By Julien Sémelin, Manager, Mediterranean Basin Programme

In a previous blog post, my colleague Luis Costa and I described the functioning of the steering committees that supervise the implementation of our action plans. Indeed, these plans involve the seamless coordination of several projects and partnerships focusing on common objectives. Moreover, we are now no longer striving to measure the impact of projects on an individual basis, but instead collectively through these action plans. These committees play a central role in this respect. In our previous blog post, we also spoke of their importance in promoting a common culture and strengthening the sustainability of the projects that we finance.

More recently, during a meeting of the entire MAVA team, we opened a window onto an important issue: the wide variety of ways in which these committees operate. We then reviewed the implementation of our 25 action plans. During a working session, we compared how three of these committees functioned. Not surprisingly, we noted that all three were very different. Interesting… However, when you consider that we have 25 steering committees, does that mean we have 25 individual cases?

In order to gain a more objective overview, I sent a table to all my colleagues. I wanted to know the main characteristics of the committees they supervise. An extraordinary opportunity, when you think of it. A total of 25 different case studies that may allow us to discover the key to a successful partnership… enough to make an entire army of scientists jealous!

The issue of these different types of partnership had been on my mind for quite a while. When we set up these coalitions, we named them, naturally using the jargon we master the best: project jargon. So, we called them “steering committees”. However, this name does not really fit the dynamics that are established within the actions plans I am in charge of.  Am I alone in thinking this? Therefore, the timing of this brief overview of the Foundation is perfect.

The first observation is that we have very different types of partnerships. If I might venture to suggest some kind of classification, I would say we have:

♦ Real steering committees, strictly speaking (often with a leading partner), where the partners are able to make collective decisions on how actions plans and their projects are carried out;

♦ More flexible types of partnerships, in which the partners collaborate on common objectives, above all in order to strengthen the coordination of their actions and the synergies between them;

♦ “Thematic” partnerships, which bring the partners together, above all to enable them to share experiences and information.

So, why are there all these different types of partnerships? Why was a closely-knit coalition set up in one case, whilst in another we have a group of partners who are above all interested in some kind of coordination? Here are a few possible reasons off the top of my head.

Firstly, the number of partners has a slight influence on the choice of partnership. Our coalitions vary in size and comprise between 4 and 20 organisations. Although this element is not very marked, it appears that when there are over around ten organisations, the need for coordination is more important than the ability to lead a group.  It’s logical.

The existence of historical relations is however far more decisive. Some coalitions were formed very recently, often specifically for the implementation of action plans. In this case, it appears that when people are not used to working together the relationships are more tentative, at least to begin with. However, the reverse doesn’t automatically imply the setup of a “steering committee” type. If organisations have known one another for a long time, it means that they have already been collaborating. Sometimes through other coalitions. The added value of our coalitions is therefore rather linked to the more informal framework for exchanges that we offer, allowing for the exploration of possibilities for synergies and the coordination of their actions.

The complexity of action plans is also an important factor. Action plans with specific objectives, such as that of the conservation of seagrass beds in West Africa, have led to the development of “steering committee” type partnerships. In these cases, the configuration is closer to the “project” model. On the other hand, for action plans including very diverse strategies and involving the multiplication of connections inside and outside of the coalition, it is the need for coordination between partners that seems to have a bearing on the type of partnership formed.

Finally, the subject matter dealt with also appears to have an influence. Partnerships developed in our Sustainable Economy Programme have had more flexible, evolving forms. This is no doubt linked to the new and exploratory nature of the projects.  However, within our Mediterranean and West Africa programmes, the conservation organisations have more traditional partnerships, corresponding no doubt to operating modes that have already been tried and tested.

This “photograph” of our partnerships today is probably going to evolve, and it would be interesting to repeat this exercise in a few years’ time. However, now we have a clearer idea of this matter, it is time to address the following question:  “What is the key to a successful partnership?”.  But this blog post is already too long, and I haven’t finished analysing this famous table yet either. To be continued in the next blog post!