Effectiveness of Partnerships for Sustainable Development – Behavioral Pathways and Impacts

What are the effectiveness and the impact of public-private partnerships for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals?

Project Summary

Partnerships between public and non-state actors for the provision of collective goods have become important instruments for addressing core issues on the sustainable development agenda such as health, education, humanitarian issues, or clean energy. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize the role of partnerships in the implementation of sustainability. Yet, while the academic literature provides valuable insights on the rise of public-private partnerships (PPPs), we know considerably less about their variable effectiveness and impact. Do PPPs simply repackage existing practices with effect and accountability, or do they contribute new and additional instruments and development outcomes?

This project will draw on political science, economics, management studies and public policy to advance the study of partnerships effectiveness both theoretically and empirically with respect to the SDGs. The main research questions guiding the project are:

  • How can we conceptualize and operationalize the effectiveness for PPPs? Through what mechanisms are PPPs effects likely to materialize?
  • What are the sources and limitations of the effectiveness of PPPs for sustainability?
  • How do PPPs interact with other forms of governance at the international and subnational level to influence results for the SDGs?

The research methodology will proceed to elaborate collaboratively a mixed-methods approach to disentangling different types of effects of PPP activities, as well as limitations of PPP governance. The methods will combine quantitative and qualitative techniques, namely: comparative case studies, new coding indicators, cases and surveys across several SDG issues, economic methods (e.g. randomized control trials) and innovative use of complexity theory.

The project will contribute to scientific and practical progress by providing the first inter-disciplinary, integrated and comparative theoretical approach and data on the effectiveness of partnerships for sustainability.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

From their initial endorsement at the 2002 Johannesburg Summit to their role as key means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, partnerships between public and non-State actors have emerged as a key form of governance as part of global efforts to eradicate poverty, ensure human health and well-being, and fight environmental degradation. While academic literature provides valuable insights on the rise of partnerships, we still lack a generalizable framework for understanding the actual impacts of existing initiatives, as well as the conditions that may shape them. Accordingly, this project sought to develop an interdisciplinary conceptualisation of pathways to partnership effectiveness that should be broadly applicable across different sectors and levels of governance. In addition, the project presented an exploratory analysis of four hypotheses about the internal structuring of partnerships and its influence on partnership effectiveness. Overall, the project raises important theoretical and methodological discussions on the very concept of 􏰁effectiveness􏰂 and proposes a novel analytical framework for its study. In addition, it provides researchers and practitioners in different fields with a broad range of case studies and cross-cutting analyses that suggest important practical implications for the design of new partnerships and the updating of existing initiatives.


Are partnerships effective in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals?

One key problem in assessing partnerships is usually that of untangling their pro- blem-solving impact – that is, their effects on the sustainable development issue that they are created to address – from other social and policy factors.

Research Team

Liliana Andonova
The Graduate Institute

Gilles Carbonnier
The Graduate Institute

Axel Michaelowa
Principa Member
University of Zurich

Henry Lee
Associated Member
Harvard University

Susan Bissel
Associated Member
UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund

Moira Faul
Associated Member
University of Geneva

Tom Hale
Associated Member
University of Oxford

Lea Stadtler
Associated Member
Grenoble Ecole de Management

Katharina Michaelowa
Associated Member
University of Zurich

Gilbert Probst
Associated Member
University of Geneva

Amanda Sardonis
Associated Member
Harvard University





Policy domains



All countries

Host Institution