Moira's paper, co-authored in an international collaboration with Dr Jordan Tchilingirian of University of Bath was entitled: Governing cross-sector partnerships: how governance boards structure multi-stakeholder collaboration.


Increasing attention is paid to the contribution of organization scholarship to tackling the “grand challenges” of the 21st century. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) adopted in 2015 are an articulation of these significant issues. In the SDGs and ‘Agenda 2030’, cross-sector partnerships were given new impetus. These inclusive partnerships require ‘bringing together Governments, civil society, the private sector, the United Nations system and other actors’ (UN: General Assembly, 2015), and are assumed to be “built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, [and] are needed at the global, regional, national and local level” (UN: United Nations, 2015). Rhetorically this ambition may be justified: cross-sectoral partnerships have the potential to be significant new crucibles in which sustainable development solutions will be forged. Yet it is not rigorous to assume that development goals are shared among diverse partners, much less the principles underpinning them or the practices that different stakeholders will assume to be appropriate to achieving them. In this multiplicity of goals, frames and actions, the ways in which such partnerships are established and governed will impact more or less positively on both the quality of collaboration inside the partnerships and ultimately, on achieving sustainable development for all.

Changing practices of cooperation and collaboration at global, regional, national and local levels require the consideration of partnership as a new and different phenomenon. Thus, analysis is required in order to move beyond partnership remaining no more than “a ‘feel good’ panacea for governance without a pragmatic grasp of what it is and how it differs from business as usual” (Brinkerhoff, 2002, p. 20). Nevertheless, nor should such analysis simply dismiss partnerships as ‘business as usual’ under the same master as always (Utting & Zammit, 2009). In the absence of such research, we are left with an inadequate analysis that creates the conditions for ill-informed policy decisions and the perpetuation of extant power hierarchies.

Much existing literature treats partnerships as either normatively appropriate or instrumentally useful organisational models (Faul, 2016). However, partnerships are more than a novel organisational form, therefore the authors argue that existing theorisations of partnerships as organisations can usefully be supplemented by Eyal's (2011) theorisation of ‘spaces between fields’. To bring these blurry and ambiguous spaces between fields into sharper focus, the authors examine the actual relationships between partnership board members that structure this partnership space between fields. Partnership governance boards are at the sharp end of partnering activities, bringing together partners representing diverse countries, organisations, and professional expertise. Thus, we extend existing analyses to consider the ways in which actors from these different sectors are formally brought together in multistakeholder partnership boards to address a development problem.

To examine these emerging partnership spaces as they institutionalise, we ask: What are the partnering processes that connect diverse partners from established fields? Therefore, this paper examines the practices of partnering across the boards of ten global partnerships established to provide financing for four social and environmental SDGs (including SDG2: nutrition, SDG13: climate change, SDG4: education, and SDG3: health), and considers the contribution of Eyal’s theory of spaces between fields to cross-sector partnership research.

Drawing on an original dataset of 200 board members from10 global financing partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals, the authors used network analysis to reveal the actual relationships that are designed into the boards of new cross-sectoral governance arrangements. The context of partnership Boards is particularly suitable for studying the partnering processes of individuals across institutionalised fields, since Board relationships are generally established with the explicit goal of creating relationships between partners from diverse fields. Thus, it is board relationships that create and structure the spaces into which multiple professions, organisations, logics, and institutions are mobilised, representing an important setting in which cross-sectoral partnering occurs.

This analysis revealed that (a) partnership boards for financing the SDGs are not equally diverse; (b) different stakeholders are differently included in partnership boards; and (c) certain stakeholders are systematically over-represented. Thus, Board members representing donors (whether state, private or international organisations) were more connected within the partnership space than other stakeholders (recipient states and civil society). This would indicate the importance of historical relations of power and the privileging of certain logics and practices in the emerging institutionalisation of global financing partnerships for the SDGs.

This paper contributes an innovative theoretical framing to studies of partnerships and extends the insights of Eyal’s approach. By focussing on the actual relationships that sustain and structure spaces between fields, the authors demonstrate how initial conditions and power disparities in constituent fields are translated and imprinted into emergent liminal partnership spaces. This insight is important in theorizing the governance of cross-sector partnerships; it implications for enhancing the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development are also critical.

Paper available on request from moira.faul[at]