Effective consortia working: Literature review and priorities for future research

Reid, Stuart and Fransman, Jude (2021). Effective consortia working: Literature review and priorities for future research. The Partnering Initiative and Bond, UK.

URL: https://www.bond.org.uk/resources/effective-consor...


The consortium model has emerged relatively recently as an approach to delivering development programmes and is becoming increasingly popular – particularly with donors. Currently, there is not an agreed definition of the term ‘consortium’, which would distinguish it from other types of multi-stakeholder collaboration. Typically, however, a consortium is led by an international non- governmental organisation or research organisation, which receives funding and channels this to a group of implementing agencies, which work together with the lead organisation to design and deliver a programme. This formal structure offers greater control and predictability for donors.

The consortium model is one of a huge range of collaborative arrangements within the overall concept of partnership. Collaborative working has become increasingly common in the fields of international development and humanitarian aid, with all sectors forming partnerships to address complex development challenges and achieve common aims. Pooling resources and working across sectors can enable more participatory processes and ambitious outcomes, as well as potentially generating more sustainable and relevant long-term impacts.

However, setting up and running complex, multi- stakeholder partnerships, such as consortia, requires a serious investment of time and resources – human and financial. Multi-stakeholder partnerships also create new challenges for project evaluation, requiring novel approaches to the measurement of both the programme outcomes and the process of collaboration.

Alongside the growth in collaboration, the body of literature providing guidance, analysis and evaluation
of partnerships has also grown. However, most of the literature on partnerships for international development focuses on relatively stable contexts. The Covid-19 pandemic and the mounting climate crisis necessitate an urgent rethink about best practice in the context
of instability – both in terms of constraints and opportunities.

To understand and evaluate any form of collaborative working, it is necessary to understand the rationale
for its creation and the specific characteristics of its structure and operation. Providing evidence that a consortium model can add value to a programme requires first a shared definition of the term that provides sufficient detail on how this model differs from the many other forms of collaborative working.

Much of the information published about consortia is not specific to the model and could equally apply to other types of partnership. To maximise the benefits of the consortium model, donor organisations need more focused research on why and how to employ
a consortium approach, while those implementing development programmes need more tailored guidance on best practice for setting up, running and monitoring consortia.

An overview of the current literature on consortium working highlights some key issues and gaps for further research:

* Identifying the most appropriate forms of measurement and assessment
* How consortia learn and adapt
* Governance structures, and the tension between the centralised leadership model and the commitment to devolving power through localisation
* Where ‘expertise’ is located within consortia, and the implications for participation, capacity strengthening and sustainable impact
* Digital solutions to support communication and remote working in the context of the recent pandemic and the mounting climate crisis

Any organisation entering into a consortium – whether donor, lead agency or implementing body – needs
to be thoroughly prepared in the principles, practice, challenges and opportunities of consortium working.

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