Panel 3. Partnering and transformation: how to capture systemic change?

The assumption that cross-sector partnering processes contribute to transformative processes generating systemic change needs critical investigation. The claim is often restated in papers or proposals, but what type of evidence can we collect to scrutinise and understand the contributions of partnerships for tackling complex sustainability challenges? In this panel, we look for methodological, empirical or conceptual contributions that show how to capture signs of systemic change instigated by partnerships.

To capture systemic change, we need to understand how partnerships contribute to both breadth and depth of change. Firstly, partnerships are assumed to contribute to breath of change by realizing change across spheres, (sub)sectors, and multiple levels. Secondly, partnerships are expected to contribute to depth of change by altering (power) relations between actors as well as the distribution of resources. A second necessary step to capture systemic change, is to address the ‘double complexity’ of partnering processes. The first layer of complexity refers to the multiplicity of partners collaborating from different sectors, with differing organizational cultures, logics, and values. The second layer of complexity refers to partnering processes often trying to harness complex sustainability challenges, characterized by nonlinearity, multiple causality, knowledge uncertainty, value conflicts, and unpredictable time frames. This double complexity does not only raise challenges in terms of implementing partnerships for systemic change, but also complicates delineating pathways in which different simultaneous contributions from different partners contribute to systemic change.

Understanding and capturing in what ways cross-sector partnerships contribute to systemic change is an important step forward to foster more effective partnering, while recognizing that feedback loops and nonlinearity make it difficult to assess the link between partnering and systemic change. This panel therefore invites contributions that address questions such as:

  • How can we better understand systemic change in relation to partnering processes?
  • What (combination of) methodologies do we need to capture systemic change instigated by partnerships?
  • How can we use theory to better capture systemic change instigated by partnerships?
  • How can we delineate specific systems to capture systemic change in a context of double complexity?