Partnership transitioning guidelines

This tool is part of our How to Strengthen Collaboration toolkit for civil society organisations.

Review the plans on a regular basis and check that everything is in place when you come to the final phase of the partnership.

The first section of the tool should be referred to regularly through each phase of the partnering life-cycle, from scoping onwards. The second part should be used as the partnership draws towards the final phase.

All partnerships eventually arrive at a point where they either need to take on a new form or draw to a close. Putting in place plans for the full lifecycle of the partnership is an important part of planning, to ensure that the partnership outcomes are sustained and relationships remain good.

These plans should be reviewed on a regular basis throughout the life of the partnership, to ensure that they are still fit-for-purpose, and that the necessary steps are  being put in place at each stage to ensure sustainability. In some cases, partnerships really will be time-bound from the outset, and it is best to make sure that expectations are clearly set from the beginning.

At the end of the life-cycle there are a number of trajectories that the partnership can take.

Whichever trajectory the partnership takes at the end of its lifecycle, the most important thing, alongside maintaining good relationships between partners, is likely to be the sustainability of its outcomes. The next section of this tool focuses on ways to help you ensure that partnership outcomes can be sustained and that this is planned – as far as possible – from the outset.

Most practitioners have far more experience with starting and managing partnerships than with transitioning or closing them. Exit strategies should be embedded in the partnership from the outset and agreed with all partners, otherwise partnerships can end “messily” compromising the outcomes or relationships – or partners can get “locked in” well beyond the point when the partnership should have ended.

Here is a list of questions to consider at each stage of the partnering life-cycle to ensure that you are thinking about sustainability throughout the life of the partnership.

Scoping and building the partnership

  • What will have to change in the enabling environment to ensure sustainability of your vision/potential programmes and projects?
  • Will a partnership approach help bring about such changes? What will you need to put in place to enable these changes?
  • How do each of the potential partners understand/interpret the concept of sustainability? Do they consider it to be important?
  • How can partners embed the principle of sustainable outcomes into the partnership and partner relationships?
  • Are there examples of partnerships that have been successful in achieving sustainable outcomes that provide good learning?
  • Can others who are believed to be crucial to sustaining outcomes be involved from the beginning and in what capacity (as advisory partners, observers, non-partner allies?)
  • Can sustainability be woven into all aspects of the outline plan?
  • How can partners incorporate a capacity-building aspect to the partnership’s activities where it is needed to ensure sustainability?
  • How will partners recognise or measure sustainability?
  • How will you record the commitment to sustainable outcomes?

Managing and maintaining the partnership

  • How can the partnership be structured to promote greater local self-reliance and build capacity to sustain programmes in the medium to long term?
  • To what extent can the partnership’s resources be drawn from local sources and / or how can the partnership develop other self-sufficient approaches as part of its activities?
  • How can the partnership best engage with/help to improve the local/mainstream systems to ensure long- term delivery and sustainability of outcomes?
  • To what degree are the partnership/project outcomes sustainable? What are the indicators for this?
  • What needs to be built into the partnership’s review procedures to ensure sustainability remains at the forefront of the partnership’s work and the partners’ priorities?

If plans have been put in place from the start of the partnership, as set out above, then the final phase should be a relatively smooth one. Here are some guidelines and tips to help you manage it successfully:

Be inclusive

  • Involve as many key stakeholders in the process as possible
  • Engage support of top management (of the partner organisations and those to whom the work is being handed over)
  • Share responsibility for managing the winding-up or handing over process as widely with partners as possible
  • Allow people to express emotions (including anger)
  • Be transparent
  • Discuss the handing over process openly and avoid ‘secret’ conversations
  • Remember to record the moving on decisions and handover processes
  • Be honest about difficulties or bad news

Be clear

  • Clarify what is happening to those who need to know
  • Be sure that decisions are based on accurate and verifiable information
  • Articulate and address any risks involved in the process

Be patient

  • Allow enough time for the moving on process – if you rush, important things may be neglected
  • Expect that some will take more time than others – don’t expect everyone to adopt the proposed changes at the same pace
  • Take ‘time-out’ with those involved to explore views and manage conflicts if necessary

This guidance will help you to manage the communications process in the final stage of the partnership cycle.

Which person or partner is best placed to handle the communications process?

This is an important issue. Communication responsibilities should ideally be shared between the partners as appropriate.

In allocating specific communications tasks, an assessment should be made about whether the selected individual:

  • Will be perceived as speaking on behalf of the partnership (as opposed to their own partner organisation)
  • Will be able to give the time and attention the task needs
  • Has the prerequisite communication skills to transmit the information effectively? (A communication plan should consider adapting messages to the different target audiences)

What communications options are there?

There are many communication options available. The important thing is to match the option as well as possible to the communication preferences and needs of the target audience. Check out what is wanted before making too many assumptions and always err on a preference for the face-to-face and personal rather than the written and impersonal.

What should a good communications strategy entail?

A detailed communications strategy should be built into the partnership from the beginning – included in the initial Partnering Agreement and refined throughout the partnership’s life cycle.

Issues to consider include:

  • Agreement on what should be in the public domain and at what stage
  • Respect that some partners need some information to remain confidential
  • Awareness of who might need or want to know what, and why
  • Understanding the value to the partnership and/or the projects of communicating to the right people

Is there a wider audience for the lessons from your partnership?

All moving on situations provide learning opportunities: partners will have invested time and resources into the partnership and their experience (good or bad) will be valuable for others. Think about how you might be able to share these learning points more widely – without breaching trust or confidentiality.


This resource was developed by GNDR and The Partnering Initiative as part of the Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development project.

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