Evaluating a partnership to create more value for all parties

Initial situation

Evaluating the institutional partnership between a federal department and a Swiss institution was the mandate won by Strategos in the context of an international call for tenders.

A federal department has had a partnership with a Swiss institution since 2007, a relationship that had only been evaluated once in 2011. Over the years, the collaboration was always regular and fruitful. However, some areas of tension, due to structural elements as well as different perceptions of needs and issues, had emerged and were affecting the partnership.

At the end of the mandate, three main areas of tension were identified:

  • Firstly, the partnership agreement involved separate units of the department with different needs, without an overall responsibility for the partnership being defined.
  • Secondly, the contract was renewed every two years, which required frequent renegotiation, created insecurity for the partner and did not allow the partnership to be fully integrated into the federal four-year strategy.
  • Thirdly, the contract consisted of two separate parts: a grant and a performance contract. The consequence was that the partners were at times in a donor-recipient relationship and at others in a client-supplier relationship, which created underlying tensions.

 

In summer 2021, the evaluation of the partnership was put out to tender by the department on the international ALNAP website. The overall objective stated in the terms of reference was to determine the relevance, results and impact of the strategic partnership.

It was our evaluation and business skills and our keen interest in the case that led us to submit a bid. A week after our submission, the client informed us that we had won the mandate with flying colours.

How it happened

As the partnership contract expires at the end of 2021, the client wanted the conclusions and recommendations of the evaluation to be available as soon as possible.

The launch meeting therefore took place in Bern on 11 August. On this basis, the essential elements of the mandate were refined and consolidated in an initial report sent the following week. These included the methodological approach, the evaluation matrix with assumptions and data sources, the interlocutors to be consulted, the conduct of the evaluation, quality assurance and the structure of the final report.

The first meeting took place with the partner’s management team at its premises on 2 September. Fifteen or so video-conference interviews were then held in German, dialect, English and French until the end of September, in parallel with the analysis of the documentary corpus.e.

Due to time constraints, a workshop to discuss the findings and recommendations could not be organised.

A report in English with a detailed impact model was drafted based on the following methodological approach:

evaluating strategos

This work was facilitated by the use of professional qualitative, quantitative and mixed data analysis software, MAXQDA.

The preliminary report was delivered on 13 October and the final report in mid-November, a few days after the feedback from the client.

Result

The main conclusions of the mandate were as follows:

  • The work of the partner was praised by all interviewees. However, clarification work in terms of positioning and strategy was considered necessary and was already underway. In addition, there seemed to be a tension between the partner’s performance, which did not fully meet the department’s expectations, and the people in the field, who recognised a significant, even essential, contribution in the area concerned.
  • The partnership’s contribution to federal policy was not fully in line with either the department’s expectations or the partner’s capabilities. As a principal, the department had more leverage to align its own needs with the service delivery capacity of the funded partner.
  • The current agreement needed to be clarified in relation to the types of relationship it creates between the parties (donor-recipient or client-supplier), as core funding was clearly a grant, while project funding was dependent on the services provided.
  • The partner called for a contract duration of four years, which could be synchronised advantageously with the strategic cycle of the department.

 

In other words, the partnership continued to be mutually beneficial, which was valuable. However, its contours needed to be adjusted in terms of content and format to better respond to the changing needs of the partners and the context. In this way more added value could be created for the department and the funded partner.

On the basis of these findings, ten specific recommendations were addressed to relevant stakeholders.

From the principal’s point of view, the report was very successful, not least because it was well structured, clear, comprehensive and easy to read. She added: The recommendations for improving the collaboration with our partner are extremely valuable and will serve as a basis for further collaboration.

 

Sandra Wirth and Jérôme Billotte are members of theSwiss Evaluation Society SEVAL. Our approach and other work is presented on our evaluation page.

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