Though not frequently discussed, ending a partnership, especially a successful one, is an important aspect of partnership management. Because many public-private partnerships are short-term by design, it is especially important to plan for the end to ensure outcomes endure past the life of the partnership itself. A thoughtful end-of-partnership strategy can bolster successes, maintain trust between partners, and sustain outcomes long into the future.
The Devex Impact partnership developed at a critical time in the international arena—one in which the private sector was increasingly pulling up to the table, making its presence known as a key player in global problem solving. This new actor generated new solutions, partnership opportunities, and questions about what they were doing, and how to engage.
USAID and Devex partnered in 2012 (with Dexis acting as the partnership manager) to launch Devex Impact—an online platform about the growing role of business in addressing global challenges. Over the four-year partnership, Devex Impact provided leading news and information that helped to shape, inform, and inspire the range of actors operating in this space. With notable successes, such as the establishment of a partnerships database, and a range of content explaining key issues and reporting on the latest developments, it was important to the partners that these outcomes continue past the life of the partnership.
USAID and Devex maintained a strong relationship throughout the life of the partnership, which laid the groundwork for a successful end-of-partnership strategy. However, even strong relationships can be derailed by hasty or ill-planned exits. Dexis worked closely with USAID and Devex to ensure a thoughtful, deliberate strategy to ending the partnership. This is how we did it:
There is a famous saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” An important step for the partnership was identifying an agreed-upon endpoint, and ensuring the partners were planning around that milepost. We did this early on by answering one question: What does “success” look like for Devex Impact?” The answer to this question shaped our objectives and metrics, letting us know if we were tracking toward success. When the partners felt the partnership’s goal—engaging and informing stakeholders at the intersection of business and development—had been achieved, they felt comfortable establishing a specific end date and planning for a transition.
A hallmark of effective relationships is open communication; this is especially true at the end of a collaboration. About one year before the agreed-upon end date, we held a retreat to plan for the partnership’s close. Discussing the next phase as a partnership team helped to raise differences in organizational priorities, allowed for a space to discuss ideas, and ensured all parties were on the same page moving forward.
The partners identified a key objective for Dexis Impact, post-partnership: the successful and sustainable continuation of its content. Understanding each other’s priorities, challenges, and agreeing on a common end-goal, ensured there were no surprises, and allowed for greater effectiveness in the final year.
We established an end-of-partnership timeline, with key activities and point people, to ensure the completion of the many tasks necessary to successfully ending the partnership. Our plan included three key objectives:
An action plan was communicated to all activity leads and updated regularly. Importantly, we tracked against key milestones, and held responsible parties accountable for assigned tasks.
The Devex Impact partnership ended on December 31, 2016. Its new phase, as a Devex “Focus Area” dedicated to the convergence of business and global development, launched in January 2017. This new Focus Area, “Focus On: Business Transforming Development”, ensured the longevity of the partnership’s outcomes by embedding Devex Impact into the larger Devex platform. In this way, it became less expensive for the company to maintain (as it was no longer supporting a separate platform), and fit within Devex’s corporate strategy for content, memberships, and partnerships.
Through a check-in conducted with Devex four months after end-date, the Focus Area had the most followers of any of Devex’s Focus Areas, despite being the newest. Additionally, the Focus Area was consistently among the highest in terms of articles published each month, averaging more than 12 per month since launch.
With the implementation of a thoughtful and deliberate end-of-partnership strategy, an additional outcome was the continued relationship maintained by the partners. Though informal, the organizations continue to collaborate and communicate, leaving the door open to additional possibilities for future engagement.
Kristin Treier is a deputy director overseeing strategic communications and private sector engagement programs.
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Devex or the United States Government.