Joint research program
MUNPOP is a joint program of researchers from Maastricht University, Utrecht University, and Radboud University Nijmegen on the topic of Partnerships for Sustainable Development. It is the successor of the successful Utrecht-Nijmegen Program on Partnerships (UNPOP). MUNPOP's home base is the International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development (ICIS) at Maastricht University.
Definition of partnerships
Partnerships can be defined as collaborative arrangements in which actors from two or more spheres of society (state, market, and civil society) are involved in a non-hierarchical process, and through which these actors strive for a sustainability goal. Their alliances provide a managerial response to the general ethical ideal of societal progress. Their commitments are voluntary and their ‘private regulations’ lack legal sanctions. Partnerships often base their authority on generally accepted principles of environmental and social policy. Many of these new institutional entities attempt to create a sustainability agenda that transcends sovereign territories.
Since the 1990s, partnerships have emerged in a variety of (global) issue areas, such as development cooperation, biodiversity, water management, public health, fair labor, forestry, agriculture, tourism, finance, natural resources, and climate change.
The partnership paradigm
Partnerships reflect limits to the managerial capacities of governments, emerging in a context where states seem to have lost credibility – and with it their capacity to govern autonomously. They also reflect changes in the world of businesses, which feel a growing public pressure to adopt corporate social responsibility agendas and increasingly seek the engagement of stakeholders from civil society. They also reflect that professionalized NGOs change their strategies from mainly confrontational to more collaborative, working in partnerships with companies next to campaigning against them. Rooted in these contextual changes, this new way of governance manifests itself in what has been labeled a ‘partnership paradigm’. This paradigm guides governance according to the following principles:
- Actors from the public sector, the market, and civil society have an interest in sustainable development.
- A constructive dialogue among these interests can be convened in a setting excluding hierarchy and authority.
- Dialogue can produce a shared normative belief that provides a value-based rationale for collaborative action.
- Collaborative action based on voluntarism, joint resource commitment, and shared responsibility of all actors for the whole project can serve both public and private interests.
- Collaborative action can be commercial in nature; it is assumed that the market mechanism can promote more sustainable practices through the leverage and spin-off of private-sector investments.
The MUNPOP research program is based on the need to better understand and define the roles and functions of various types of partnerships, their architecture, the conditions that determine their performance, and the implications in terms of governance for sustainable development. The program contributes to the strategic application of partnerships in sustainability problem solving.
The MUNPOP research program addresses the question in what way, to what extent and under what circumstances intersectoral partnerships can improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of sustainable change.
- What are the characteristics of intersectoral partnerships in terms of organizational structure, modes of decision-making, financing structures, communication strategy etc., and how do these characteristics influence their performance?
- In what way and with what success do intersectoral partnerships contribute to the effectiveness and legitimacy of sustainability problem-solving capacities and how is this related to the capacities of established policymaking and policy implementation?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses, and costs and benefits, of various types of intersectoral partnerships and what design criteria could improve their performance in problem solving?
- What might be useful roles of governments with regard to the various types of intersectoral partnerships and how could they connect partnerships to their sustainability policies in a strategic way?
Relevance for society
Our research program aims to help define suitable and effective architectures for partnerships. The resulting recommendations, relevant for the different parties involved in partnerships for sustainable development, are based on in-depth empirical studies founded on various theoretical approaches to governance. Results contribute to the fundamental debate on implications of private regulation of public affairs. Furthermore, the program aims to bridge existing knowledge gaps on the performance of partnerships as innovative arrangements, their relationship with existing institutional structures, and their contribution to improving sustainable change. The research program has an international and integrative focus on partnerships and their relationship to government policies.