Regional study reveals factors for successful CSO-academic partnership

Regional study reveals factors for successful CSO-academic partnership CPDE members in North America conducted a research project which focused on global commitments under Sustainable Development Goal 17.

The research builds on previous efforts under the Next Generation: Collaboration for Development programme, co-led by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development, which seeks to identify and compile the knowledge on collaborative partnerships between academics and CSOs in the Canadian context.

The Regional Observatorio investigated whether similar trends can be seen across North America, and whether differences between the institutional environments in Canada and the US affect the frequency and effectiveness of collaborative partnerships. As with the country-level Next Generation Programme, the Regional Observatorio project focused on academic-practitioner collaborations.

Academic and CSOs are complementary organisational types with very different strengths and skills. Collaborations that bring these two groups together can increase development effectiveness by enabling partners to draw on one another’s skills in areas like human rights-based approaches and universalization of development practices in accordance with the 2030 Agenda.

The research undertook in the North American Observatorio project found that throughout the region, collaboration between development practitioners and academics can take a variety of forms. These include collaborative research projects, practitioner placements in academic contexts, and input on training programs by CSOs. The success of these collaborations is determined in large part by the quality of the relationship between academic institutions and CSOs, which is in turn influenced by a variety of factors including the trust established through transparency and clear lines of communication.

However, larger structural factors also play a role in determining the frequency and effectiveness of collaborations. These factors include government priorities, the strategic orientation of funding agencies, and the presence of organizations playing supportive roles. The broader academic and CSO cultures also shape the nature of collaboration. For example, development studies institutions with a highly critical or theoretical approach are less likely to be attractive partners for CSOs with the strategic priority of effecting tangible change.

Over the course of the research, two case studies emerged that are having an exceptional impact on the nature of academic-practitioner collaborations. The long-standing partnership between Catholic Relief Services and Purdue University is exemplary in its fully institutionalized approach, while the Sustainable Development Solutions Network is breaking new ground in knowledge-sharing between North and South, academic and CSOs. Both cases illustrate innovative and effective approaches that point toward the collaborative possibilities still waiting to be discovered.

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