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Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships (2021)

Chapter:2 Sustainability Partnerships

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Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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2

Sustainability Partnerships

This chapter draws on social science and research related to sustainability partnerships, with attention to a broad global context, to lay a conceptual foundation for understanding the partnership efforts in the U.S.–Mexico binational region. The literature that informs this chapter is drawn from international research on multi-stakeholder and multinational partnerships addressing sustainability challenges, research on transboundary/multinational water and natural resource management partnerships, and literature on multi-stakeholder sustainability initiatives.

Following a section that covers definitions of partnerships in relation to sustainability initiatives and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17, the chapter addresses what is known about types of partnerships, the emergence of partnerships, common characteristics of partnerships, partnership governance, and, more normatively, what experts perceive as principles for effective sustainability partnerships. These themes, particularly in relation to identifying the characteristics of sustainability partnerships, are drawn on in Chapters 3 and 4 for greater insight into the specific sustainability partnerships of the U.S.–Mexico border region. The material of this chapter may also be useful for organizations and groups seeking to improve their partnership activities in light of sustainability goals and those who may be interested in common attributes and structures of similar partnerships internationally. While many themes and issues in the international literature do resonate with the challenges and structure of sustainability partnerships in the U.S.–Mexico region, the region also has unique features that create specific opportunities and obstacles to partnership initiatives. These features are discussed in Chapter 4 alongside a broader rationale for the application of a social-ecological systems framework.

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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PARTNERSHIPS, SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES, AND SDGS

“Collaboration across societal sectors,” write Stibbe, Reid, and Gilbert (2019), “has emerged as one of the defining concepts of international development in the 21st century” (p. 6). Partnerships are now considered essential to sustainable development and the achievement of the SDGs. In the mid-1990s, the definition of sustainability partnerships were defined as voluntary collaborations between two or more organizations with a jointly defined agenda focused on a discrete, attainable, and potentially measurable goal (Long and Arnold, 1995). More recently in relation to the SDGs, the United Nations has adopted the following definition of sustainability partnerships:

Multistakeholder initiatives, voluntarily undertaken by governments, intergovernmental organizations, major groups, and other stakeholders, which efforts are contributing to the implementation of inter-governmentally, agreed on development goals and commitments. (Stibbe et al., 2019, p. 8)

Partnerships are the specific focus of SDG 17, which encourages and promotes different stakeholders in the private and public sectors and civil society to collaborate in the achievement of the SDGs by pooling financial resources, technologies, knowledge, and expertise. These types of partnerships represent a critical means of implementing the whole sustainability agenda and achieving all the SDGs.1 As it pertains to achieving the SDGs, a multistakeholder partnership is defined as:

an ongoing collaborative relationship among organizations from different stakeholder types aligning their interests around a common vision, combining their complementary resources and competencies and sharing risk, to maximize value creation towards the Sustainable Development Goals and deliver benefit to each of the partners. (Stibbe and Prescott, 2020, p. 6)

SDG 17 acknowledges that:

[a] successful sustainable development agenda requires inclusive partnerships—tthe global, regional, national and local levels—built upon principles and values, and upon a shared vision and shared goals placing people and the planet at the centre.2

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1 More information is available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdinaction and https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/globalpartnerships/.

2 More information is available at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/globalpartnerships/.

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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SDG 17 and its respective targets, particularly targets 17.16 and 17.17 (see Chapter 1), identify multi-stakeholder partnerships as essential to mobilize and share information, knowledge, technologies, and financial resources to achieve sustainable development worldwide, particularly in developing countries. SDG Target 17.17 seeks to “encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships” (United Nations, 2015). Increased knowledge sharing and access to technology are key ways to distribute information and encourage innovation.

The latest U.N. (2020) report on the progress of SDG 17 indicates that the “financial resources remain scarce, trade tensions have been increasing, and crucial data are still lacking” and that “[s]trengthening multilateralism and global partnership are more important than ever” (United Nations, 2020, p. 58). The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening trade and foreign direct investment. Major donors will strive to protect official development assistance (ODA)3 budgets while worldwide remittances in 2020 are estimated to decrease by approximately 20 percent—the largest decrease in recent history. Additionally, in 2020 the receipt of global foreign direct investment by developing countries may decrease by up to 40 percent due to postponed investments. Furthermore, global merchandise trade is estimated to decrease by 13 to 32 percent. While the pandemic has forced many people to rely on the Internet, almost half of the world’s population—concentrated in poorer countries—is not connected.

Finally, it is reported that while the need for sound data and statistics has increased, many countries lack the necessary technical and financial resources for monitoring development agendas (United Nations, 2020). In sum, the need persists for partnerships to bridge these gaps in finance, information, and commerce. Partnerships—between nations and between public, private, and civil society entities—are considered vehicles for helping accomplish these goals (Prescott and Stibbe, 2020; Stibbe and Prescott, 2020). The development of multi-stakeholder partnership platforms throughout the world has the potential to hasten steps forward toward achieving the SDGs. In general terms, these platforms have four objectives: (1) joint advocacy and policy dialogue to create an enabling environment where partnership thrives; (2) partnering at scale for impact: support to identify large-scale public-private partnerships and collaborations; (3) maximizing innovative finance; and (4) facilitating data management, learning, and research to inform progressive policy and practice for SDG partnerships (Prescott and Stibbe, 2020, p. 18).

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3 More information on official development assistance (ODA) is available at: https://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-standards/officialdevelopmentassistancedefinitionandcoverage.htm.

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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To ensure that countries have the opportunity to achieve the SDGs will require international cooperation; collaboration across the U.S.–Mexico border is no exception. Ongoing climate change, land degradation, social instability, and other binational challenges make achieving the SDGs in the U.S.–Mexican transboundary region both daunting and urgent. Multistakeholder partnerships for sustainable development aim at integrating various sectoral and disciplinary perspectives on a broad spectrum of essential needs, including food (SDG 2), water (SDG 6), energy (SDG 7), ocean resources (SDG 14), and terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15), which are fundamental to achieving the expected objectives for all to live poverty-free (SDG 1), healthy (SDG 3), with access to quality education (SDG 4), securing gender equality (SDG 5), with unconstrained access to labor and economic rights (SDG 8), securing social equality (SDG 10), and in an overall inclusive society (SDG 16). To meet the essential needs and expected objectives, science needs to become policy-relevant, and novel governance structures should secure resilient infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible production and consumption schemes (SDG 12), and effective climate-change mitigation action (SDG 13) (Fu et al., 2019). (Appendix D offers discussion of many of these topics in the context of the U.S.–Mexico transboundary region.)

TYPES OF SUSTAINABILITY PARTNERSHIPS

In different analyses in the research literature, multi-stakeholder partnerships are categorized by their functions, by their aim or scope of action, by the type or organizational level of actors involved, or by their degree of temporal permanence and formal institutionalization (for a few examples, see Gurzawska, 2020; Pinkse and Kolk, 2012; van Huijstee and Glasbergen, 2010). Much of the analysis of international or transnational multi-stakeholder partnerships arise from political science and international relations, rather than directly from the field of sustainability. Schäferhoff, Campe, and Kaan (2009), for example, classify transnational partnerships according to whether they are primarily dedicated to policy formation, such as the development of common norms or standards, or whether they are more focused on policy implementation. These two general purposes of partnerships can be further classified in terms of their primary functions: advocacy, awareness-raising, service provisioning, knowledge exchange, research and development, standard setting, or the creation of markets.

Focusing on public-private partnerships in transnational governance, Börzel and Risse (2002) describe a similar typology of partnerships according to purpose: those involved primarily in rule formation, those dedicated to rule implementation, and those focused on service provisioning. In relation specifically to the accountability of partnerships in climate action, Bäckstrand (2008) builds on Börzel and Risse’s typology and relates

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

partnership functions and accountability to the nature of participating entities: public-private, government-government, and private-private.

Garrick et al. (2018) classify partnerships in terms of scope, and subsequently by authority level and formality:

  • Single issue: These informal policy networks materialize out of local interactions for common ventures or from service contracts to deal with externalities, such as dry-year options in water management partnerships.
  • Multilateral: These are multipurpose partnerships with a consolidated set of public services within the geographic territory; for example, regional or watershed organizations that coordinate drought response in a watershed.
  • Comprehensive: These are regional partnerships with embedded norms formed as a result of intersecting ventures, agreements, contracts, and coordination throughout numerous policy domains, controlled by a statutory framework; for example, water quality planning by a joint river basin authority.

Typically, when collective action benefits exceed costs, decision-making venues increase in scope and authority. This suggests that informal venues may be sufficient until the capacity of the partners is exceeded. Lower-cost integration mechanisms are likely used and experimented with before more comprehensive and formal mechanisms (Garrick et al., 2018).

With specific reference to sustainability and sustainable development, multi-stakeholder partnerships have often been classified according to the intent of their collective action and the duration of their collaborations. For example, Peterson and colleagues (2015) identify four types of partnerships: (1) joint projects, focused on a short-term, one-time collaborative effort; (2) joint programs, representing a small number of partners working on an explicit portion of a social problem; (3) strategic alliances, in which partners create platforms for ongoing collaboration to tackle one or more related social issues supporting a common agenda and investments; and (4) collective impact partnerships, partnerships designed for long-term commitments to a common agenda by cross-sector actors aiming for systemwide change.

In the U.S.–Mexico region, all four of these forms of partnerships are likely. For sustained impact on the persistent sustainability challenges of the region, such as the concerns related to migration, water resource management, and public health, strategic alliances and collective impact partnerships may be particularly constructive. Chapter 3 covers some current partnerships, such as the work of the Border Philanthropy Partnership, which could be considered a partnership striving for longer-term collective impact by facilitating financial resource access for actors in diverse sectors, addressing diverse sustainability challenges in the border region.

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

The San Diego Association of Governments, as a forum for decision making in the broader San Diego region, has characteristics that echo a strategic alliance partnership. Other partnerships—for example, collaborations among universities on both sides of the border to address educational or research objectives—may begin as joint projects that subsequently evolve into more programmatic partnerships or even into broader alliances. The capacity for informal and formal joint projects and programs to emerge to address abrupt concerns, such as the COVID-19 crisis, may also depend on the social and institutional infrastructure of existing strategic alliances.

The Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras exemplifies all of these functions of partnerships, mobilizing and strengthening in response to threats to the diverse cultural and environmental resources stemming from the fortification of the U.S.–Mexico border. This action-oriented partnership is also serving to communicate ideas and knowledge among border research institutes and Native communities, while serving as a community-based partnership, reinforcing ties among native peoples across the border region. Research-based partnerships, particularly those involving academics and professionals in public resource management institutions, have long been involved in cross-border collaborations, addressing the sustainability challenges in water resources, biodiversity, and natural hazards domains. Communities of practice have also emerged, focusing on key sustainability concerns such as cross-border migration and trade.

HOW PARTNERSHIPS EMERGE

Scholars have highlighted the emergence and proliferation of multi-stakeholder transnational partnerships as a form of governance in the neoliberal era. These forms of governance have responded to, on one hand, perceived market and state failures in access to critical goods and services (Pattberg and Widerberg, 2014). On the other hand, they generate novel opportunities for private-sector and civil society participation and influence in decision making, as public-sector actors have retreated from some obligations providing for the public good (Börzel and Risse, 2002; Scäferhoff et al., 2009).

Management of sustainability concerns across political boundaries is particularly challenging. For example, concerning transborder water management, Ingram, Milich, and Varady (1994) identify five potential difficulties (1) political boundaries (domestic or international) can separate a location where a problem is felt from the effective and efficient solutions; (2) economic opportunities for profit can make the moderation of scarce-resource use unlikely; (3) borders can exacerbate perceived inequalities; (4) residents’ concerns can be marginalized; and (5) policies can impede grassroots problem-solving. They further note that policies at the federal and state level are often at odds with the needs and priorities

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

of the region. In such conditions, partnerships can emerge and play critical roles. Furthermore, state actors can encourage the formation of transnational partnerships as a means of enhancing the legitimacy and effectiveness of transnational policy initiatives to address complex and difficult problems (Börzel and Risse, 2002), as well as a means of dispersing responsibility and risk among a broader coalition of actors.

Sustainability partnerships are often thought to emerge in contexts where an organization recognizes the added value of working with others toward aligned goals or within a common agenda. In some cases, the organization may perceive that its agenda and goals cannot be easily met without the contributions of other actors or organizations: that is, they might identify a “collaborative advantage,” which Stibbe, Reid, and Gilbert (2019) define as “the alchemy that allows a group of actors to collectively deliver more than the sum of their input parts” (p. 11). In this case, partnerships may be formed featuring organizations that provide complementary skills, relationships, resources, or other critical assets (NRC, 2009; Schäferhoff et al., 2009). Partnerships can emerge when participants recognize that collaboration is a means of access to skills, resources, network funding, or influence that they might not otherwise have (Schäferhoff et al., 2009).

In other cases, an organization may see that its goals, while distinct, are closely aligned (and not in conflict) with those of another organization; joining forces may increase the opportunities for each to achieve what each organization separately seeks under a broadly aligned shared agenda (NRC, 2009). Stibbe, Reid, and Gilbert (2019) argue that recognition of a collaborative advantage must also be coupled with each partnering organizations’ recognition of individual value in the partnership, either through a direct strategic impact on the outcomes the organization is vested in (“mission value”) or in an enhanced organizational ability to deliver its mission (“organizational value”). This concept is discussed in further detail below.

Schäferhoff, Campe, and Kaan (2009) argue that a recognition of overlapping interests is a fundamental condition for transnational partnership formation. “Norm entrepreneurs”—actors skilled at promoting and structuring the normative foundations for partnerships, persuading others to join in their efforts—can play instrumental roles in partnerships in which social learning and shared values are developed. Nevertheless, while interests may overlap, asymmetries in access and control of information, material resources, and finance, among others, can also create initial conditions of partnerships that may lead to the perpetuation of inequities in partnership activities (Contu and Girei, 2014). Some scholars have cautioned that partnerships can be formed as a result of a powerful actor mobilizing relationships largely for its benefit in terms of enhanced legitimacy, recognition, or control (Contu and Girei, 2014). In such a case, the mission of and organizational value to any one actor in a partnership

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

would overshadow the collaborative advantage, undermining the partnership’s longer-term success.

Presently, the United Nations is working to accelerate the formation of partnerships to advance the SDGs through the 2030 Agenda Partnership Accelerator.4 This effort provides training support and advisory service by building partnership skills and competencies, including those needed to develop and implement partnerships, as well as supporting the development of policies, strategies, systems, processes, legal agreements, and culture that support collaboration. This U.N. partnership initiative responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic by launching two publications: an SDG Partnership Guidebook (Stibbe and Prescott, 2020) and a research report that compiled learning from good practices (Prescott and Stibbe, 2020).

CHARACTERISTICS OF PARTNERSHIPS FOR SUSTAINABILITY

Trust

Sustainability of partnerships are fundamentally determined by trust and shaped by the continuation of trusted relationships among people. The literature suggests that rather than solely relying on external motivators for individual compliance (e.g., punishments and rewards), it is preferable to focus on internal motivators, including trust in others (Hamm et al., 2013; Stern and Coleman, 2015; Song et al., 2019). Stern and Coleman (2015) characterize four types of trust in the context of analyzing collaborative natural resource management: (1) rational trust, based on a calculative assessment of expected benefits and risks informed by the history of performance and predictability; (2) procedural trust, which is about fairness and integrity of the procedures involved; (3) affinitive trust, which is shaped by emotions, charisma, shared identities or feelings, but not always longer-term interactions; and (4) dispositional trust, a relatively stable personality trait signaling one’s predisposition to trust another entity. These four types highlight the need to take a multidimensional approach when trying to understand the role of trust in collaborative arrangements. Song et al. (2019) conclude that rational trust, which pertains to calculated risks and expectations of participation, performance, and utility, strongly predicts goal consensus. Procedural trust based on process-based notions such as integrity, fairness, and perception of equity, justice, and dignity, can partially compensate for a lack of informal interactions. Song et al. (2019) also found that affinitive trust—informal and characteristic-based aspects

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4 More information is available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/PartnershipAccelerator.

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

of longer-term relationships, such as familiarity, respect, and shared experiences—were least prevalent in analyses but most significant for influencing decision making in binational resource management.

Participation

Participation is a core component of any effort of building and sustaining partnerships. The nature of a participatory process, including the conferring of respect on all sides and the chosen forms of engagement, strongly influences the structure and sustainability of collaboration. Five participation types are presented in Table 2-1, following the typology of Margerum (2008) and van Buuren, van Meerkerk, and Tortajada (2019). These different types of participation can evolve into other hybrids. Action-oriented initiatives for specific goods or services include situations in which members of the general public use a “public space” to reach their goals (van Buuren et al., 2019). Another type of participation intended to support specific

TABLE 2-1 Different Types of Invited and Created Participation

Invited Participation Created Participation
Type of Participation Capacity-driven participation Legitimacy-driven participation Project-oriented initiatives Action-oriented initiatives Policy-oriented initiatives
Description Stakeholders are invited to participate to strengthen governance capacity Stakeholders are invited to participate to enhance legitimacy Stakeholders/citizens mobilize to develop their own project proposal, challenging governmental decision making affecting their interests Stakeholders/citizens mobilize to organize and manage on-the-ground action in managing water resources (e.g. monitoring, education, restoration) Stakeholders/citizens mobilize to change existing rules or initiate new rules and regulations for managing water resources
Motive Empowering stakeholders is a way to enable action Participation is a way to ensure support for policy action To prevent public authorities from realizing their own proposal, by developing a credible alternative To realize an initiative that adds public value To start a policy-oriented lobby (because current policies or rules disadvantage stakeholders’ position)

SOURCE: Reprinted (courtesy of Creative Commons license) from van Buuren, van Meerkerk, and Tortajada (2019).

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

values or rights (e.g., water access or Indigenous cultural resources) involves grassroots actions and environmental activism, by such means as agenda-setting or policy lobbying (Mazzoni and Cicognani, 2013; van Buuren et al., 2019). In many of the cases documented in the literature, a partnership or collaboration arises in the course of invited or created spaces of participation (GAO, 2008; Margerum, 2008; van Buuren et al., 2019). In practice, types of participation will vary and be adapted throughout a partnership’s development, as goals evolve, learning takes place, and novel alliances are formed.

Coproduction of Knowledge

Collaborative relationships among public, private, and civil society are more productive and sustainable if they provide incentives and value to all stakeholders, rather than the ratification of one group as “the” source of knowledge or innovation over others (Contu and Girei, 2014; National Research Council [NRC], 2011). Collaboratively producing knowledge among participants in a partnership is thus fundamental to the aim of collective value creation in sustainability partnerships. Coproduction captures the idea of continual interaction between knowledge-making and decision making in the context of planning and implementation for sustainable development. Multi-stakeholder partnerships targeting sustainable development in the U.S.–Mexico border region confront complex cross-border socio-ecological system (SES) dynamics, that require both the ability to adapt and transform in response to a range of economic, cultural, political, and environmental challenges. Given that most sustainable development issues are the result of such dynamics, a diversity of knowledge is needed to effectively contribute to sustainable development (Clark et al., 2016b). In addition, partnerships are more likely to be effective when they account for the salience, credibility, and legitimacy of their knowledge production activities with the stakeholders to which they are beholden (Cash et al., 2003, p. 8086).

In regions such as the U.S.–Mexico drylands, attention to knowledge diversity may mean intentional inclusion of Native communities, as well as attention to multicultural civil society actors and public-sector actors, at all levels of administration on both sides of the border. There are significant power dynamics within coproduction processes, and these may be particularly exposed in intercultural and transnational contexts. Only recently has the coproduction of knowledge research acknowledged the need to include different cultures, languages, world views, identities, practices, and ethics in a context of asymmetries of power and rights by connecting with Indigenous and other knowledge systems (Johnson et al., 2016; Tengö et al., 2017). Co-production processes can empower

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

some actors or some forms of knowledge more than others; partnerships can aim to address such potential asymmetries in co-production activities (Turnhout et al., 2020, p. 17). As detailed in Chapter 3, in the transnational U.S.–Mexico context, the diversity of actors and knowledge systems5 poses a challenge to effective partnerships; coproduction implies a negotiation of shared risks and responsibilities that must be transparent to all participants in a partnership.

Tengö and colleagues (2017) argue that effective processes for knowledge co-production among partnership participants should engage in five tasks: to mobilize, translate, negotiate, synthesize, and apply multiple forms of evidence, while respecting the integrity of each knowledge system. Active commitments by knowledge holders as well as their organizations are crucial, as are processes built to increase trust and communication while accounting for language, culture, worldviews, and varying experiences. As illustrated by partnership efforts involving Indigenous communities in the U.S.–Mexico region, described in Chapter 3, these partnerships require significant time and resources. Moreover, issues of diversity, identification, representation, delegation, and liaison need to be recognized within knowledge systems (Tengö et al., 2017).

Effective partnerships will also include numerous institutional mechanisms for communication, translation, and mediation of knowledge across boundaries (Cash et al., 2003). Boundary work is a term often used to describe organizations that mediate the science-policy interface (Clark et al., 2016a) but can also apply to other forms of partnerships that do not involve the research community. Boundary work is thought to be more effective if it involves meaningful participation by stakeholders, efforts to ensure accountability to stakeholders, and the production of “boundary objects”—reports, models, maps, standards, etc.—that integrate the diversity of viewpoints within the partnership and the communities they wish to serve or influence (Clark et al., 2016a).

Alignment

Alignment has been defined as identifying synergies in order “to increase coherence, efficiency, and effectiveness for improved outcomes” among partners (Dazé et al., 2018, p. 3). Alignment of the partners’ perspectives, values, and processes requires the flexibility to coordinate and integrate new information and knowledge. Three categories illustrate specific alignment characteristics: (1) informal alignment, where information is shared throughout different policy processes and collaboration

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5 “Knowledge systems are made up of agents, practices, and institutions that organize the production, transfer and use of knowledge” (Cornell et al., 2013, p. 61).

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

in implementation is ad-hoc; (2) strategic alignment, where coordination mechanisms are formally established and some joint initiatives are implemented; and (3) systematic alignment, where a shared vision for resilience, incentives for coordination across actors and levels, and implementation strategies are harmonized (Dazé et al., 2018; OECD, 2019).

Leadership

Sustainability partnerships require leaders with exceptional skills to navigate collaboration and governance approaches across diverse social, political, and cultural boundaries, targeting both sustainable development and the resilience of a complex cross-border socio-ecological region (Perz, 2019a). The co-creation of public value through partnerships requires coordination across sectors, scales, and jurisdictions (Garrick et al., 2018), a challenge that is particularly salient in international, cross-border contexts. Leaders of effective multi-stakeholder partnerships thus confer skills and knowledge on effective collaboration and boundary-crossing: that is, they share knowledge beyond addressing conventional complex environmental problems (e.g., employing biophysical and socioeconomic disciplines) by tapping expertise in applied behavioral sciences. In particular, they tap into the knowledge of organizational behavior, addressing organizational culture, team dynamics and productivities, and inter-organizational relationships, including the disciplines of psychology and management (Hersey et al., 2013; Ott et al., 2008; Perz, 2019b) and the science of team formation and related social processes (Fiori, 2008; Wildman and Bedwell, 2013).

Collaborative groups need to identify trustworthy leadership, skilled at articulating the group’s vision while understanding multiple sides of an issue, ensuring that the collaborative process is followed, and championing the agenda (GAO, 2008, p. 22). Furthermore, building leadership skills will allow collaborative group members to successfully represent their organizational interests (Cumiskey et al., 2019; GAO, 2008; Pulwarty and Maia, 2015; Raadgever et al., 2008; Westley et al., 2013).

Leaders of effective multi-stakeholder partnerships are charged with fostering “collaborative advantage”: demonstrating that the added values expected from partnership activity can only be reached through collaborative work. Leadership aims at good co-adaptive collaborative practices for two goals, co-generating useful knowledge (Cash et al., 2017) and fostering novel innovation solutions (Kofinas et al., 2007). Achieving these goals entails the slow process of social learning (including feedback), where groups of people with shared interests proactively learn through partnership activities (Kilpatrick et al., 2003).

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
×

Choosing the most effective leadership and collaboration strategies depends largely on the developmental stage of a partnership and the internal or external challenges it is facing. Greenleaf (2002) advocates “servant leadership,” when leaders serve the partners by pursuing the shared interests of the partnership rather than those of individuals, particular sectors, or actor groups. In contrast, Spillane (2006) recommends “distributed leadership;” responsibilities are to be divided among subgroups and organizations and when facing a crisis or problems, decisions are taken jointly in the light of the shared partnership goals. This distributed leadership is suitable both for partnerships with clear vertical (top-down command controlled) and those horizontal (network) collaborative structures. According to Perz (2019a), both leadership types support productive collaboration in that the former contributes to the efficient completion of work and the latter promotes the enhanced flow of information among members, thus facilitating innovation.

In a cross-border region, characterized by change and uncertainty, a leader’s role in building the capacity of partnerships to collaborate on challenging issues is fundamental for sustainable development (Armitage et al., 2008; Bouwen and Tailliey, 2004). In particular, cross-border partnerships greatly enhance their effectiveness from clearly defined collaborative structures, including clarity in the functional roles of partnership constituents.

BEST PRACTICES OF SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIPS

The literature on partnerships suggests a mix of practices, mechanisms, and processes are being used to guide participation, co-production, and alignment for collaboration, achieving value co-creation. Beginning by characterizing and securing the common interest among multiple participants—as opposed to beginning by defining the specific practice of ecosystem, watershed, or other integrated management—allows potential partners to identify bases for partnerships and for stressing the importance of governance in realizing such collaboration (Iott, 2010). Several characteristics are especially noteworthy:

  • Inclusive representation: Documentation on effective partnerships underscores the importance of having stakeholder participation and representation from individuals and organizations with process or outcome interests (GAO, 2008). Inclusion criteria for stakeholders may range from those necessary for implementation to those who may be impacted by possible agreements or outcomes, and including otherwise neglected groups in decisions (Brunner, 2010; GAO, 2008; Westley et al., 2013).
Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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  • A collaborative process: A collaborative “fit-for-purpose” process should be designed by the participants (GAO, 2008; Hazelwood, 2015; Iott, 2010). A collaborative process that utilizes a neutral facilitator with collaborative process expertise may be useful in some cases (GAO, 2008). In transcultural or transborder processes, managing cultural and language differences can be fundamental. Given the reality of asymmetrical capacities and positions, the negotiation of specific mechanisms for addressing these differences is important for building trust (Brunner, 2010; GAO, 2008; Pattberg and Widerberg, 2014, 2016).
  • Development and agreed-upon understanding of a common goal: Partnerships should have clear goals that align with the norms and practices of participating entities. “In a collaborative process, the participants may not have the same overall interests—in fact, they may have conflicting interests” (GAO, 2008, p. 22). A fundamental premise of conflict resolution is agreement on shared facts (McCreary et al., 2007). Developing common goals and securing the common good thus require learning, trust, and time (Brunner, 2010; Pattberg and Widerberg, 2016; Schäfferhoff et al., 2009).
  • Processes for obtaining information: “Effective collaborative processes incorporate high-quality information, including both scientific information and local knowledge, accessible to and understandable by all participants” (GAO, 2008, p. 23). Establishing processes for acquiring information is thus critical, particularly in transboundary contexts where information access is differentiated among participating entities, and different institutional norms govern information access (Garrick et al., 2018; Pulwarty and Maia, 2015).
  • Mechanisms for data and knowledge sharing: Transparency and adequate sharing of knowledge is important for establishing trust and forming a common basis for pursuing shared goals. Data sharing can be a challenge in transnational partnerships or partnerships involving a mixture of private, public, and civil society actors with different sets of knowledge, experience, and information access. Respecting the norms and institutional constraints of participants in data sharing, while working to enhance transparency and accountability through partnership-specific data-management protocols, can thus be critical (Garrick et al., 2018; Pulwarty and Maia, 2015).
  • Leverage for available resources: Collaboration can take time and resources to accomplish such activities as building trust among the participants, setting up the ground rules for the process, attending meetings, conducting project work, and monitoring and evaluating the results of work performed (GAO, 2008, p. 23). Taking stock and
Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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    mobilizing existing resources is important, particularly in contexts of asymmetric resource access, which characterize many transnational partnerships. Language barriers and institutional capacities also must be considered in resource allocations. Access to a diversity of financial resources can help sustain effective partnerships (Cumiskey et al., 2019; GAO, 2008; Iott, 2010; Westley et al., 2013).

  • Incentives for collaboration: Economic and shared-value incentives can facilitate reaching goals and reduce inherent transaction costs in partnerships, recognizing the differential needs and motivations of partnering organizations (GAO, 2008). Partnerships can develop institutional arrangements that facilitate the pursuit of a common agenda, while also aiming for flexibility and adaptability to specific partner needs (Cumiskey et al., 2019; Iott, 2010; Raadgever et al., 2008; Westley et al., 2013).
  • Monitoring results for accountability: To be effective, the participants in partnerships need to be accountable to their constituencies and to the process that they have established. Each partnering organization or entity will have specific constituencies and interests. In addition, organizations supporting the process expect accountability for the time, effort, money, or patience they invested in a partnership. Ensuring that all partners are vested in the common goal and can see mutual benefits from the partnering activities enhances accountability to the partnership as a whole. Mechanisms of accountability can involve graduated sanctions for rule violators and accessible means of dispute resolution. Accountability ideally is evaluated both internally, in relation to the partner organizations and member activities, as well as externally, in terms of the influence on sustainability outcomes (GAO, 2008; Ostrom, 1990).

SUSTAINABILITY PARTNERSHIP PERSISTENCE

For partnerships to be successful and persist over time they need clearly defined goals, roles, and responsibilities. However, effectively putting goals in place is about deciding not only on the end product, but also whether goals are created in a collaborative process (Pattberg and Widerberg, 2016). For partnerships to succeed, it is essential to engage with not only powerful and influential members but also relatively less powerful members, in a power-balancing environment. Third-party intervention can function to balance the joint influences of partners (Tandon and Chakrabarty, 2018). Leadership is considered an important ingredient throughout a partnership. The start of a partnership needs an entrepreneur or broker, “convener,” or “orchestrator” (Abbott and Snidal, 2010; Glasbergen, 2010; Gray, 2007; Tandon and Chakrabarty, 2018).

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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In a study examining the coordination of multiple stakeholders, sustainability partnerships, and collaborative activities to reach mutual and organization-specific goals, an organizational design perspective was used to compare the decision-making processes of 94 partnerships (MacDonald et al., 2019). Results indicated “that collaborative decision-making has an indirect and positive impact on partnership capacity through systems that keep partners informed, coordinate partner interactions, and facilitate ongoing learning” (p. 409). Research on and the practice of multi-stakeholder partnerships supports the finding that partnership capacity depends on how the decision-making process is designed, in addition to internal mechanisms that manage and examine collaborative activities (MacDonald et al., 2019).

Recent research by van Buuren, van Meerkerk, and Tortajada (2019) makes distinctions among three sets of conditions important for sustaining partnerships: (1) participants’ capabilities and characteristics; (2) effective interactions between authorities and participants; and (3) public institutions’ response and receptivity and capacity for using a participatory process. These authors find that organizing collaborative participation efforts is vital to make the underlying values and benefits of involvement transparent and to incorporate feedback. Genuine dialogue and due deliberation, including defining problems and goals with all participants, are needed to achieve meaningful co-creation in participatory efforts. Finally, they find that relationships built on trust increase the value of information exchange, and shared learning can increase participant satisfaction and outcomes.

Drawing on the discussions and literature cited above on the characteristics and types of partnerships, the sustainability of partnerships has been shown to depend on whether processes for sustaining collaborative vision building are focused on securing the common good, facilitating knowledge building and utilization, facilitating network development both horizontally and vertically among key actors and with key actors, using policy entrepreneurs to create momentum and gain support, and pursuing flexibility and respect.

In a rapidly changing environment characterized by trends of increasing aridity, water use, and land use, and by economic and population growth on the U.S.–Mexico border, four key areas that sustain ongoing partnerships have emerged (Biggs et al., 2010; Brunner, 2010; Folke et al., 2005; Olsson and Galaz, 2012; Pulwarty and Maia, 2015; Raadgever and Mostert, 2005; Westley and Mintzberg, 1989; Westley et al., 2013):

  • Anticipation, preparation, and mobilization for change: effectively taking advantage of forthcoming challenges and opportunities for change;
  • Recognizing or creating and engaging windows of opportunity: understanding the importance of timing and entry points to
Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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    connect and mobilize resources and people; identifying champions and leaders at any level who are willing to take risks and convince others to take risks and to help provide institutional cover to innovators;

  • Identifying and communicating opportunities for “small wins” without losing sight of larger goals: sustaining the ability and capacity to recognize (often small) projects that can build trust and confidence in the capabilities and intentions of the actors involved, and agreeing to take a “whole system” perspective and find mutually beneficial leverage points for learning and collaboration; and
  • Financing the deliberative process and maintenance, as well as the knowledge products and infrastructure: ensuring that adequate public and private resources are accessible, public and private financial instruments (charges, prices, insurance, etc.) are utilized, and decision making and financing are managed together.

PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE MULTISTAKEHOLDER PARTNERSHIPS

Effective partnerships can increase the coherence of systems to deliver the greatest value toward achieving broader goals, in this case, SDG 17, with available resources. Prescott and Stibbe (2020) argue that the pursuit of effective partnerships for the SDGs requires a dynamic leader, strong champions, entrepreneurial management, risk-tolerant hosts, an adaptable business model, flexible support systems, strong connectivity, and investment in an enabling environment.

Brouwer et al. (2016) proposed seven principles for effective multistakeholder partnerships for sustainable development (see also Brouwer et al., 2018). In many regards, these principles synthesize the core themes laid out in the preceding sections and serve as a conceptual framework for understanding and assessing the sources of effective partnership.

  • Principle 1: Embrace systemic change. Sustainable development involves highly complex processes and requires a commitment to iterative monitoring and evaluation routines, during which deviation from the target can be seen as an opportunity to learn and adjust rather than as a failure (Dietz et al., 2003). A systems approach benefits from diversity; as more perspectives and visions may offer a broader portfolio of opportunities and solutions for problems.
  • Principle 2: Transform institutions to induce desired change. Rigid systems may benefit from having the rules of the game changed. That is, changes may be needed in the institutions that determine
Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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    the norms and ways people think and behave, often linked to traditions, cultural beliefs, mental models, among others. Partnerships may help induce transformations by helping partners critically view and evaluate existing institutions.

  • Principle 3: Work with the power to achieve equitable solutions. Understanding the power structures and relations of a system is the basis for potentially bringing about change; multi-stakeholder partnerships may balance power inequality or use power structures to induce beneficial change.
  • Principle 4: Deal with conflict. Conflict in multi-stakeholder partnerships is almost inevitable and can be necessary for change to occur. Identifying, accepting, and attending to conflict can strengthen partnerships and enhance their effectiveness.
  • Principle 5: Communicate effectively by listening to all partnership members. Effective communication involves exploring underlying worldviews on issues, challenges, and opportunities, while allowing partners to clearly state their perspectives, ideas, and opinions.
  • Principle 6: Promote collaborative leadership. This promotion enables stakeholders to work together, share responsibility, and develop the confidence to tackle difficult issues. One form of collaborative leadership is horizontal integrative leadership.
  • Principle 7: Foster participatory learning. Multi-stakeholder partnerships enable actors and stakeholders to learn together by sharing knowledge and through collective experience. Organizing events and activities that foster talking, sharing, analyzing, decision-making, and reflecting on partnership activities stimulates interest and confidence in participatory learning and monitoring methods.

The committee decided to advance these principles while adding two other key qualities and considerations. First, actor involvement in multistakeholder partnerships follows an inclusive participatory approach in all aspects and phases of a partnership’s life cycle. Multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development operate on inclusive collaborative processes throughout, and their leadership style may adapt following the partnership’s development, tasks, and effectiveness. Partnership members need to jointly agree on their roles and responsibilities. Second, strong and sustained partnerships develop through an iterative feedback process; thus, there is no single approach that leads to sustainable development. They also develop through a “collaborative” and trusted mechanism. Given the diversity of actors representing different disciplines and sectors, an iterative process may be as critical for sustainable development as

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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knowledge production. One of the challenges of sustaining trust, especially in binational regions, is the rate of staff turnover (rotating positions) and dwindling program resources within agencies, and the increase of contractual positions filled with people who may not have the background and social capital to strengthen these processes (Song et al., 2019).

SUMMARY

The literature on multi-stakeholder partnership stresses the need for such partnerships to be plural in their composition. Their members need to be receptive to embracing, if not to embrace, alternative paradigms, traditions, and practices, and to be ready to cross those epistemic frontiers through an iterative process that traces unique paths for each partnership. The leadership of multi-stakeholder partnerships should share the above principles and be effective in keeping partners moving toward achieving their common goals—themselves jointly established through the concerted action of all the stakeholders.

While partnerships of this nature inevitably face complex realities, those striving to achieve the SDGs in areas or communities along the U.S.–Mexico border face an added level of complexity that results from the interaction of a demanding environment with an often intractable level of social, economic, cultural, and political asymmetries and contrasts across a border that is also a magnet for intense activity and traffic—both licit and illicit—of products and people.

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

FINDING 2-1: Complementary skills and capacities, and perceived collaborative advantage are critical elements for partnership emergence. Partnerships are also likely to emerge to fill perceived gaps in governance.

FINDING 2-2: Partnerships are characterized by thoughtful approaches to the nature and process of participation.

FINDING 2-3: Partnerships necessarily entail negotiations regarding knowledge coproduction, sharing, access, and dissemination. Governance of knowledge relationships is important for trust and transparency among partners.

FINDING 2-4: Leadership matters in partnerships; it is fundamental to establishing trust, focusing collective efforts, and steering partnerships toward goals.

Suggested Citation:"2 Sustainability Partnerships." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26070.
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CONCLUSION 2-1: Effective data sharing in transnational partnerships, or partnerships involving a mixture of private, public, and civil society actors with different sets of knowledge, experience, and information access requires respecting the norms and institutional constraints of participants with enhanced transparency and accountability through partnership-specific data management protocols.

CONCLUSION 2-2: Establishing informal community relationships and integrating indigenous and local knowledge are instrumental in partnerships that span administrative levels and geographic boundaries.

CONCLUSION 2-3: Knowledge co-production creates value in sustainability partnerships when it emanates from mutual or “horizontal” relationships among all the involved actors, confronting current power asymmetries with a commitment to combat inequality and exclusion.

CONCLUSION 2-4: Partnership persistence requires a systemic approach toward a shared goal. It is a function of the partners’ organizational flexibility, adaptation to change, financial resources, and norms of distribution, as well as whether they maintain an environment that fosters innovation, learning, collaboration, and trust.

CONCLUSION 2-5: Alignment among partners to identify synergies for pursuing and securing the common good achieves coherent, efficient, and effective outcomes. Effective alignment requires flexibility in the partners’ perspectives, values, and processes to enable coordination, identify appropriate entry points for new information integration, and achieve continuous learning.

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Next: 3 Opportunities and Challenges for U.S.Mexico Sustainability Partnerships »
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The border region shared by the United States and Mexico is currently experiencing multiple crises on both sides that present challenges to safeguarding the region's sustainable natural resources and to ensuring the livelihoods of its residents. These challenges are exacerbated by stressors including global climate change, increasing urbanization and industrialization and attendant air and water-quality degradation, and rapid population growth. Navigating these challenges and preserving the area’s cultural richness, economy, and ecology will require building strategic partnerships that engage a broad range of stakeholders from both countries.

To navigate these challenges, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, together with the Mexican Academy of Sciences (Academia Mexicana de Ciencias), Mexican Academy of Engineering (Academia de Ingeniería de México), and Mexican National Academy of Medicine (Academia Nacional de Medicina de México), appointed a committee of experts from the United States and Mexico to conduct a consensus study.

Advancing United States-Mexico Binational Sustainability Partnerships incorporates features of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17. SDG 17 calls for revitalizing global partnerships for sustainable development. It is specifically focused on the advancement of multi-stakeholder partnerships that require coordination and collaboration among diverse stakeholders in pursuit of a common and mutually beneficial vision. With attention to SDG 17, this report draws on social science theory and applied research on partnerships to explore potential strategies and mechanisms to increase coordination between relevant government agencies, the private sector, and civil society in the United States and Mexico.

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