the contributions of partnerships to a sustainability transition; (2) common themes from partnership experience; and (3) observations on the different classes or types of partnerships.
To most partnership practitioners, the question of whether or not partnerships are uniquely suited to address complex sustainability challenges seems to have an obvious answer: of course they are. However, the world of partnerships is not without its skeptics, and despite trends indicating that partnerships are on the rise, there are many within government, business, IGOs, and NGOs who remain unconvinced. The general benefits that partnerships offer are fairly well known, but whether or not they consistently deliver on these potential benefits is another matter. They are being promoted as a way to fill gaps, particularly the “implementation gap” between what is agreed upon and what is taking place. It has been noted that top-down planning has not been bringing about substantive on-the-ground change, and that there is a disconnect between national strategies and the political will and resources needed to carry these out (Scherr and Gregg, 2006). Moreover, global agreements generally lack the context and level of detail necessary to effect change at the local level (Hale and Mauzerall, 2004). Thus, partnerships seem to hold the promise of matching global and national strategies with the resources and expertise on the ground to realize sustainable development objectives, such as those of the Millennium Development Goals. At a functional level, multi-stakeholder partnerships have been in use for decades to deliver services and implement projects, and increasingly, they are forming at local and regional scales to address sustainability challenges. Despite this substantial body of experience, there has been considerably less knowledge generated concerning when and where the partnership approach might be most appropriate.
In her review of locally organized partnerships, Julia Steets notes that few of these locally driven efforts target areas such as health, and tend to cluster in areas such as agriculture and employment (Steets, 2005). This raises the question as to whether or not certain sustainability issues lend themselves to partnering. Posed a slightly different way, which issue areas require some form of partnering if they are to be sufficiently addressed? Given the regional nature of so many environmental and development challenges, it seems that a partnership approach that works beyond political boundaries is often the most efficient way to engage the right stakeholders and to craft solutions. The Sustainable Silicon Valley partnership provides