innovative solutions for economic, social, even in the older form of public sector partnerships (Provan and environmental problems via the combination of the and Milward 2001; Leach et al. 2002; Arya and Lin 2007) capacities and resources of organizational actors across indicating the challenges that exist in monitoring, report- different sectors (Brinkerhoff 2002a, b; Gray 1989; Hux- ing, and evaluation in practice as well as in applying or ham and Vangen 1996). developing appropriate methodologies in research. The idea that cross-sector partnerships are a new para- Cross-sector partnership research is characterized by digm for strategy across the different sectors is manifested widely dispersed and multi-disciplinary theoretical roots (cf. in their growing empirical pervasiveness. Large companies Gray and Wood 1991;Gray and Stites 2013;Hull et al. 2011) have come to appreciate the potential for cross-sector as is the case with its methodological approaches employing a partnerships to contribute to long-term competitive multitude and mixture of methods, which has resulted in a advantage. Early evidence suggested that the one hundred toolkit that has ‘grown large and heavy to carry’ (Branzei and largest firms in the world were on average involved in Le Ber 2014, p. 231). Researchers switch from one area to about eighteen cross-sector partnerships with ‘non-market’ another, whereas words, concepts, and definitions are actors (PrC 2010). In addition, governments have seen embraced with sometimes limited reference to each other. cross-sector partnerships as innovative ways of producing Hence, although there is a growing abundance in diversity, public goods in collaboration with firms (Clarke and Fuller there is a lack of focus and co-ordination of methods (Crane 2010) and NGOs (Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff 2011). and Seitanidi 2014). Researchers have largely tried to com- Since the early 2000s, international organizations such as plement each other, rather than entering into a productive the United Nations and the World Bank have embraced conversation regarding significant points of theoretical or public–private partnerships (PPPs) as a means of providing methodological disagreement. This is a typical sign of a field global public goods like environmental protection or pov- in a build-up phase, in which the diversity of approaches can erty alleviation (Glasbergen et al. 2007; Rivera-Santos lead to productive development of the field. In addition, the et al. 2012). While governments have traditionally used booming attention to the issue of partnerships creates con- PPPs to build-up ‘hard’ infrastructure such as roads and siderable demand for rapid scans and practical insights, with water works, they are now increasingly experimenting with often limited space and scope for fundamental reflection and using PPPs for ‘soft’ issues with varying constituents and consolidation of knowledge. Moreover, methodological aims (Dixon et al. 2004; Milliman and Grosskopf 2004; diversity also creates transaction costs that can hamper pro- Skelcher and Sullivan 2002; Teegen and Doh 2003). gress in a later phase and can also lead to the persistence of Finally, cross-sector partnerships are increasingly being superficial or ideological discussions. adopted by many civil society organizations in preference It is our contention that there is an urgent need for cross- to a confrontational approach toward firms and govern- sector partnership research to pay greater attention to the ments in order to develop novel solutions to old problems, monitoring, reporting, and evaluation of the outcomes and thereby aiming to increase the efficiency and effectiveness impacts on social problems of partnerships. This is neces- of their activities (Le Ber and Branzei 2009; Galaskiewicz sary to inform and support the legitimacy and credibility of and Colman 2006; Hamann et al. 2008; Jamali and partnerships as an effective and efficient approach to Keshishian 2009; van Huijstee and Glasbergen 2010; solving complex social and environmental issues, as well Laasonen et al. 2012; Seitanidi and Crane 2014; PrC 2011). as in determining their necessary limits. Importantly, With this exponential growth in activity, the question enhancing the impact of cross-sector partnerships requires facing many actors in society has shifted from one of greater attention to developing shared understanding about whether partnerships with actors from other sectors of the meaning of impact in partnerships. Extant literature has society are relevant, to one of how they should be formed examined what social partnerships are about (the ‘‘what’’ organized, governed, intensified, and/or extended. Argu- question), the motives and drivers behind such collabora- ably, assessments of the efficiency and effectiveness of tions (‘‘why’’ questions), and the process of forming and partnerships in addressing their intended goals are the most implementing partnerships (‘‘how’’ questions). Although critical elements in partnership decisions. Many early research about the outcomes of partnership is limited, partnerships were characterized by an absence of formal research on the impact of partnerships i.e., looking whether planning (Austin 2000; Jamali and Keshishian 2009; partnerships make a difference to society (‘‘so what’’ 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 3 questions) is mainly grounded on anecdotal evidence partnerships as they often require sophisticated methodolo- employing prescriptive and ‘‘best-practice’’ reasoning. gies, multi-level tools, and longitudinal research designs that There is a lack of convincing evidence based on monitor- are not easy to develop, implement and elaborate. A central ing, reporting, and evaluation. Despite these challenges the issue here is the so-called attribution problem (Brinkerhoff proximity, almost in real time (Branzei and Le Ber 2014), 2002a, b): namely, the problem associated with isolating the between partnership research and praxis holds high impacts of a specific cross-sector partnership from other potential for the development of relevant and useful theory confounding contributing influences. The more complex the for practice (Seitanidi 2014) as well as methodologies to issue the partnership is intended to address, the more diffi- addresses the challenges described above. cult the attribution problem becomes. Therefore, despite a In this paper, we provide a first step towards initiating, dramatic increase in the management and policy literature organizing, and developing a productive exchange between on cross-sector partnerships, the field faces a number of research on cross-sector partnerships and impact assess- pressures to develop better ways of thinking about and ment. The paper begins by discussing the growing need for assessing impact. impact assessment in cross-sector partnerships (‘‘The Growing Need for Evidence-Based Impact Assessments’’ Organizational Pressure section), taking stock of the latest insights and discourses in two relevant areas: the cross-sector partnership and the One set of pressures toward greater attention to impact has impact assessment literatures (‘‘Impact Assessment Chal- come from participating organizations themselves. To lenges’’ section). We then develop a framework to guide begin with, an absence of proven impact can affect the future research in partnership effectiveness and efficiency legitimacy of organizations investing time and money in (‘‘Framing Partnership Impact Assessments: Two Com- partnerships, in particular when the stated ambitions are plementary Roads’’ section). We thereby distinguish four high. Many organizations place high hopes on partnerships basic impact pathways or loops of partnerships that create to solve some of the problems they face due to market, four different ‘‘orders’’ of impact. Each adds a different civic, and governance failures (Kolk et al. 2008)orin lens through which to systematically examine the different support of extending their strategies into new areas. There types of partnership impacts. This framework is intended to exists the danger of taking credit for results that the part- enable a more productive exchange of knowledge in future ners cannot achieve (Ebrahim and Rangan 2013). In gen- research across both areas. In particular, we more precisely eral, the pressure on organizations to measure performance categorize impacts arising from partnerships in order to and establish ‘‘what works’’ also in more complex areas help facilitate the selection of appropriate methodologies like social programs, has increased (Epstein and Klerman for impact assessment. Finally, we frame the four papers of 2013; Khagram and Thomas 2010; White 2009). Therefore, this special issue along the various impact orders (‘‘Impact there is a greater emphasis on the consequences of part- Orders in the Special Issue’’ section) as a way of illus- nerships (Biermann et al. 2007) or impact instead of the trating the usefulness of the framework and positioning the more traditional focus on inputs and output effects. This is papers in terms of their contribution to the debate on also accompanied by increases in budgets for impact enhancing the impact of cross-sector partnerships. assessment and stepped-up monitoring requirements in international development initiatives (Liket and Maas 2012). For example, a survey among NGOs and firms in the The Growing Need for Evidence-Based Impact UK (C&E 2013) showed that companies, and to a lesser Assessments extent NGOs, consider it vital to ‘‘prove’’ not only societal considerations within their business practices, but also the Despite their growing popularity, precisely evaluating the impact of their activities. For all major societal actors, value added of partnerships has proven difficult, partly clearly demonstrating what impacts have arisen from because of the dynamic and evolving nature of cross-sector partnerships is becoming more important. partnerships. While recent research developments are Although nonprofit organizations have a longer tradition beginning to address this issue, the lack of attention to in social impact assessment due to their need to document impact assessment within partnership research was origi- making a difference to the social issues they tackle to a nally strongly influenced by the relative novelty of cross- wider range of publics (Mulgan 2010), the push for con- sector partnerships, their diversity, the lack of available crete impact assessment at the moment seems acute also resources, limited research interest, and the lack of appro- among companies, as they are interested in cost/benefit priate methodologies. The inherent complexity and diversity assessments. Company-induced partnerships tend to of cross-sector partnerships presents a number of analytical address less complex problems which can be more sus- and methodological difficulties in assessing the impact of ceptible to systematic evaluation. Business involvement in 123 4 R. van Tulder et al. more complex partnerships registered by the UN or in solving social problems (e.g., Barnes and Brown 2011). climate change is relatively limited (Pinkse and Kolk Gaps in regulation and governance (Rivera-Santos and 2012), and thus there exists a relatively straightforward Rufın 2010) or democracy (Ba¨ckstrand 2006) are not push for impact assessments and social performance met- easily, if ever, filled by partnerships. New institutional rics by corporations. In particular, in the area of CSR voids have appeared and partnerships have arguably strategies, the demand for impact assessment has increased crowded out other relevant interest groups or introduced to enable reporting, prevent allegations of window dress- ‘‘solutions’’ that are as controversial as the problems they ing, and to legitimize the societal involvement of organi- were intended to address (Mert and Chan 2012). Relatively zations. This tendency has created a competitive ‘‘market’’ little is known of the contribution of cross-sector partner- for impact assessment. Although a wide range of impact ships to wider societal goals, such as the millennium assessment models are available in the private (Liket and development goals (Utting and Zammit 2009). The greater Maas 2012) and nonprofit (Maas 2009) sectors, fertilization difficulty of doing research into these broader social of impact assessment models across sectors remains rela- problems in which attribution problems are most severe has tively limited. created a lack of empirical findings (Babiak 2009) as well In most of the extant impact assessment frameworks, as limited theoretical development. Despite the growth in partnerships have not yet systematically been taken into the scale and scope of partnership research in international consideration and, reflecting this, there is very little development, for example, the field arguably continues to empirical evaluation of the potential of partnerships to have ‘an impoverished theoretical appeal, which is under- contribute through attribution to specific impacts. How- defined, poorly scrutinized, and rather unconvincingly ever, the higher political stakes involved in partnerships utilized as a guiding concept in applied practice’ (Barnes makes the assessment technique itself potentially con- and Brown 2011, p. 166). Others witness an overuse of the tentious. The measurement of the impact of PPPs, for term partnership (Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff 2011). instance, has been particularly difficult because of a lack of United Nations organizations, governments, NGOs, and baseline metrics, and an unwillingness by participating firms have therefore started to call for better and more managers to disclose the impact effects on their own evidence-based impact assessment methodologies (Lund- organizations (Maas 2012). The reasons for this are related Thomsen 2009). to measurement problems, but also to the general feeling These circumstances reiterate the importance of moving that it is more important to start participating in a part- the discussion on impact beyond generalizations and nership than to actually question or measure the exact toward more concrete evidence-based insights. The lack of starting position of each participant too much. In addition proper techniques provides no excuse for not engaging in monitoring and evaluation (Austin and Seitanidi 2014). to measurement difficulties, including the nonquantifiable value of partnerships, the temporal dimension and the There is a recognized need ‘to fine tune further efforts, and multi-causality of partnerships (Austin et al. 2006) add to assesses when and under which conditions different types the impact assessment challenges. For example, when of partnerships do and do not work, and in which cases cross-sector partnership brokers are initiating a partnership other mechanisms may be more effective’ (Kolk 2014, they face a trade-off between seizing the opportunity to p. 37). In impact assessment terms, this emphasizes the start a partnership as a coalition of the willing and the importance of understanding the so-called ‘‘counterfac- desire to assess in more detail the exact nature of the tual’’—the question of what would have happened anyway problem and the motivations of the potential partners without the intervention of the partnership—in order to (Stadtler and Probst 2012; Wood 2012) which would more precisely frame the research on partnership impact. require significant time and effort to establish the partner- ship’s base line. However, a hampered assessment of the starting position of a partnership affects its dynamics as Impact Assessment Challenges well as the ability of the participants to keep track of progress, making it difficult to assess impact convincingly The discourses in both areas of research that are central to and consistently. this discussion—partnership research and impact assess- ment—have largely progressed independently. Recently, Research Pressure some interaction has appeared, but without much cross-fer- tilization. Nevertheless, partnership researchers are clearly A secondary trigger for impact assessment is the pressure becoming more interested in impact evaluation, while from partnership researchers regarding the legitimacy and impact assessment researchers are showing more interest in effectiveness of partnerships, due to a persistent question- networks and complex constellations of actors. In this sec- ing of whether partnerships are a ‘‘panacea’’ or ‘‘hype’’ for tion, we explore how and to what extent cross-fertilization 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 5 can actually be achieved by noting a number of separate ‘‘sectors’’ (Beisheim 2012; Pattberg et al. 2012; Kolk developments, common challenges, and possible approaches 2014). For instance, much partnership research focuses on needed for an effective framing of insights from both areas. a ‘‘third’’ sector that constitutes civil society, or examines the distinctive character of partnerships involving ‘‘public’’ Conceptual and Definitional Challenges versus ‘‘private’’ sector actors. Gray and Stites (2013) describe a fourth sector—‘‘community’’—as distinctive A primary challenge to greater cross-field engagement is from NGOs. In general, however, NGOs have been con- definitional. Both areas of research are still (pre)occupied sidered the representatives of communities, which makes with basic questions such as the definition of ‘cross-sector them part of a wider category of civil society organizations. partnerships’ and ‘social impact.’ Some refer to this as In other studies—and certainly in the policy discourse— definitional ambiguity (Glendinning 2002) others as defi- knowledge institutes are considered a separate sector, but nitional ‘‘chaos’’ (Ling 2002; White 2009). mostly they are considered as hybrids between public/pri- In impact assessment research, for instance, there is still vate and profit/nonprofit sectors. discussion regarding what constitutes the difference A similar discussion exists regarding the definition of between the outputs, outcomes, and impacts of particular the notion of a ‘‘partnership.’’ A systematic literature actions or programs. A number of authors and institutions review of the partnership literature over the last twenty make a distinction between immediate, intermediate, and years reveals that most contributions refer to ‘‘alliances,’’ ultimate outcomes. There is growing consensus, however, or to ‘‘collaboration’’ in general rather than to ‘‘cross-sec- that ‘‘outputs’’ often refer to immediate effects on the tor’’ partnerships specifically (Drost 2013). The lack of a participating organizations, while ‘‘outcomes’’ relate to uniform analytical frame makes it difficult to compare intermediate direct effects on the targeted communities, partnerships and evaluate the cost and benefits (Glendin- and ‘‘impacts’’ to long-term and net effects (direct and ning 2002). One approach to this definitional ambiguity is indirect effects) on whole issues. Liket and Maas (2012) to provide a more narrow or theoretical definition of part- note that this delineation of an impact chain causes prac- nerships. For instance, it has been suggested that the tical problems because long-term effects are difficult to characteristics of partnerships might be used to more pre- measure, in particular, for more complex problems. Lack of cisely define ‘‘partnerships’’ as arising only in circum- data makes many partnership projects appear to be ‘‘im- stances where partners can be considered equal and the pact-less,’’ in spite of considerable achievements having partnership non-hierarchical (Glasbergen et al. 2007), or been made. This problem can be addressed by defining where partners share a high degree of mutuality, account- different ‘‘orders of impact’’ which leaves the basic idea of ability, and transparency (Brinkerhoff 2002a), or in those an impact chain of effects intact (White 2009; Ebrahim and conditions where partnerships primarily concern ‘‘risk’’ Rangan 2010), but nevertheless includes different levels of sharing agreements (Ministry of Economic Affairs 2012). impact. This is elaborated in more detail in ‘‘Framing While such a choice potentially facilitates impact analysis Partnership Impact Assessments: two Complementary by making comparison easier, it also limits research to a Roads’’ section. relatively small subsample of the observed phenomenon. Another definitional debate arises in cross-sector part- nership research, where there is still discussion of classi- Methodological and Measurement Challenges fications and typologies of partnerships within and across Both areas of research increasingly acknowledge the con- This section has profited from three preparatory studies. The first ceptual and methodological pitfalls seen in extant research. study (Ton and Vellema 2013) was written by evaluation experts and Many of the impact measures developed in one sector, explored the methodological challenges in monitoring and evaluating even if they are used by many sectors (such as ‘‘social the effectiveness of public–private partnership ventures in agricultural return on investment’’), are not suitable for the more chain development. The second study (Drost 2013) engaged in a complex organizational forms of cross-sector relationships systematic literature scans on peer reviewed academic articles on the role played by impact and effectiveness of cross-sector partnerships where multiple actors from different sectors interact and studies for the 1992–2012 period. The study identified 127 articles, co-create impact. Partnerships represent a wide variety of with a clear increase since 2006 and a concentration of articles in the organizational forms, interests and expectations which Journal of Business Ethics. The third paper (Maas 2012) combines both the perspectives and formulated the first contours of the makes it much more difficult to define ‘‘success’’ than Partnerships Effectiveness model as further elaborated in ‘‘Framing evaluating a single organization (Provan and Milward Partnership Impact Assessments: Two Complementary Roads’’ of this 2001). paper. One methodological solution that has been proposed for Liket et al. (2012) present an adapted impact value chain in which this problem has been the linking of the outcome of a they take the perspective of individual organizations. In this paper, we partnership to the objectives as defined by the participants. refer to this kind of impact chains as ‘second order’ impact. 123 6 R. van Tulder et al. This approach addresses only part of the impact challenge, broadly, the motivations for developing cross-sector part- as partners might raise non-compatible and unrealistic nerships for more complex problems are widely acknowl- expectations, or even define the issue or problem differ- edged. But many of these motivations are strongly related ently to begin with. Evolving expectations, targets, and to perceived or anticipated impact, the value creation constituencies makes it exponentially more difficult to potential and the ambition to effectively contribute to research partnerships than to research single organizations solving wicked problems. Many of these aims are difficult (Selsky and Parker 2005; Toulemonde et al. 1998). to measure or are difficult to attribute to the specific part- Moreover, changes in conditions over time can affect nership and therefore cannot yet be substantiated. The more partners differently (Vellema et al. 2013). complex the problems are addressed by the partnership An important implication of this discussion is that the (either directly or indirectly), the more additional research effectiveness of partnerships is strongly context dependent is required. and needs to be considered in its interaction with context. Some studies have taken a more critical perspective: for This interaction can create indirect and unintended effects instance presenting the effects of PPPs as the outcome of a that affect the overall impacts of partnerships. There is a struggle between a variety of actors (Lund-Thomsen 2009), growing literature that tries to take the context of part- observing that little is known about their contribution to nerships into account in order to make a diverse assessment wider goals (Utting and Zammit 2009), demonstrating that of impact, in particular in contexts characterized by insti- community development partnership initiatives have only tutional gaps (Kolk and Lenfant 2012; Mair et al. 2012). limited positive impacts (Idemudia 2009), or noting that Many of these impact measures, however, are still based on companies are not adequately monitoring partnerships to ‘‘perceived impact’’ rather than objectively defined see whether they actually enact their strategic investment impacts. Moreover, taking the context of the partnership (Esteves and Barclay 2011). Critical studies tend to reit- into account can require that new levels of analysis are erate the importance of context (Rein and Stott 2009) and introduced, such as the global value chain, which intro- of taking the consequences for communities into account. duces its own methodological challenges. Furthermore, the Most studies conclude that the impacts of partnerships need nature of the institutional gap that the partnership addresses to be addressed at three levels of analysis: community, influences its effectiveness: are partnerships primarily network, and organization (Provan and Milward 2001; aimed at filling gaps as regards regulation, participation, Babiak 2009). Recent research also proposes a fourth level implementation, resources, and learning (Seitanidi and of analysis, namely the individuals within participating Crane 2009; Kolk 2014; Pattberg et al. 2012), or are they organizations (Seitanidi 2009; Kolk 2014). aimed at ‘‘creating opportunities’’ and creating value One of the most noticeable developments within the (Austin and Seitanidi 2014)? Attribution of the impacts of impact assessment literature has been the spread of cross-sector partnerships under such complex clouds of experimental methods with random assignment to treat- intertwined conditions has created legitimate ground for ment and control groups (Duflo et al. 2006). In a number of questioning the relevance, effectiveness, and replicability high profile areas, these studies adequately addressed the of partnerships (Roche and Roche 1999; DAC 2008). so-called macro–micro paradox of international develop- Partnership research, despite its fragmented nature, has ment aid: how to link the benefits of development projects resulted in considerable knowledge on the drivers and to impact at the macro-level (Liket 2014). The experi- motivations of cross-sector partnerships (Gray and Stites mental method is typically considered the most rigorous 2013), which influence partnership characteristics (Laaso- method currently available, and is particularly effective at nen et al. 2012), process issues, and even some output and providing robust evidence on what works and what does outcome characteristics. Austin and Seitanidi (2012a, b, not within less complex partnerships with a limited focus. 2014) identified a large number of value drivers and out- However, experimental methods have considerable lined a collaboration process ‘‘value chain’’ and an out- methodological limitations when applied to more complex comes assessment framework. Gray and Stites (2013) cross-sector partnerships. For example, the experimental systematically examined the state of the literature on cross- method has difficulty in taking into account spill-over sector partnerships (for development) and highlighted effects from pilot-intervention areas to other areas, which numerous positive outcomes and a more modest list of makes the distinction between ‘‘treated’’ and ‘‘control’’ negative outcomes for individual stakeholders (firms, groups difficult (Ravallion 2010). Additionally, the rele- NGOs, governments) in the literature. However, they also vance of context (Epstein and Klerman 2013) and the note the relative absence of the outcomes of partnerships impossibility of establishing random and real control on communities and on the environment and suggest that groups (Bamberger et al. 2010) in cross-sector partnerships evidence of multi-sector partnerships’ effectiveness still make the technique less appropriate to many partnership remains largely anecdotal and prescriptive (ibid: 54). More evaluation problems. As a result, quasi-experimental 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 7 methods and more qualitative indicators are introduced in Since we are in the early stages of the large-scale adoption impact assessment research in which contextual variables of ToCs by partnership projects, it is difficult to assess their are included (Vellema et al. 2013). practical relevance at the moment but research on part- A recent systematic review of the available evidence on nership impacts is likely to be facilitated through more the sustainable development impact of PPPs gives an explicitly specifying the assumptions of an intervention. illustrative example of the difficulties encountered in Practitioners, however, are not necessarily pleased by impact measurement. Bouman et al. (2013) identified 47 this development. While some argue that higher levels of studies that could qualify as ‘‘valid’’ and insightful—taking detail will by definition result in more reliability of the a broad definition of impact. Eighteen case studies and intervention strategy (Michie and Prestwich 2010), others twenty-nine reviews were included. Studies mainly focused acknowledge that there is a trade-off between detail and the on PPPs in healthcare, infrastructure, water supply and time spent on formulating a ToC (Vogel 2012). Regarding agriculture. The review concludes that the rationale for the question of how to develop useful frameworks and introducing PPPs as novel way to address sustainability ToCs, Valters (2014) points to the risk of relying too much issues is mostly based on resource mobilization motives— on ‘‘scientific evidence’’ produced in highly controlled due to various forms of failure of each party individually— settings. The kind of results that can be accumulated in rather than for effectiveness reasons. Partners’ goals and these settings is very different from the complex environ- missions are often defined in a general way, while criteria ments of partnerships. For this reason, Craig prefers that for measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely objectives ToCs include causal hypotheses that are based on a ratio- are usually absent (ibid: 7). Most of the studies reviewed nale other than evidence such as logical or ethical consider the effects of partnerships on outputs, not on arguments. outcomes or impact. This leaves the attribution question (if A more recent trend in the practice of the ToCs is to no the effects can be linked to the partnership) largely longer speak of ‘‘impact’’ but rather search for ‘‘plausible obscure. The review found only one study with a coun- effects.’’ This approach is also gaining support from impact terfactual. Attribution of effect to particular PPP features in investors and influential foundations such as the Bill and the complex area of sustainable development therefore Melinda Gates Foundation. Such an interpretation of the does not seem possible using the most robust impact ToC resonates with the advice given by both Rogers (2009) measurement techniques. This is further reiterated by and Davies (2005) for the most complex types of inter- practice. vention. Because complexity arises from interdependent agents that influence each other but act according to fairly Practical Challenges predictable rules, it is best to adopt a network perspective on change. In practice, this implies that ToCs become less a Developments in practice are beginning to encourage and representation of change in terms of a sequential process support closer links between partnership and impact and more a ‘short list of simple rules’ (Rogers 2009, p. 43) assessment research. International organizations such as according to which the system is expected to behave. These the OECD and bilateral donor organizations have started to authors argue that in complex environments an overly require organizations to come up with a so-called ‘‘Theory detailed ToC is ‘counter-productive because it stifles cre- of Change’’ (ToC) that explains the intended results (im- ativity and innovation’ (ibid: 44). pacts) of proposed partnerships at their outset. This requirement goes beyond a simple logical framework Taking Stock (DCED/OECD 2010). A ToC provides critical reflection on the hypothesized causal relations and underlying assump- No analytical framework for impact assessment exists yet tions of an intervention strategy that results in a sophisti- that is applicable to all partnerships (Babiak 2009; Atkin- cated theory that explains why an intervention might be son 2005; Maas 2012). Taking all the previous challenges expected to generate the intended change (Vogel 2012). into account, we propose that an analytical framework for partnership impact assessment ideally should take a large number of dimensions into account to constructively Recent professional reports on the development impact of cross- advance the field: sector partnerships come to comparable conclusions (Heinrich 2013; Callan and Davies 2013). Gray and Stites (2013) note the great difficulty of establishing accountability criteria to assess progress in achieving joint goals. Stadler in this special issue gives further Footnote 4 continued examples. ‘programme theories’ (Rogers 2009) or ‘Theories of Change’ (Weiss In so-called theory-based evaluation literature, the search for a 1997; Vogel 2012). There exists an active discussion on the differ- particular type of ‘logic’ is known by interchangeable concepts as ences of these approaches. For argument’s sake, we will use these ‘logic models’ (Mayne 2001), ‘result chains’ (DCED/OECD 2010), dimensions interchangeably in this paper. 123 8 R. van Tulder et al. • The ultimate ambition of the impact assessment and the impacts as the effects at the final level of a causal chain. role taken by the researchers: does it aim to understand This view adopts an outcome perspective of partnerships potential impacts or to ‘‘prove’’ the value added of the (Austin and Seitanidi 2014), where the level of sophisti- partnership, or both? cation depends on the degree to which it is able to include • The appropriate level of analysis for the assessment: different types of effects during the partnership imple- micro, meso, macro, or their interaction (Asthana et al. mentation including positive and negative, direct, and 2002); is it about the impact of the partnership on indirect, short-term and long-term, intended and unin- individuals, organizations, the partnership, the issue or tended effects that ultimately lead to outcomes. Partnership the community/society? research on partnership value creation (Bing and Epstein • The distinction between ‘‘output’’ and ‘‘outcome’’ and 2013) looks for ‘‘plausible effects’’ where impact evalua- between ‘‘immediate,’’ ‘‘intermediate,’’ and ‘‘longer tion becomes primarily framed as a learning approach that term’’ outcomes (also referred to as ‘‘sustainability’’) as is focused on helping managers and stakeholders to learn a relevant proxy for impact; more about their interventions and on understanding why • The nature of the problem that the partnership and how outcomes and impacts are realized or not (Mayne addresses and the benchmark of success that is and Stern 2013; Gray and Stites 2013, p. 8). This approach therefore required for its impact assessment: ‘‘simple’’ takes a relatively instrumental perspective of partnerships, problems require different impact assessments than by, for example, seeing them as the extension of CSR ‘‘wicked problems’’; implementation (Margolis and Walsh 2003; Seitanidi and • The degree to which affected partners are adequately Crane 2009) and prioritizing the organizational actors’ involved in deciding and assessing impact; direct benefits (Seitanidi 2010). However, evaluators • The intervention logic as defined in a more or less adopting the outcome approach to measure impact often do detailed theory of change; relatedly, how to define a not move beyond a first assessment of output—leaving sequence of ‘‘plausible effects’’; longer term outcomes and effects open for follow-up • The possibility to specify control or benchmarks studies. groups; In contrast, the second perspective of impact evaluators • The extent to which the partnership context has to be takes the (social) issue as the point of departure. This taken into account and at what level (region, network, perspective sees as its objective providing evidence that country, supply chain); partnerships actually make a difference to the social issue. • How to account for typical partnership effects: spill- The strictest application of this perspective follows strong over, indirect, and unintended effects; methodological rigor, associated with experimental and • Should the focus be primarily on efficiency or effec- quasi-experimental methods and employing randomized tiveness of the partnership? control groups. Another consideration in this type of • What part of the impact chain can be left un-researched research is the crowding-out effect to non-involved stake- (black box) and what does that imply for replicability holders. It is not surprising that this line of research is and generalizability of the assessments? challenging when applied to complex problems and cross- sector partnerships, as the ambition to define control groups The next section explains how we propose to address that operate under more or less the same circumstances— these issues to enable a systematic and constructive but without the intervention of the partnership—is excep- approach to impact assessment in cross-sector partnerships. tionally challenging. However, as this type of impact assessment seems to become quite dominant as a source of research funding, partnership practitioners and researchers Framing Partnership Impact Assessments: Two might need to consider it in the future in order to provide Complementary Roads robust evidence for addressing wicked problems by cap- turing partnership impact. In both partnership and impact assessment research, the Enhancing the impact of partnerships involves addressing areas we are concerned with in this paper, we see two multiple measurement problems simultaneously and com- traditions developing that largely define the struggle of bining both approaches mentioned above aiming also to organizations and researchers to perform meaningful address the associated challenges identified in the evaluation impact assessment (Liket and Maas 2012). This struggle literature (Liket and Maas 2012). How these approaches are has been discussed as the difference between ‘‘evaluators combined depends on the ambition and available resources to measuring impact’’ and ‘‘impact evaluators’’ (White 2009). researchers. This paper argues that the state-of-affairs in both The first perspective of evaluators measuring impact areas of research has sufficiently progressed in order for this takes the partnership as of point of departure and defines productive exchange to be realized. 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 9 A consecutive argument is that the impact of cross- Impact Value Chain sector partnerships can best be enhanced by addressing how to define different routes through which partnerships The impact value chain (based on e.g., Wainwright 2002; actually create effects/value, how to assess whether these Maas 2009; Ebrahim and Rangan 2010; Maas and Liket 2011; Austin and Seitanidi 2014) includes the following routes are more effective than other possible routes (the counterfactual and effectiveness), define what factors are of elements: • Issue refers to the definition of the social issue being influence to the suggested impact chain (the logic) and what kind of research is needed to enhance the efficiency of addressed by the partnership. The first step in achieving any kind of impact is for participants to agree on the the chosen partnering approach. The approach we propose in this paper is to search for a common framework in which articulation of the social issue they are seeking to tackle to document and assess various impact pathways of cross- (Austin and Seitanidi 2014), the responsibilities sector partnerships. The complexity of the exercise in involved and the roles that can be taken by the partners measuring impact will increase with the complexity of (Van Tulder and Pfisterer 2014). (Social) issues can be issues and partnership configurations. We propose to define defined either in terms of problems or opportunities. the impact order of the partnership as a classification frame • Mission acts as the linking pin between the issue and the input. Where the partnership is problem driven, the to be able to compare and develop different theories and methods in the area of partnership research. By classifying partnership can be considered to be more ‘‘strategic’’ and long term, while where the partnership is more different approaches toward impact assessment, overstate- ments of particular strands of research can be prevented. solution/opportunity driven, the partnership can be The Partnering Monitoring and Evaluation Framework more temporary and tactical: once the ambition of one that we embrace takes the growing practice of sketching party has been achieved the partnership can be impact value chains and the quest for greater attribution terminated. The latter can for instance be expected and counterfactual into account. This frame is based on from corporate-NGO partnerships that aim at the Van Tulder and Maas (2012) and contains two dimensions: creation of markets at the bottom of the pyramid. The same mechanism applies for NGO-corporate philan- (1) an impact value chain that documents the actual steps of the partnership from issue definition through to impact; thropic ‘‘partnerships’’ in which parties are primarily interested in a sponsoring relationship for mutual (2) an effectiveness assessment approach that assesses the fit and value added of the partnership to the actual societal branding. • Inputs are the resources and capabilities (money, staff problem. Figure 1 shows the most relevant constituting factors of these two dimensions in an integrated model. time, capital assets, and commitment) provided to achieve the partnership’s mission. In cross-sector Research on partnerships usually zooms in on specific parts of the model, while taking the other parts as given. partnerships at least three types of actors provide This framework presents a chain of results in which distinct types of inputs in varying constellations: public organizational inputs and activities lead to a series of actors (governments), private actors (firms), and outputs, outcomes, and ultimately to societal impacts club/community actors (civil society). Partnership (Ebrahim and Rangan 2010). In contrast to activities and research that focuses on the formation of partnerships outputs, impacts actually capture the effects on society as a in particular considers this factor (PrC 2012). The success of the partnership relies on the competencies result of organizational efforts, instead of measuring intentions or activities undertaken by organizations (Maas and resources that are brought in by each partner. The resource-based view, network, and stakeholder theories 2009). While intentions and outputs are related to the providers of the product, activity or service, outcomes and are often applied in this research area. impacts are associated with beneficiaries (Kolodinsky et al. • Throughput is the actual dynamism, execution and 2006) and other stakeholders. Impacts include both inten- implementation process of the partnership, sometimes ded and unintended effects, negative and positive effects, referred to in evaluation studies as ‘‘activities’’ (OECD- and long-term and short-term effects (Wainwright 2002). DAC, 2011). The throughput dimension focuses on the structure within which partners work towards the partnership objectives, which depends on the (1) number and nature of participants, (2) the roles that are adopted by the participants, (3) the arrangement and degree of internal dependencies chosen, which in turn is This framework was first developed for the Partnerships Resource influenced by (4) the position of participants as primary Centre by Karen Maas and Rob van Tulder, receiving inputs from or secondary stakeholder in the project (cf. Fransen and Stella Pfisterer, Sietze Vellema, and Giel Ton. It builds on the original Kolk 2007) and the degree to which the partnership is framework proposed in Kolk et al. (2008). 123 10 R. van Tulder et al. Fig. 1 The Partnership monitoring and evaluation framework. Source Van Tulder and Maas (2012) ‘‘institutionalised’’ in the participating organizations project. The majority of empirical partnership studies (Seitanidi 2010; Van Huijstee and Glasbergen 2010). have concentrated on the output dimension of the Partnership research that concentrates on this dimen- impact value chain with sometimes extrapolations to sion in particular takes process issues into account, longer term (outcome) effects. focusing on a variety of factors including governance, • Outcomes are the benefits or changes for individuals, accountability, agency, transaction costs, decision- communities, or society at large after participating in, making structures, and power. or being influenced by, the activities of the organiza- • Outputs are results that a participating organization or tions and the partnership. Outcomes are, unlike inputs project manager can measure or assess directly. Output and outputs, much more comprehensive and should be represents the deliverables or what will be accom- translated to the extent that the goals of all organiza- plished as a result of the combination of inputs and tions are achieved. Commonly, the organization run- activities. A first output criterion is the extent to which ning the program targets these results but may itself not the individual objectives of each participant have been have the knowledge or expertise to evaluate whether an achieved. Did the partnership fulfill the original objec- outcome has been achieved. More critical approaches tives of the participants or not, or did it perhaps even to partnerships have considered this dimension in add to them? A second output criterion is the extent to particular, and have frequently pointed at the lack of which the project objectives have been achieved. Did outcomes attributable to partnerships. the partnership result in concrete and tangible results? • Impacts are the ultimate changes that one effects What are the ‘‘benefits’’ for each of the participants (in through the partnership. It addresses positive and terms of, for example, profits, members, legitimacy, negative, short-term and in particular long-term effects exposure, and moral capital)? A final criterion is the produced by the partnership, directly or indirectly, extent to which the partnership brought about goal- intended or unintended. The impact of the partnership alignment (Kolk et al. 2008) and as a consequence can be measured at the level of the partners, the scale-up or termination of the project. A project might stakeholders and the system. not be sustainable if it remains dependent upon the An example of the difference between outputs, outcomes and continued financial support of governments or other impact in this sequence can be illustrated by the use of a certain partners. So another question might relate to whether medicine. Outputs can be measured by the amount of medicines the period of engagement of each individual partner has provided by a program, outcomes measures the use of the medicines been sufficient to guarantee the sustainability of the by patients, impact measures the actual health effects users of the 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 11 Efficiency/Effectiveness Assessment assesses the contribution of the partnership in providing solution(s) to the initially defined social issue, which might The efficiency dimension of a partnership can be seen as the include direct and indirect impacts of a partnership on the internal value-added of the partnership, which may be issue and in effect re-articulation of the social problem. assessed using a cost-benefit analysis. What were the total Finally, the nature of the issue as well as the degree of costs of the partnership, and what specific costs (transac- efficiency and effectiveness are influenced by the context in tion costs, operating costs) can be attributed to the part- which the partnership is initiated. Contexts include various nership? For example, more complex negotiations with a levels of analysis such as: country, region, or global. What large number of stakeholders initially incur more costs might be an effective partnership at the national level upon the participants, but can later on—in case of suc- might be ineffective at the local or the global levels. cessfully institutionalized relationships—lead to consider- ably lower operating costs. Weakly elaborated contracts Impact Loops between the cooperating parties can result in serious additional costs if the partnership becomes problematic. We can now define four impact loops that can guide further The extent to which the overall goal of the partnership is research on cross-sector partnerships impact assessment. aligned with the individual goals of the partners for joining Table 1 provides a summary of their most important the partnership could also be a fruitful line of enquiry for characteristics. Figure 2 gives a graphical representation. future research. What critical success factors for managing First-order impact loops primarily aim at establishing a partnership do the partners distinguish themselves and the impact of partnerships through the effects of internal how well have they been able to cope with them and learn value-added between inputs (while accounting for costs) from it? The efficiency assessment, therefore, contains two and throughputs. A benchmark of success is the operational specific dimensions: an operational level of project effi- efficiency attributable to changed inputs and activities, ciency that links input with output (G1 in Fig. 1) and a such as greater employee engagement and changed mind- tactical level of project performance that links input with sets, for instance. These types of impacts might have fur- outcome (G2). ther effects on the partners and ultimately the social issue The effectiveness of partnerships can be seen as the (Austin and Seitanidi 2014; Kolk 2014; Vock et al. 2014; added value and the impact of the partnership compared to Seitanidi 2009, 2010). The counterfactual is hereby rela- individual activities of the different partners. In other tively easy to establish by taking other employees that are words, does the partnership provide additional ways of not involved (or other stakeholders) as a control group or achieving the societal ambitions that would not have been benchmark. otherwise possible? Were other objectives possible through Second-order impact loops capture the effects of internal the partnership? Were more resources allocated than value added between the inputs and outputs, hence cap- otherwise possible? Did the partnership project trigger turing in addition to the operational level effects (first-order other activities of the participants that proved relevant for impact loop) the tactical level of project performance obtaining (some of) the societal goals? Is an alternative effects and the interaction between them. Attribution of partnering (or non-partnering) approach possible that this effect can in particular be assessed at the output level. would have brought about comparable results? To what Tactical efficiency creates greater project performance by extent is the present experience reproducible? What would enhanced legitimacy of the project both inside and outside have happened in case the partnership project was not the organization, through institutionalization, realistic implemented? The effectiveness question can therefore contracts, and the creation and implementation of a number also be split into two dimensions: a strategic mission-re- of successful partnership management tools (that stimulate lated performance assessment (H1 in Fig. 1), and an issue- learning). The counterfactual is provided by comparing related performance measure (H2). The mission-related successful and less successful partnerships initiated by the performance evaluates how the specific partnership made a same organization. difference in context and time and as articulated in the Third-order impact loops aim at attributing changed partnership’s mission, whereas issue-related performance outcomes by capturing the added value of partnerships in the particular context and time of the partnership and according to its mission from inputs to outcomes including Footnote 6 continued medicine encounter compared to a situation where they would have the interaction effects across the stages. These effects not used the medicines. A more complex example of an integrated include synergistic and shared value creation for the par- result is an immunization campaign, where the metrics are typically ticipants in the partnership based on mission-related per- expressed as outputs (number or percentage of people vaccinated) and formance. Control groups can be found by comparable outcomes (declines in illness) in order to get at impacts (prevention, partnerships (for instance within the same government containment, or eradication of a disease). 123 12 R. van Tulder et al. Table 1 Four orders/loops of partnership impact Impact order/loop Benchmark Nature of influence (a selection) Results chain: attribution Possible control group through… Individual (inside Project efficiency: Mindsets and employee Changed input and Non-involved employees partner) operational engagement activities Organization/partner Project Legitimacy Changed output (and Non-partnership projects from the performance: outcome) same organization Institutionalization tactical Management tools Partnership Mission-related Synergistic value creation (for Changed outcome Portfolio of partnerships performance two organizations) Standard setting Society/issue Issue-related Filling institutional gaps Changed (longer term) Indirectly involved stakeholders; performance systemic impact Creation of new governance Longitudinal (before-after) structures research Contribution to ‘‘social good’’ Fig. 2 Four orders/loops of cross-sector partnership impact subsidy program), by the same partnership over time or by One benchmark of success is the level of innovation that organizations with the same mission definition. is achieved by the partnership. The counterfactual has to Fourth-order impact effects refer to the overall added be searched under conditions of a comparable ‘‘context’’: value captured by the partnership. It includes all the either in the same country or supply chain in which stages from input to impact and assessing the full extent directly and indirectly involved stakeholders are differ- of the partnership’s contribution to the (social) issue. ently affected by the partnership. An obvious alternative Fourth-order effects are the most complex to address, approach is to take a longitudinal perspective and com- because of a large number of levels of analysis, but also pare ‘‘before-after’’ issue partnerships. For instance, the due to sizable interaction effects. This effect can be extent to which the existence of a partnership actually dubbed issue-related performance and the change attrib- prevented a societal issue from proliferating might be uted to partnership involves systemic and societal change. explored. 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 13 direction of these trickle effects into consideration presents Impact Orders in the Special Issue a technique of assessing in particular positive spill-over This special issue brings together three largely empirical and indirect (learning) effects of the partnership. There is no real counterfactual in the paper, although the random and one conceptual paper that address the above challenges at varying orders of impact. Each of these contributions sampling selection of the cases amongst pro-active com- panies in different industries provides a first step (but also a introduces new elements to the discussion on impact, at various levels of analysis and with largely complementary certain sampling bias). The creation of control groups within the same organization provides a logical extension theories and methodologies (Table 2). Each of the papers also provides different answers to the various attribution of this line of research. The paper by Dentoni, Bitzer, and Pascucci concentrates challenges that we specified. on second-order impact loops (with some reference to first- The paper by Kolk, Vock, and Van Dolen focuses in order loops). It builds on a critical tradition of partnership particular on first-order impact loops. It considers the research and examines the way problem-driven partner- internal employees of the organizations as the ‘‘co-cre- ators’’ of the partnership and improved CSR strategies. A ships over time deal with issues in the agro-food industry. It adopts a grounded theory case study approach. By co- high level of fit between the core business and the cause increases the willingness of the employees to advocate for creating resources and capabilities in addressing complex problems, parties themselves become beneficiaries. This the partnership among clients. This fit is influenced by the sector (context) and the type of partnership. Attribution study looks in particular at how the co-creation of dynamic capabilities changes over time and how this experience has runs through changed mindsets of participants and leaders. an impact on the partnership: by defining the problem The authors label these ‘‘trickle effects’’. Taking the Table 2 Four contributions for this special issue Impact order Kolk, Vock, Van Dolen Dentoni, Bitzer, Pascucci Ma´rquez, Reficco, Stadtler Gutie´rrez 1st order 1st–2nd order 2nd–3rd order 3rd order Level(s) of analysis Micro Micro-meso meso Micro-meso-macro (target group) Method 3 case studies; interviews Grounded theory; 4 2 longitudinal case Conceptual; 1 case study; longitudinal case studies; studies; interviews interviews triangulation Nature of Public–private; private-nonprofit Not specified or tripartite Same sector—Cross- Tripartite; sustainable partnership sector partnership; development heterogeneous portfolios Impact through Employees NGO-firm interaction; change Portfolio composition Stakeholder engagement (unit of analysis) from negative to pro-active of firm and target group strategy Impact measure Employee engagement; improved Co-creation of dynamic Success in Broad evaluation (driving force) CSR strategies; capabilities; problem-driven; implementing BOP conception; longer term learning; receptiveness to strategies through effects on society; Opportunity driven stakeholders and wicked partnerships; problem and problems opportunity driven opportunity driven Ultimate impact Indirect: employee engagement Indirect: sense-making, Direct: commercial Direct and indirect via chain will probably stimulate output experience over time; development of target groups and outcome of partnership decreasing effect on wicked BOP market (education) through changed business model problems in longer run Mechanism/critical Trickle up/down effects (and SILC (Sensing, Interacting, Scale effects; Stakeholder costs and success factor feedback loops) Learning Changing) mainstreaming benefits; ripple effects mechanism; capabilities cross-sector-same change over time sector transition Counterfactual Different sectors; no intra- Over time change created by Comparison same- Indirect and longer term company control groups partnership; nature of cross-sector effects problem addressed; partnerships experience level 123 14 R. van Tulder et al. differently (what the authors call a sense-making device the way different partner constellations might affect the and relates to the issue-mission relationship in our model); ultimate impact for the organizations themselves and for on stakeholder engagement (which they call higher order the target group. The nature of the activities is taken as a dynamic capabilities, i.e., inputs) and on shifting the sus- relative black box, although the effects on the internal tainability goals of companies from reactive to pro-active stakeholders of the participating organizations are included strategies. The authors are interested in innovative solu- in the basic framework and related checklist. tions to wicked problems, but argue that as time passes, the All papers define the link with the core strategy of the partnership effect tends to become lower. The sampling organizations as particularly relevant for enhanced impact, used for this study provides grounds for a counterfactual although most studies also do not empirically cover the based on different levels of experience. ultimate impact of the partnership. Three of the papers The paper by Ma´rquez, Reficco, and Gutie´rrez adopts a include case studies as a comparison, and as partial answer to meso-level of analysis, looking at the portfolio of partner- the challenge of establishing a counterfactual through con- ships, and thus focuses on 2nd (and partly 3rd order) impact trol groups. But this part of the research is clearly open for loops. The two longitudinal case studies they present take improvement. Most papers also take a learning perspective, multiple sources of evidence to assess the effects of the either through employee engagement (Kolk et al.), issue partnership. They compare same/intra-sector and cross- sense-making (Dentoni et al.) or education (Stadtler). sector partnerships, consider the evolution and the extent to Learning can lead to enhanced output of the partnership, to which partnership portfolios of companies can be considered the longer term survival but also to the termination of the homogenous or heterogeneous. Partnerships for the Bottom partnership. The papers show that longer-run effects—i.e., of the Pyramid are clearly opportunity driven. The degree of taking output and outcome factors into account—can change success is defined by the reaching of scale of the partnership over time depending on whether the partnership takes an and ultimately the degree to which the cross-sector partner- opportunity-driven or a problem-driven road. Ultimately, ship is overtaken by same sector partnerships or a go-it-alone the four papers of this special issue illustrate the richness of strategy. Whether the partnership really contributes to the area, its rapidly growing sophistication, but also illus- solving the issue (of poverty) is not researched, but can be trate the challenges that are still ahead in further merging the suggested through enhanced business models in which areas of partnership research and impact assessment. A serving the Bottom of the Pyramid has become normal considerable research agenda is carved out for us based on business practice. The function of the partnership, therefore, all the contributions of the special issue. is temporary and intended to handle uncertainty and risks Acknowledgments A final word of thanks: this thematic special associated with entering and creating new markets. The issue is based on initial contributions from the 3rd International Cross authors do not check whether the non-market partners of the Sector Social Interactions Symposium (CSSI) which was organized by partnership also realize that they engage(d) in a temporary The Partnerships Resource Centre (PrC) in collaboration with Hull partnership and the degree to which this might have had Business School in May 2012. We are grateful to the Academy for Business in Society (ABIS) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs impact on the activities-output-outcome loop. Linking the for their financial and non-financial support to the symposium. This partnership portfolio of companies to that of NGOs seems a special issue would not be possible without the dedication and com- logical extension of this type of research. mitment of reviewers providing timely constructive feedback to the The paper by Stadtler, finally, takes part of the argument authors, and hence contributing significantly to this issue by safe- guarding the journal’s high standards for publications. We would like that we have developed in this paper one step further by to thank Mark Fuller, Arno Kourula, Lucas Meijs, Miguel Rivera- stressing the importance of an actor and stakeholder per- Santos, Carlos Rufin, John Selsky, Jean-Pascal Gond, Bahar Ali Kazmi, spective in assessing impact. The paper focuses in partic- Kevin McKague, Amy O’Connor, John Peloza, and Mike Valente. ular on third-order impact loops, by primarily taking the Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the impact value chain as starting position for a broad assess- Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creati ment of the ultimate effects of public–private partnerships. vecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, The author provides one illustrative case study, but is distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give primarily interested in defining various levels of analysis appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. and benefits/costs of partnerships. 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Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships

Journal of Business EthicsDec 3, 2015

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J Bus Ethics (2016) 135:1–17 DOI 10.1007/s10551-015-2756-4 Four Impact Loops for Channeling Partnership Studies 1 2 3 4 • • • Rob van Tulder M. May Seitanidi Andrew Crane Stephen Brammer Published online: 3 December 2015 The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com Abstract This paper addresses the topic of this special interact. We distinguish four different pathways or impact symposium issue: how to enhance the impact of cross- loops that refer to four distinct orders of impact. The paper sector partnerships. The paper takes stock of two related concludes by applying these insights to the four papers discussions: the discourse in cross-sector partnership included in this special issue. research on how to assess impact and the discourse in impact assessment research on how to deal with more Keywords Impact  Monitoring and evaluation complex organizations and projects. We argue that there is Cross-sector partnerships  Effectiveness growing need and recognition for cross-fertilization between the two areas. Cross-sector partnerships are reaching a paradigmatic status in society, but both research Introduction: The Growing Importance of Cross- and practice need more thorough evidence of their impacts Sector Partnerships and of the conditions under which these impacts can be enhanced. This paper develops a framework that should Cross-sector partnerships are one of the most exciting and enable a constructive interchange between the two research dynamic areas of research and practice within business and areas, while also framing existing research into more pre- society relations. Partnerships that bridge different sectors cise categories that can lead to knowledge accumulation. (public, private, and nonprofit) are thriving around the We address the preconditions for such a framework and world. Thousands of cross-sector partnerships are currently discuss how the constituent parts of this framework active and/or under consideration or development, and there has consequently been a dramatic increase in the management and policy literature on cross-sector partner- & Rob van Tulder rtulder@rsm.nl ships (Gray and Stites 2013; Branzei and Le Ber 2014). Austin (2000) was the first to label these alliances the M. May Seitanidi mmayseitanidi@yahoo.com collaborative paradigm of the twenty-first century (Van Tulder 2010). Andrew Crane acrane@schulich.yorku.ca The central aim of many cross-sector partnerships is to Stephen Brammer solve economic, social, and environmental problems S.Brammer@bham.ac.uk through collaboration (Crane 1998), often by addressing institutional and regulatory voids (Fransen and Kolk 2007) Department Business-Society Management, RSM Erasmus by providing social goods such as clean water, health, or University, Campus Woudestein, Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062 PA Rotterdam, The Netherlands education (Warner and Sullivan 2004). Hence, cross-sector 2 partnerships typically emphasize an ‘imperative to realize Kent Business School, University of Kent, Kent, UK benefits for the wider community rather than for special Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, interests’ (Skelcher and Sullivan 2002, p. 752). Partner- Canada ships generally address the social responsibilities of Birmingham Business School, Birmingham, UK 123 2 R. van Tulder et al. participating organizations, either in response to external Seitanidi et al. 2010), and modest or partial consideration pressures (reactively), in anticipation of potential social and evaluation of anticipated outcomes and impacts issues that may arise in the future (proactively), or as part (Margolis and Walsh 2003). The anticipated benefits for of the process of interaction by adapting to emergent issues the actors involved in cross-sector partnerships have been (adaptively) (Seitanidi 2008; Van Tulder et al. 2014). extensively discussed in the literature, but realized out- Cross-sector partnerships are, therefore, expected to deliver comes, benefits, and impacts are much less often discussed improved and innovative solutions for economic, social, even in the older form of public sector partnerships (Provan and environmental problems via the combination of the and Milward 2001; Leach et al. 2002; Arya and Lin 2007) capacities and resources of organizational actors across indicating the challenges that exist in monitoring, report- different sectors (Brinkerhoff 2002a, b; Gray 1989; Hux- ing, and evaluation in practice as well as in applying or ham and Vangen 1996). developing appropriate methodologies in research. The idea that cross-sector partnerships are a new para- Cross-sector partnership research is characterized by digm for strategy across the different sectors is manifested widely dispersed and multi-disciplinary theoretical roots (cf. in their growing empirical pervasiveness. Large companies Gray and Wood 1991;Gray and Stites 2013;Hull et al. 2011) have come to appreciate the potential for cross-sector as is the case with its methodological approaches employing a partnerships to contribute to long-term competitive multitude and mixture of methods, which has resulted in a advantage. Early evidence suggested that the one hundred toolkit that has ‘grown large and heavy to carry’ (Branzei and largest firms in the world were on average involved in Le Ber 2014, p. 231). Researchers switch from one area to about eighteen cross-sector partnerships with ‘non-market’ another, whereas words, concepts, and definitions are actors (PrC 2010). In addition, governments have seen embraced with sometimes limited reference to each other. cross-sector partnerships as innovative ways of producing Hence, although there is a growing abundance in diversity, public goods in collaboration with firms (Clarke and Fuller there is a lack of focus and co-ordination of methods (Crane 2010) and NGOs (Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff 2011). and Seitanidi 2014). Researchers have largely tried to com- Since the early 2000s, international organizations such as plement each other, rather than entering into a productive the United Nations and the World Bank have embraced conversation regarding significant points of theoretical or public–private partnerships (PPPs) as a means of providing methodological disagreement. This is a typical sign of a field global public goods like environmental protection or pov- in a build-up phase, in which the diversity of approaches can erty alleviation (Glasbergen et al. 2007; Rivera-Santos lead to productive development of the field. In addition, the et al. 2012). While governments have traditionally used booming attention to the issue of partnerships creates con- PPPs to build-up ‘hard’ infrastructure such as roads and siderable demand for rapid scans and practical insights, with water works, they are now increasingly experimenting with often limited space and scope for fundamental reflection and using PPPs for ‘soft’ issues with varying constituents and consolidation of knowledge. Moreover, methodological aims (Dixon et al. 2004; Milliman and Grosskopf 2004; diversity also creates transaction costs that can hamper pro- Skelcher and Sullivan 2002; Teegen and Doh 2003). gress in a later phase and can also lead to the persistence of Finally, cross-sector partnerships are increasingly being superficial or ideological discussions. adopted by many civil society organizations in preference It is our contention that there is an urgent need for cross- to a confrontational approach toward firms and govern- sector partnership research to pay greater attention to the ments in order to develop novel solutions to old problems, monitoring, reporting, and evaluation of the outcomes and thereby aiming to increase the efficiency and effectiveness impacts on social problems of partnerships. This is neces- of their activities (Le Ber and Branzei 2009; Galaskiewicz sary to inform and support the legitimacy and credibility of and Colman 2006; Hamann et al. 2008; Jamali and partnerships as an effective and efficient approach to Keshishian 2009; van Huijstee and Glasbergen 2010; solving complex social and environmental issues, as well Laasonen et al. 2012; Seitanidi and Crane 2014; PrC 2011). as in determining their necessary limits. Importantly, With this exponential growth in activity, the question enhancing the impact of cross-sector partnerships requires facing many actors in society has shifted from one of greater attention to developing shared understanding about whether partnerships with actors from other sectors of the meaning of impact in partnerships. Extant literature has society are relevant, to one of how they should be formed examined what social partnerships are about (the ‘‘what’’ organized, governed, intensified, and/or extended. Argu- question), the motives and drivers behind such collabora- ably, assessments of the efficiency and effectiveness of tions (‘‘why’’ questions), and the process of forming and partnerships in addressing their intended goals are the most implementing partnerships (‘‘how’’ questions). Although critical elements in partnership decisions. Many early research about the outcomes of partnership is limited, partnerships were characterized by an absence of formal research on the impact of partnerships i.e., looking whether planning (Austin 2000; Jamali and Keshishian 2009; partnerships make a difference to society (‘‘so what’’ 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 3 questions) is mainly grounded on anecdotal evidence partnerships as they often require sophisticated methodolo- employing prescriptive and ‘‘best-practice’’ reasoning. gies, multi-level tools, and longitudinal research designs that There is a lack of convincing evidence based on monitor- are not easy to develop, implement and elaborate. A central ing, reporting, and evaluation. Despite these challenges the issue here is the so-called attribution problem (Brinkerhoff proximity, almost in real time (Branzei and Le Ber 2014), 2002a, b): namely, the problem associated with isolating the between partnership research and praxis holds high impacts of a specific cross-sector partnership from other potential for the development of relevant and useful theory confounding contributing influences. The more complex the for practice (Seitanidi 2014) as well as methodologies to issue the partnership is intended to address, the more diffi- addresses the challenges described above. cult the attribution problem becomes. Therefore, despite a In this paper, we provide a first step towards initiating, dramatic increase in the management and policy literature organizing, and developing a productive exchange between on cross-sector partnerships, the field faces a number of research on cross-sector partnerships and impact assess- pressures to develop better ways of thinking about and ment. The paper begins by discussing the growing need for assessing impact. impact assessment in cross-sector partnerships (‘‘The Growing Need for Evidence-Based Impact Assessments’’ Organizational Pressure section), taking stock of the latest insights and discourses in two relevant areas: the cross-sector partnership and the One set of pressures toward greater attention to impact has impact assessment literatures (‘‘Impact Assessment Chal- come from participating organizations themselves. To lenges’’ section). We then develop a framework to guide begin with, an absence of proven impact can affect the future research in partnership effectiveness and efficiency legitimacy of organizations investing time and money in (‘‘Framing Partnership Impact Assessments: Two Com- partnerships, in particular when the stated ambitions are plementary Roads’’ section). We thereby distinguish four high. Many organizations place high hopes on partnerships basic impact pathways or loops of partnerships that create to solve some of the problems they face due to market, four different ‘‘orders’’ of impact. Each adds a different civic, and governance failures (Kolk et al. 2008)orin lens through which to systematically examine the different support of extending their strategies into new areas. There types of partnership impacts. This framework is intended to exists the danger of taking credit for results that the part- enable a more productive exchange of knowledge in future ners cannot achieve (Ebrahim and Rangan 2013). In gen- research across both areas. In particular, we more precisely eral, the pressure on organizations to measure performance categorize impacts arising from partnerships in order to and establish ‘‘what works’’ also in more complex areas help facilitate the selection of appropriate methodologies like social programs, has increased (Epstein and Klerman for impact assessment. Finally, we frame the four papers of 2013; Khagram and Thomas 2010; White 2009). Therefore, this special issue along the various impact orders (‘‘Impact there is a greater emphasis on the consequences of part- Orders in the Special Issue’’ section) as a way of illus- nerships (Biermann et al. 2007) or impact instead of the trating the usefulness of the framework and positioning the more traditional focus on inputs and output effects. This is papers in terms of their contribution to the debate on also accompanied by increases in budgets for impact enhancing the impact of cross-sector partnerships. assessment and stepped-up monitoring requirements in international development initiatives (Liket and Maas 2012). For example, a survey among NGOs and firms in the The Growing Need for Evidence-Based Impact UK (C&E 2013) showed that companies, and to a lesser Assessments extent NGOs, consider it vital to ‘‘prove’’ not only societal considerations within their business practices, but also the Despite their growing popularity, precisely evaluating the impact of their activities. For all major societal actors, value added of partnerships has proven difficult, partly clearly demonstrating what impacts have arisen from because of the dynamic and evolving nature of cross-sector partnerships is becoming more important. partnerships. While recent research developments are Although nonprofit organizations have a longer tradition beginning to address this issue, the lack of attention to in social impact assessment due to their need to document impact assessment within partnership research was origi- making a difference to the social issues they tackle to a nally strongly influenced by the relative novelty of cross- wider range of publics (Mulgan 2010), the push for con- sector partnerships, their diversity, the lack of available crete impact assessment at the moment seems acute also resources, limited research interest, and the lack of appro- among companies, as they are interested in cost/benefit priate methodologies. The inherent complexity and diversity assessments. Company-induced partnerships tend to of cross-sector partnerships presents a number of analytical address less complex problems which can be more sus- and methodological difficulties in assessing the impact of ceptible to systematic evaluation. Business involvement in 123 4 R. van Tulder et al. more complex partnerships registered by the UN or in solving social problems (e.g., Barnes and Brown 2011). climate change is relatively limited (Pinkse and Kolk Gaps in regulation and governance (Rivera-Santos and 2012), and thus there exists a relatively straightforward Rufın 2010) or democracy (Ba¨ckstrand 2006) are not push for impact assessments and social performance met- easily, if ever, filled by partnerships. New institutional rics by corporations. In particular, in the area of CSR voids have appeared and partnerships have arguably strategies, the demand for impact assessment has increased crowded out other relevant interest groups or introduced to enable reporting, prevent allegations of window dress- ‘‘solutions’’ that are as controversial as the problems they ing, and to legitimize the societal involvement of organi- were intended to address (Mert and Chan 2012). Relatively zations. This tendency has created a competitive ‘‘market’’ little is known of the contribution of cross-sector partner- for impact assessment. Although a wide range of impact ships to wider societal goals, such as the millennium assessment models are available in the private (Liket and development goals (Utting and Zammit 2009). The greater Maas 2012) and nonprofit (Maas 2009) sectors, fertilization difficulty of doing research into these broader social of impact assessment models across sectors remains rela- problems in which attribution problems are most severe has tively limited. created a lack of empirical findings (Babiak 2009) as well In most of the extant impact assessment frameworks, as limited theoretical development. Despite the growth in partnerships have not yet systematically been taken into the scale and scope of partnership research in international consideration and, reflecting this, there is very little development, for example, the field arguably continues to empirical evaluation of the potential of partnerships to have ‘an impoverished theoretical appeal, which is under- contribute through attribution to specific impacts. How- defined, poorly scrutinized, and rather unconvincingly ever, the higher political stakes involved in partnerships utilized as a guiding concept in applied practice’ (Barnes makes the assessment technique itself potentially con- and Brown 2011, p. 166). Others witness an overuse of the tentious. The measurement of the impact of PPPs, for term partnership (Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff 2011). instance, has been particularly difficult because of a lack of United Nations organizations, governments, NGOs, and baseline metrics, and an unwillingness by participating firms have therefore started to call for better and more managers to disclose the impact effects on their own evidence-based impact assessment methodologies (Lund- organizations (Maas 2012). The reasons for this are related Thomsen 2009). to measurement problems, but also to the general feeling These circumstances reiterate the importance of moving that it is more important to start participating in a part- the discussion on impact beyond generalizations and nership than to actually question or measure the exact toward more concrete evidence-based insights. The lack of starting position of each participant too much. In addition proper techniques provides no excuse for not engaging in monitoring and evaluation (Austin and Seitanidi 2014). to measurement difficulties, including the nonquantifiable value of partnerships, the temporal dimension and the There is a recognized need ‘to fine tune further efforts, and multi-causality of partnerships (Austin et al. 2006) add to assesses when and under which conditions different types the impact assessment challenges. For example, when of partnerships do and do not work, and in which cases cross-sector partnership brokers are initiating a partnership other mechanisms may be more effective’ (Kolk 2014, they face a trade-off between seizing the opportunity to p. 37). In impact assessment terms, this emphasizes the start a partnership as a coalition of the willing and the importance of understanding the so-called ‘‘counterfac- desire to assess in more detail the exact nature of the tual’’—the question of what would have happened anyway problem and the motivations of the potential partners without the intervention of the partnership—in order to (Stadtler and Probst 2012; Wood 2012) which would more precisely frame the research on partnership impact. require significant time and effort to establish the partner- ship’s base line. However, a hampered assessment of the starting position of a partnership affects its dynamics as Impact Assessment Challenges well as the ability of the participants to keep track of progress, making it difficult to assess impact convincingly The discourses in both areas of research that are central to and consistently. this discussion—partnership research and impact assess- ment—have largely progressed independently. Recently, Research Pressure some interaction has appeared, but without much cross-fer- tilization. Nevertheless, partnership researchers are clearly A secondary trigger for impact assessment is the pressure becoming more interested in impact evaluation, while from partnership researchers regarding the legitimacy and impact assessment researchers are showing more interest in effectiveness of partnerships, due to a persistent question- networks and complex constellations of actors. In this sec- ing of whether partnerships are a ‘‘panacea’’ or ‘‘hype’’ for tion, we explore how and to what extent cross-fertilization 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 5 can actually be achieved by noting a number of separate ‘‘sectors’’ (Beisheim 2012; Pattberg et al. 2012; Kolk developments, common challenges, and possible approaches 2014). For instance, much partnership research focuses on needed for an effective framing of insights from both areas. a ‘‘third’’ sector that constitutes civil society, or examines the distinctive character of partnerships involving ‘‘public’’ Conceptual and Definitional Challenges versus ‘‘private’’ sector actors. Gray and Stites (2013) describe a fourth sector—‘‘community’’—as distinctive A primary challenge to greater cross-field engagement is from NGOs. In general, however, NGOs have been con- definitional. Both areas of research are still (pre)occupied sidered the representatives of communities, which makes with basic questions such as the definition of ‘cross-sector them part of a wider category of civil society organizations. partnerships’ and ‘social impact.’ Some refer to this as In other studies—and certainly in the policy discourse— definitional ambiguity (Glendinning 2002) others as defi- knowledge institutes are considered a separate sector, but nitional ‘‘chaos’’ (Ling 2002; White 2009). mostly they are considered as hybrids between public/pri- In impact assessment research, for instance, there is still vate and profit/nonprofit sectors. discussion regarding what constitutes the difference A similar discussion exists regarding the definition of between the outputs, outcomes, and impacts of particular the notion of a ‘‘partnership.’’ A systematic literature actions or programs. A number of authors and institutions review of the partnership literature over the last twenty make a distinction between immediate, intermediate, and years reveals that most contributions refer to ‘‘alliances,’’ ultimate outcomes. There is growing consensus, however, or to ‘‘collaboration’’ in general rather than to ‘‘cross-sec- that ‘‘outputs’’ often refer to immediate effects on the tor’’ partnerships specifically (Drost 2013). The lack of a participating organizations, while ‘‘outcomes’’ relate to uniform analytical frame makes it difficult to compare intermediate direct effects on the targeted communities, partnerships and evaluate the cost and benefits (Glendin- and ‘‘impacts’’ to long-term and net effects (direct and ning 2002). One approach to this definitional ambiguity is indirect effects) on whole issues. Liket and Maas (2012) to provide a more narrow or theoretical definition of part- note that this delineation of an impact chain causes prac- nerships. For instance, it has been suggested that the tical problems because long-term effects are difficult to characteristics of partnerships might be used to more pre- measure, in particular, for more complex problems. Lack of cisely define ‘‘partnerships’’ as arising only in circum- data makes many partnership projects appear to be ‘‘im- stances where partners can be considered equal and the pact-less,’’ in spite of considerable achievements having partnership non-hierarchical (Glasbergen et al. 2007), or been made. This problem can be addressed by defining where partners share a high degree of mutuality, account- different ‘‘orders of impact’’ which leaves the basic idea of ability, and transparency (Brinkerhoff 2002a), or in those an impact chain of effects intact (White 2009; Ebrahim and conditions where partnerships primarily concern ‘‘risk’’ Rangan 2010), but nevertheless includes different levels of sharing agreements (Ministry of Economic Affairs 2012). impact. This is elaborated in more detail in ‘‘Framing While such a choice potentially facilitates impact analysis Partnership Impact Assessments: two Complementary by making comparison easier, it also limits research to a Roads’’ section. relatively small subsample of the observed phenomenon. Another definitional debate arises in cross-sector part- nership research, where there is still discussion of classi- Methodological and Measurement Challenges fications and typologies of partnerships within and across Both areas of research increasingly acknowledge the con- This section has profited from three preparatory studies. The first ceptual and methodological pitfalls seen in extant research. study (Ton and Vellema 2013) was written by evaluation experts and Many of the impact measures developed in one sector, explored the methodological challenges in monitoring and evaluating even if they are used by many sectors (such as ‘‘social the effectiveness of public–private partnership ventures in agricultural return on investment’’), are not suitable for the more chain development. The second study (Drost 2013) engaged in a complex organizational forms of cross-sector relationships systematic literature scans on peer reviewed academic articles on the role played by impact and effectiveness of cross-sector partnerships where multiple actors from different sectors interact and studies for the 1992–2012 period. The study identified 127 articles, co-create impact. Partnerships represent a wide variety of with a clear increase since 2006 and a concentration of articles in the organizational forms, interests and expectations which Journal of Business Ethics. The third paper (Maas 2012) combines both the perspectives and formulated the first contours of the makes it much more difficult to define ‘‘success’’ than Partnerships Effectiveness model as further elaborated in ‘‘Framing evaluating a single organization (Provan and Milward Partnership Impact Assessments: Two Complementary Roads’’ of this 2001). paper. One methodological solution that has been proposed for Liket et al. (2012) present an adapted impact value chain in which this problem has been the linking of the outcome of a they take the perspective of individual organizations. In this paper, we partnership to the objectives as defined by the participants. refer to this kind of impact chains as ‘second order’ impact. 123 6 R. van Tulder et al. This approach addresses only part of the impact challenge, broadly, the motivations for developing cross-sector part- as partners might raise non-compatible and unrealistic nerships for more complex problems are widely acknowl- expectations, or even define the issue or problem differ- edged. But many of these motivations are strongly related ently to begin with. Evolving expectations, targets, and to perceived or anticipated impact, the value creation constituencies makes it exponentially more difficult to potential and the ambition to effectively contribute to research partnerships than to research single organizations solving wicked problems. Many of these aims are difficult (Selsky and Parker 2005; Toulemonde et al. 1998). to measure or are difficult to attribute to the specific part- Moreover, changes in conditions over time can affect nership and therefore cannot yet be substantiated. The more partners differently (Vellema et al. 2013). complex the problems are addressed by the partnership An important implication of this discussion is that the (either directly or indirectly), the more additional research effectiveness of partnerships is strongly context dependent is required. and needs to be considered in its interaction with context. Some studies have taken a more critical perspective: for This interaction can create indirect and unintended effects instance presenting the effects of PPPs as the outcome of a that affect the overall impacts of partnerships. There is a struggle between a variety of actors (Lund-Thomsen 2009), growing literature that tries to take the context of part- observing that little is known about their contribution to nerships into account in order to make a diverse assessment wider goals (Utting and Zammit 2009), demonstrating that of impact, in particular in contexts characterized by insti- community development partnership initiatives have only tutional gaps (Kolk and Lenfant 2012; Mair et al. 2012). limited positive impacts (Idemudia 2009), or noting that Many of these impact measures, however, are still based on companies are not adequately monitoring partnerships to ‘‘perceived impact’’ rather than objectively defined see whether they actually enact their strategic investment impacts. Moreover, taking the context of the partnership (Esteves and Barclay 2011). Critical studies tend to reit- into account can require that new levels of analysis are erate the importance of context (Rein and Stott 2009) and introduced, such as the global value chain, which intro- of taking the consequences for communities into account. duces its own methodological challenges. Furthermore, the Most studies conclude that the impacts of partnerships need nature of the institutional gap that the partnership addresses to be addressed at three levels of analysis: community, influences its effectiveness: are partnerships primarily network, and organization (Provan and Milward 2001; aimed at filling gaps as regards regulation, participation, Babiak 2009). Recent research also proposes a fourth level implementation, resources, and learning (Seitanidi and of analysis, namely the individuals within participating Crane 2009; Kolk 2014; Pattberg et al. 2012), or are they organizations (Seitanidi 2009; Kolk 2014). aimed at ‘‘creating opportunities’’ and creating value One of the most noticeable developments within the (Austin and Seitanidi 2014)? Attribution of the impacts of impact assessment literature has been the spread of cross-sector partnerships under such complex clouds of experimental methods with random assignment to treat- intertwined conditions has created legitimate ground for ment and control groups (Duflo et al. 2006). In a number of questioning the relevance, effectiveness, and replicability high profile areas, these studies adequately addressed the of partnerships (Roche and Roche 1999; DAC 2008). so-called macro–micro paradox of international develop- Partnership research, despite its fragmented nature, has ment aid: how to link the benefits of development projects resulted in considerable knowledge on the drivers and to impact at the macro-level (Liket 2014). The experi- motivations of cross-sector partnerships (Gray and Stites mental method is typically considered the most rigorous 2013), which influence partnership characteristics (Laaso- method currently available, and is particularly effective at nen et al. 2012), process issues, and even some output and providing robust evidence on what works and what does outcome characteristics. Austin and Seitanidi (2012a, b, not within less complex partnerships with a limited focus. 2014) identified a large number of value drivers and out- However, experimental methods have considerable lined a collaboration process ‘‘value chain’’ and an out- methodological limitations when applied to more complex comes assessment framework. Gray and Stites (2013) cross-sector partnerships. For example, the experimental systematically examined the state of the literature on cross- method has difficulty in taking into account spill-over sector partnerships (for development) and highlighted effects from pilot-intervention areas to other areas, which numerous positive outcomes and a more modest list of makes the distinction between ‘‘treated’’ and ‘‘control’’ negative outcomes for individual stakeholders (firms, groups difficult (Ravallion 2010). Additionally, the rele- NGOs, governments) in the literature. However, they also vance of context (Epstein and Klerman 2013) and the note the relative absence of the outcomes of partnerships impossibility of establishing random and real control on communities and on the environment and suggest that groups (Bamberger et al. 2010) in cross-sector partnerships evidence of multi-sector partnerships’ effectiveness still make the technique less appropriate to many partnership remains largely anecdotal and prescriptive (ibid: 54). More evaluation problems. As a result, quasi-experimental 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 7 methods and more qualitative indicators are introduced in Since we are in the early stages of the large-scale adoption impact assessment research in which contextual variables of ToCs by partnership projects, it is difficult to assess their are included (Vellema et al. 2013). practical relevance at the moment but research on part- A recent systematic review of the available evidence on nership impacts is likely to be facilitated through more the sustainable development impact of PPPs gives an explicitly specifying the assumptions of an intervention. illustrative example of the difficulties encountered in Practitioners, however, are not necessarily pleased by impact measurement. Bouman et al. (2013) identified 47 this development. While some argue that higher levels of studies that could qualify as ‘‘valid’’ and insightful—taking detail will by definition result in more reliability of the a broad definition of impact. Eighteen case studies and intervention strategy (Michie and Prestwich 2010), others twenty-nine reviews were included. Studies mainly focused acknowledge that there is a trade-off between detail and the on PPPs in healthcare, infrastructure, water supply and time spent on formulating a ToC (Vogel 2012). Regarding agriculture. The review concludes that the rationale for the question of how to develop useful frameworks and introducing PPPs as novel way to address sustainability ToCs, Valters (2014) points to the risk of relying too much issues is mostly based on resource mobilization motives— on ‘‘scientific evidence’’ produced in highly controlled due to various forms of failure of each party individually— settings. The kind of results that can be accumulated in rather than for effectiveness reasons. Partners’ goals and these settings is very different from the complex environ- missions are often defined in a general way, while criteria ments of partnerships. For this reason, Craig prefers that for measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely objectives ToCs include causal hypotheses that are based on a ratio- are usually absent (ibid: 7). Most of the studies reviewed nale other than evidence such as logical or ethical consider the effects of partnerships on outputs, not on arguments. outcomes or impact. This leaves the attribution question (if A more recent trend in the practice of the ToCs is to no the effects can be linked to the partnership) largely longer speak of ‘‘impact’’ but rather search for ‘‘plausible obscure. The review found only one study with a coun- effects.’’ This approach is also gaining support from impact terfactual. Attribution of effect to particular PPP features in investors and influential foundations such as the Bill and the complex area of sustainable development therefore Melinda Gates Foundation. Such an interpretation of the does not seem possible using the most robust impact ToC resonates with the advice given by both Rogers (2009) measurement techniques. This is further reiterated by and Davies (2005) for the most complex types of inter- practice. vention. Because complexity arises from interdependent agents that influence each other but act according to fairly Practical Challenges predictable rules, it is best to adopt a network perspective on change. In practice, this implies that ToCs become less a Developments in practice are beginning to encourage and representation of change in terms of a sequential process support closer links between partnership and impact and more a ‘short list of simple rules’ (Rogers 2009, p. 43) assessment research. International organizations such as according to which the system is expected to behave. These the OECD and bilateral donor organizations have started to authors argue that in complex environments an overly require organizations to come up with a so-called ‘‘Theory detailed ToC is ‘counter-productive because it stifles cre- of Change’’ (ToC) that explains the intended results (im- ativity and innovation’ (ibid: 44). pacts) of proposed partnerships at their outset. This requirement goes beyond a simple logical framework Taking Stock (DCED/OECD 2010). A ToC provides critical reflection on the hypothesized causal relations and underlying assump- No analytical framework for impact assessment exists yet tions of an intervention strategy that results in a sophisti- that is applicable to all partnerships (Babiak 2009; Atkin- cated theory that explains why an intervention might be son 2005; Maas 2012). Taking all the previous challenges expected to generate the intended change (Vogel 2012). into account, we propose that an analytical framework for partnership impact assessment ideally should take a large number of dimensions into account to constructively Recent professional reports on the development impact of cross- advance the field: sector partnerships come to comparable conclusions (Heinrich 2013; Callan and Davies 2013). Gray and Stites (2013) note the great difficulty of establishing accountability criteria to assess progress in achieving joint goals. Stadler in this special issue gives further Footnote 4 continued examples. ‘programme theories’ (Rogers 2009) or ‘Theories of Change’ (Weiss In so-called theory-based evaluation literature, the search for a 1997; Vogel 2012). There exists an active discussion on the differ- particular type of ‘logic’ is known by interchangeable concepts as ences of these approaches. For argument’s sake, we will use these ‘logic models’ (Mayne 2001), ‘result chains’ (DCED/OECD 2010), dimensions interchangeably in this paper. 123 8 R. van Tulder et al. • The ultimate ambition of the impact assessment and the impacts as the effects at the final level of a causal chain. role taken by the researchers: does it aim to understand This view adopts an outcome perspective of partnerships potential impacts or to ‘‘prove’’ the value added of the (Austin and Seitanidi 2014), where the level of sophisti- partnership, or both? cation depends on the degree to which it is able to include • The appropriate level of analysis for the assessment: different types of effects during the partnership imple- micro, meso, macro, or their interaction (Asthana et al. mentation including positive and negative, direct, and 2002); is it about the impact of the partnership on indirect, short-term and long-term, intended and unin- individuals, organizations, the partnership, the issue or tended effects that ultimately lead to outcomes. Partnership the community/society? research on partnership value creation (Bing and Epstein • The distinction between ‘‘output’’ and ‘‘outcome’’ and 2013) looks for ‘‘plausible effects’’ where impact evalua- between ‘‘immediate,’’ ‘‘intermediate,’’ and ‘‘longer tion becomes primarily framed as a learning approach that term’’ outcomes (also referred to as ‘‘sustainability’’) as is focused on helping managers and stakeholders to learn a relevant proxy for impact; more about their interventions and on understanding why • The nature of the problem that the partnership and how outcomes and impacts are realized or not (Mayne addresses and the benchmark of success that is and Stern 2013; Gray and Stites 2013, p. 8). This approach therefore required for its impact assessment: ‘‘simple’’ takes a relatively instrumental perspective of partnerships, problems require different impact assessments than by, for example, seeing them as the extension of CSR ‘‘wicked problems’’; implementation (Margolis and Walsh 2003; Seitanidi and • The degree to which affected partners are adequately Crane 2009) and prioritizing the organizational actors’ involved in deciding and assessing impact; direct benefits (Seitanidi 2010). However, evaluators • The intervention logic as defined in a more or less adopting the outcome approach to measure impact often do detailed theory of change; relatedly, how to define a not move beyond a first assessment of output—leaving sequence of ‘‘plausible effects’’; longer term outcomes and effects open for follow-up • The possibility to specify control or benchmarks studies. groups; In contrast, the second perspective of impact evaluators • The extent to which the partnership context has to be takes the (social) issue as the point of departure. This taken into account and at what level (region, network, perspective sees as its objective providing evidence that country, supply chain); partnerships actually make a difference to the social issue. • How to account for typical partnership effects: spill- The strictest application of this perspective follows strong over, indirect, and unintended effects; methodological rigor, associated with experimental and • Should the focus be primarily on efficiency or effec- quasi-experimental methods and employing randomized tiveness of the partnership? control groups. Another consideration in this type of • What part of the impact chain can be left un-researched research is the crowding-out effect to non-involved stake- (black box) and what does that imply for replicability holders. It is not surprising that this line of research is and generalizability of the assessments? challenging when applied to complex problems and cross- sector partnerships, as the ambition to define control groups The next section explains how we propose to address that operate under more or less the same circumstances— these issues to enable a systematic and constructive but without the intervention of the partnership—is excep- approach to impact assessment in cross-sector partnerships. tionally challenging. However, as this type of impact assessment seems to become quite dominant as a source of research funding, partnership practitioners and researchers Framing Partnership Impact Assessments: Two might need to consider it in the future in order to provide Complementary Roads robust evidence for addressing wicked problems by cap- turing partnership impact. In both partnership and impact assessment research, the Enhancing the impact of partnerships involves addressing areas we are concerned with in this paper, we see two multiple measurement problems simultaneously and com- traditions developing that largely define the struggle of bining both approaches mentioned above aiming also to organizations and researchers to perform meaningful address the associated challenges identified in the evaluation impact assessment (Liket and Maas 2012). This struggle literature (Liket and Maas 2012). How these approaches are has been discussed as the difference between ‘‘evaluators combined depends on the ambition and available resources to measuring impact’’ and ‘‘impact evaluators’’ (White 2009). researchers. This paper argues that the state-of-affairs in both The first perspective of evaluators measuring impact areas of research has sufficiently progressed in order for this takes the partnership as of point of departure and defines productive exchange to be realized. 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 9 A consecutive argument is that the impact of cross- Impact Value Chain sector partnerships can best be enhanced by addressing how to define different routes through which partnerships The impact value chain (based on e.g., Wainwright 2002; actually create effects/value, how to assess whether these Maas 2009; Ebrahim and Rangan 2010; Maas and Liket 2011; Austin and Seitanidi 2014) includes the following routes are more effective than other possible routes (the counterfactual and effectiveness), define what factors are of elements: • Issue refers to the definition of the social issue being influence to the suggested impact chain (the logic) and what kind of research is needed to enhance the efficiency of addressed by the partnership. The first step in achieving any kind of impact is for participants to agree on the the chosen partnering approach. The approach we propose in this paper is to search for a common framework in which articulation of the social issue they are seeking to tackle to document and assess various impact pathways of cross- (Austin and Seitanidi 2014), the responsibilities sector partnerships. The complexity of the exercise in involved and the roles that can be taken by the partners measuring impact will increase with the complexity of (Van Tulder and Pfisterer 2014). (Social) issues can be issues and partnership configurations. We propose to define defined either in terms of problems or opportunities. the impact order of the partnership as a classification frame • Mission acts as the linking pin between the issue and the input. Where the partnership is problem driven, the to be able to compare and develop different theories and methods in the area of partnership research. By classifying partnership can be considered to be more ‘‘strategic’’ and long term, while where the partnership is more different approaches toward impact assessment, overstate- ments of particular strands of research can be prevented. solution/opportunity driven, the partnership can be The Partnering Monitoring and Evaluation Framework more temporary and tactical: once the ambition of one that we embrace takes the growing practice of sketching party has been achieved the partnership can be impact value chains and the quest for greater attribution terminated. The latter can for instance be expected and counterfactual into account. This frame is based on from corporate-NGO partnerships that aim at the Van Tulder and Maas (2012) and contains two dimensions: creation of markets at the bottom of the pyramid. The same mechanism applies for NGO-corporate philan- (1) an impact value chain that documents the actual steps of the partnership from issue definition through to impact; thropic ‘‘partnerships’’ in which parties are primarily interested in a sponsoring relationship for mutual (2) an effectiveness assessment approach that assesses the fit and value added of the partnership to the actual societal branding. • Inputs are the resources and capabilities (money, staff problem. Figure 1 shows the most relevant constituting factors of these two dimensions in an integrated model. time, capital assets, and commitment) provided to achieve the partnership’s mission. In cross-sector Research on partnerships usually zooms in on specific parts of the model, while taking the other parts as given. partnerships at least three types of actors provide This framework presents a chain of results in which distinct types of inputs in varying constellations: public organizational inputs and activities lead to a series of actors (governments), private actors (firms), and outputs, outcomes, and ultimately to societal impacts club/community actors (civil society). Partnership (Ebrahim and Rangan 2010). In contrast to activities and research that focuses on the formation of partnerships outputs, impacts actually capture the effects on society as a in particular considers this factor (PrC 2012). The success of the partnership relies on the competencies result of organizational efforts, instead of measuring intentions or activities undertaken by organizations (Maas and resources that are brought in by each partner. The resource-based view, network, and stakeholder theories 2009). While intentions and outputs are related to the providers of the product, activity or service, outcomes and are often applied in this research area. impacts are associated with beneficiaries (Kolodinsky et al. • Throughput is the actual dynamism, execution and 2006) and other stakeholders. Impacts include both inten- implementation process of the partnership, sometimes ded and unintended effects, negative and positive effects, referred to in evaluation studies as ‘‘activities’’ (OECD- and long-term and short-term effects (Wainwright 2002). DAC, 2011). The throughput dimension focuses on the structure within which partners work towards the partnership objectives, which depends on the (1) number and nature of participants, (2) the roles that are adopted by the participants, (3) the arrangement and degree of internal dependencies chosen, which in turn is This framework was first developed for the Partnerships Resource influenced by (4) the position of participants as primary Centre by Karen Maas and Rob van Tulder, receiving inputs from or secondary stakeholder in the project (cf. Fransen and Stella Pfisterer, Sietze Vellema, and Giel Ton. It builds on the original Kolk 2007) and the degree to which the partnership is framework proposed in Kolk et al. (2008). 123 10 R. van Tulder et al. Fig. 1 The Partnership monitoring and evaluation framework. Source Van Tulder and Maas (2012) ‘‘institutionalised’’ in the participating organizations project. The majority of empirical partnership studies (Seitanidi 2010; Van Huijstee and Glasbergen 2010). have concentrated on the output dimension of the Partnership research that concentrates on this dimen- impact value chain with sometimes extrapolations to sion in particular takes process issues into account, longer term (outcome) effects. focusing on a variety of factors including governance, • Outcomes are the benefits or changes for individuals, accountability, agency, transaction costs, decision- communities, or society at large after participating in, making structures, and power. or being influenced by, the activities of the organiza- • Outputs are results that a participating organization or tions and the partnership. Outcomes are, unlike inputs project manager can measure or assess directly. Output and outputs, much more comprehensive and should be represents the deliverables or what will be accom- translated to the extent that the goals of all organiza- plished as a result of the combination of inputs and tions are achieved. Commonly, the organization run- activities. A first output criterion is the extent to which ning the program targets these results but may itself not the individual objectives of each participant have been have the knowledge or expertise to evaluate whether an achieved. Did the partnership fulfill the original objec- outcome has been achieved. More critical approaches tives of the participants or not, or did it perhaps even to partnerships have considered this dimension in add to them? A second output criterion is the extent to particular, and have frequently pointed at the lack of which the project objectives have been achieved. Did outcomes attributable to partnerships. the partnership result in concrete and tangible results? • Impacts are the ultimate changes that one effects What are the ‘‘benefits’’ for each of the participants (in through the partnership. It addresses positive and terms of, for example, profits, members, legitimacy, negative, short-term and in particular long-term effects exposure, and moral capital)? A final criterion is the produced by the partnership, directly or indirectly, extent to which the partnership brought about goal- intended or unintended. The impact of the partnership alignment (Kolk et al. 2008) and as a consequence can be measured at the level of the partners, the scale-up or termination of the project. A project might stakeholders and the system. not be sustainable if it remains dependent upon the An example of the difference between outputs, outcomes and continued financial support of governments or other impact in this sequence can be illustrated by the use of a certain partners. So another question might relate to whether medicine. Outputs can be measured by the amount of medicines the period of engagement of each individual partner has provided by a program, outcomes measures the use of the medicines been sufficient to guarantee the sustainability of the by patients, impact measures the actual health effects users of the 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 11 Efficiency/Effectiveness Assessment assesses the contribution of the partnership in providing solution(s) to the initially defined social issue, which might The efficiency dimension of a partnership can be seen as the include direct and indirect impacts of a partnership on the internal value-added of the partnership, which may be issue and in effect re-articulation of the social problem. assessed using a cost-benefit analysis. What were the total Finally, the nature of the issue as well as the degree of costs of the partnership, and what specific costs (transac- efficiency and effectiveness are influenced by the context in tion costs, operating costs) can be attributed to the part- which the partnership is initiated. Contexts include various nership? For example, more complex negotiations with a levels of analysis such as: country, region, or global. What large number of stakeholders initially incur more costs might be an effective partnership at the national level upon the participants, but can later on—in case of suc- might be ineffective at the local or the global levels. cessfully institutionalized relationships—lead to consider- ably lower operating costs. Weakly elaborated contracts Impact Loops between the cooperating parties can result in serious additional costs if the partnership becomes problematic. We can now define four impact loops that can guide further The extent to which the overall goal of the partnership is research on cross-sector partnerships impact assessment. aligned with the individual goals of the partners for joining Table 1 provides a summary of their most important the partnership could also be a fruitful line of enquiry for characteristics. Figure 2 gives a graphical representation. future research. What critical success factors for managing First-order impact loops primarily aim at establishing a partnership do the partners distinguish themselves and the impact of partnerships through the effects of internal how well have they been able to cope with them and learn value-added between inputs (while accounting for costs) from it? The efficiency assessment, therefore, contains two and throughputs. A benchmark of success is the operational specific dimensions: an operational level of project effi- efficiency attributable to changed inputs and activities, ciency that links input with output (G1 in Fig. 1) and a such as greater employee engagement and changed mind- tactical level of project performance that links input with sets, for instance. These types of impacts might have fur- outcome (G2). ther effects on the partners and ultimately the social issue The effectiveness of partnerships can be seen as the (Austin and Seitanidi 2014; Kolk 2014; Vock et al. 2014; added value and the impact of the partnership compared to Seitanidi 2009, 2010). The counterfactual is hereby rela- individual activities of the different partners. In other tively easy to establish by taking other employees that are words, does the partnership provide additional ways of not involved (or other stakeholders) as a control group or achieving the societal ambitions that would not have been benchmark. otherwise possible? Were other objectives possible through Second-order impact loops capture the effects of internal the partnership? Were more resources allocated than value added between the inputs and outputs, hence cap- otherwise possible? Did the partnership project trigger turing in addition to the operational level effects (first-order other activities of the participants that proved relevant for impact loop) the tactical level of project performance obtaining (some of) the societal goals? Is an alternative effects and the interaction between them. Attribution of partnering (or non-partnering) approach possible that this effect can in particular be assessed at the output level. would have brought about comparable results? To what Tactical efficiency creates greater project performance by extent is the present experience reproducible? What would enhanced legitimacy of the project both inside and outside have happened in case the partnership project was not the organization, through institutionalization, realistic implemented? The effectiveness question can therefore contracts, and the creation and implementation of a number also be split into two dimensions: a strategic mission-re- of successful partnership management tools (that stimulate lated performance assessment (H1 in Fig. 1), and an issue- learning). The counterfactual is provided by comparing related performance measure (H2). The mission-related successful and less successful partnerships initiated by the performance evaluates how the specific partnership made a same organization. difference in context and time and as articulated in the Third-order impact loops aim at attributing changed partnership’s mission, whereas issue-related performance outcomes by capturing the added value of partnerships in the particular context and time of the partnership and according to its mission from inputs to outcomes including Footnote 6 continued medicine encounter compared to a situation where they would have the interaction effects across the stages. These effects not used the medicines. A more complex example of an integrated include synergistic and shared value creation for the par- result is an immunization campaign, where the metrics are typically ticipants in the partnership based on mission-related per- expressed as outputs (number or percentage of people vaccinated) and formance. Control groups can be found by comparable outcomes (declines in illness) in order to get at impacts (prevention, partnerships (for instance within the same government containment, or eradication of a disease). 123 12 R. van Tulder et al. Table 1 Four orders/loops of partnership impact Impact order/loop Benchmark Nature of influence (a selection) Results chain: attribution Possible control group through… Individual (inside Project efficiency: Mindsets and employee Changed input and Non-involved employees partner) operational engagement activities Organization/partner Project Legitimacy Changed output (and Non-partnership projects from the performance: outcome) same organization Institutionalization tactical Management tools Partnership Mission-related Synergistic value creation (for Changed outcome Portfolio of partnerships performance two organizations) Standard setting Society/issue Issue-related Filling institutional gaps Changed (longer term) Indirectly involved stakeholders; performance systemic impact Creation of new governance Longitudinal (before-after) structures research Contribution to ‘‘social good’’ Fig. 2 Four orders/loops of cross-sector partnership impact subsidy program), by the same partnership over time or by One benchmark of success is the level of innovation that organizations with the same mission definition. is achieved by the partnership. The counterfactual has to Fourth-order impact effects refer to the overall added be searched under conditions of a comparable ‘‘context’’: value captured by the partnership. It includes all the either in the same country or supply chain in which stages from input to impact and assessing the full extent directly and indirectly involved stakeholders are differ- of the partnership’s contribution to the (social) issue. ently affected by the partnership. An obvious alternative Fourth-order effects are the most complex to address, approach is to take a longitudinal perspective and com- because of a large number of levels of analysis, but also pare ‘‘before-after’’ issue partnerships. For instance, the due to sizable interaction effects. This effect can be extent to which the existence of a partnership actually dubbed issue-related performance and the change attrib- prevented a societal issue from proliferating might be uted to partnership involves systemic and societal change. explored. 123 Enhancing the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships 13 direction of these trickle effects into consideration presents Impact Orders in the Special Issue a technique of assessing in particular positive spill-over This special issue brings together three largely empirical and indirect (learning) effects of the partnership. There is no real counterfactual in the paper, although the random and one conceptual paper that address the above challenges at varying orders of impact. Each of these contributions sampling selection of the cases amongst pro-active com- panies in different industries provides a first step (but also a introduces new elements to the discussion on impact, at various levels of analysis and with largely complementary certain sampling bias). The creation of control groups within the same organization provides a logical extension theories and methodologies (Table 2). Each of the papers also provides different answers to the various attribution of this line of research. The paper by Dentoni, Bitzer, and Pascucci concentrates challenges that we specified. on second-order impact loops (with some reference to first- The paper by Kolk, Vock, and Van Dolen focuses in order loops). It builds on a critical tradition of partnership particular on first-order impact loops. It considers the research and examines the way problem-driven partner- internal employees of the organizations as the ‘‘co-cre- ators’’ of the partnership and improved CSR strategies. A ships over time deal with issues in the agro-food industry. It adopts a grounded theory case study approach. By co- high level of fit between the core business and the cause increases the willingness of the employees to advocate for creating resources and capabilities in addressing complex problems, parties themselves become beneficiaries. This the partnership among clients. This fit is influenced by the sector (context) and the type of partnership. Attribution study looks in particular at how the co-creation of dynamic capabilities changes over time and how this experience has runs through changed mindsets of participants and leaders. an impact on the partnership: by defining the problem The authors label these ‘‘trickle effects’’. Taking the Table 2 Four contributions for this special issue Impact order Kolk, Vock, Van Dolen Dentoni, Bitzer, Pascucci Ma´rquez, Reficco, Stadtler Gutie´rrez 1st order 1st–2nd order 2nd–3rd order 3rd order Level(s) of analysis Micro Micro-meso meso Micro-meso-macro (target group) Method 3 case studies; interviews Grounded theory; 4 2 longitudinal case Conceptual; 1 case study; longitudinal case studies; studies; interviews interviews triangulation Nature of Public–private; private-nonprofit Not specified or tripartite Same sector—Cross- Tripartite; sustainable partnership sector partnership; development heterogeneous portfolios Impact through Employees NGO-firm interaction; change Portfolio composition Stakeholder engagement (unit of analysis) from negative to pro-active of firm and target group strategy Impact measure Employee engagement; improved Co-creation of dynamic Success in Broad evaluation (driving force) CSR strategies; capabilities; problem-driven; implementing BOP conception; longer term learning; receptiveness to strategies through effects on society; Opportunity driven stakeholders and wicked partnerships; problem and problems opportunity driven opportunity driven Ultimate impact Indirect: employee engagement Indirect: sense-making, Direct: commercial Direct and indirect via chain will probably stimulate output experience over time; development of target groups and outcome of partnership decreasing effect on wicked BOP market (education) through changed business model problems in longer run Mechanism/critical Trickle up/down effects (and SILC (Sensing, Interacting, Scale effects; Stakeholder costs and success factor feedback loops) Learning Changing) mainstreaming benefits; ripple effects mechanism; capabilities cross-sector-same change over time sector transition Counterfactual Different sectors; no intra- Over time change created by Comparison same- Indirect and longer term company control groups partnership; nature of cross-sector effects problem addressed; partnerships experience level 123 14 R. van Tulder et al. differently (what the authors call a sense-making device the way different partner constellations might affect the and relates to the issue-mission relationship in our model); ultimate impact for the organizations themselves and for on stakeholder engagement (which they call higher order the target group. The nature of the activities is taken as a dynamic capabilities, i.e., inputs) and on shifting the sus- relative black box, although the effects on the internal tainability goals of companies from reactive to pro-active stakeholders of the participating organizations are included strategies. The authors are interested in innovative solu- in the basic framework and related checklist. tions to wicked problems, but argue that as time passes, the All papers define the link with the core strategy of the partnership effect tends to become lower. The sampling organizations as particularly relevant for enhanced impact, used for this study provides grounds for a counterfactual although most studies also do not empirically cover the based on different levels of experience. ultimate impact of the partnership. Three of the papers The paper by Ma´rquez, Reficco, and Gutie´rrez adopts a include case studies as a comparison, and as partial answer to meso-level of analysis, looking at the portfolio of partner- the challenge of establishing a counterfactual through con- ships, and thus focuses on 2nd (and partly 3rd order) impact trol groups. But this part of the research is clearly open for loops. The two longitudinal case studies they present take improvement. Most papers also take a learning perspective, multiple sources of evidence to assess the effects of the either through employee engagement (Kolk et al.), issue partnership. They compare same/intra-sector and cross- sense-making (Dentoni et al.) or education (Stadtler). sector partnerships, consider the evolution and the extent to Learning can lead to enhanced output of the partnership, to which partnership portfolios of companies can be considered the longer term survival but also to the termination of the homogenous or heterogeneous. Partnerships for the Bottom partnership. The papers show that longer-run effects—i.e., of the Pyramid are clearly opportunity driven. The degree of taking output and outcome factors into account—can change success is defined by the reaching of scale of the partnership over time depending on whether the partnership takes an and ultimately the degree to which the cross-sector partner- opportunity-driven or a problem-driven road. Ultimately, ship is overtaken by same sector partnerships or a go-it-alone the four papers of this special issue illustrate the richness of strategy. Whether the partnership really contributes to the area, its rapidly growing sophistication, but also illus- solving the issue (of poverty) is not researched, but can be trate the challenges that are still ahead in further merging the suggested through enhanced business models in which areas of partnership research and impact assessment. A serving the Bottom of the Pyramid has become normal considerable research agenda is carved out for us based on business practice. The function of the partnership, therefore, all the contributions of the special issue. is temporary and intended to handle uncertainty and risks Acknowledgments A final word of thanks: this thematic special associated with entering and creating new markets. The issue is based on initial contributions from the 3rd International Cross authors do not check whether the non-market partners of the Sector Social Interactions Symposium (CSSI) which was organized by partnership also realize that they engage(d) in a temporary The Partnerships Resource Centre (PrC) in collaboration with Hull partnership and the degree to which this might have had Business School in May 2012. We are grateful to the Academy for Business in Society (ABIS) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs impact on the activities-output-outcome loop. Linking the for their financial and non-financial support to the symposium. This partnership portfolio of companies to that of NGOs seems a special issue would not be possible without the dedication and com- logical extension of this type of research. mitment of reviewers providing timely constructive feedback to the The paper by Stadtler, finally, takes part of the argument authors, and hence contributing significantly to this issue by safe- guarding the journal’s high standards for publications. We would like that we have developed in this paper one step further by to thank Mark Fuller, Arno Kourula, Lucas Meijs, Miguel Rivera- stressing the importance of an actor and stakeholder per- Santos, Carlos Rufin, John Selsky, Jean-Pascal Gond, Bahar Ali Kazmi, spective in assessing impact. The paper focuses in partic- Kevin McKague, Amy O’Connor, John Peloza, and Mike Valente. ular on third-order impact loops, by primarily taking the Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the impact value chain as starting position for a broad assess- Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creati ment of the ultimate effects of public–private partnerships. vecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, The author provides one illustrative case study, but is distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give primarily interested in defining various levels of analysis appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. and benefits/costs of partnerships. 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