For example, when dealing with childhood obesity, it would probably be very difficult to maintain credibility in certain spheres if someone were to partner with an organization known for using state-of-the-art advertising to children. Marks agreed that “in certain circumstances, the risks are so great that the presumption might be against the activity.” He said, “There might be good reasons not to partner on certain initiatives with certain actors in order to achieve that end.” In other situations, Castle argued, it may be desirable to maintain proximity to industry as a way to gather information. For example, Castle mentioned his involvement in a current project where a senior executive from Monsanto is serving on the scientific advisory board. It was a worthwhile risk, Castle said, because of the benefits of knowing a private-sector standpoint on the issues. To alleviate the risk, the influence of that particular private-sector participant is limited by very clear rules of engagement. As another example, Black described the approach taken by the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Department of Nutrition for Health and Development: food industry representatives do not participate in developing policy, but they do provide information to those who are developing the policy.
While the risks created by conflict of interest are important concerns, these are not the only risks. Other risks identified by workshop participants at various times during the course of discussion include the inappropriate sharing or use of information outside the partnership; the presence of ineffective partners who do not take action or who do not “really jump in and roll up their sleeves along with everybody else in the partnership”; the likelihood that a partnership constitutes a tacit endorsement of a company or product; the presence of a “halo shadow,” whereby another product or activity within a certain entity might cast a shadow on the partnership; the likelihood that a partnership project is too focused and, as such, does not address all options for dealing with a specific problem; and the presence of partners with spurious motives.
Almost all of the workshop discussion focused on the interaction between government, private industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations, with little mention of the role of consumer, or citizen, participation. Yet, as one participant stated, “The fact that a partnership is even contemplated means it’s a heavy matter. It’s going to result in or heavily influence public policy.” The participant asked, “At what point are consumer representatives, citizen representatives, legitimate partners?” Jonathan Marks agreed that public participation is an important part of partnership and encouraged workshop participants to think about how