IDRC action research project

The silent partner: the role of the environment in multi-stakeholder partnerships for urban and peri-urban water and sanitation supply


In over a decade of working with water and sanitation partnerships, BPD found that environmental considerations tended to take a backseat to service delivery issues. Stakeholders promoting environmental aspects were few and far between in these relationships. This 3-year research programme (2008-2011), supported by IDRC, therefore responded to a clear demand to better understand and articulate the needs, capacity and contribution to multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) of the ‘environment’ – the so-called ‘silent partner’.


The research draws on knowledge generated from five examples of MSPs from Latin America and the Caribbean, in Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru.  It focuses mainly on the specific contextual factors (socio-cultural, technical, economic and administrative) that have enabled MSPs to flourish (or otherwise). 


The five cases were at different stages of forming, maintaining or replicating their relationships throughout the duration of the research programme.  In each case the aim was to identify how these relationships actually work on the ground and to illustrate how the environment had an impact in terms of the context within which the partnership operated, the sets of incentives driving the relationships or the types of actors involved in the partnership.


The full findings from this research, available in English and Spanish, include a partnership discussion tool. The aim of the tool is to encourage and facilitate dialogue between partners, to flag some of the pitfalls and to suggest opportunities for partnership adaptation. MSPs can use the tool to inform their governance structures and practices and, ultimately, improve the likelihood of their interventions being more sustainable in the long term.  The initial regional literature reviews and literature review summary are also available in English and Spanish (see right).