Toolkit for Smart Circular Cities & Regions

In the process of determining a methodology for developing a multi-stakeholder, cross sectoral collaboration, we are developing an evolving methodology derived from a variety of sources and works cited:

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The agreement on a set of goals and ideal outcomes that clarify the mission and priorities of the collaboration

WHY IT MATTERS: Defining a common purpose links stakeholders together and creates a mutual understanding of the benefits of success.

Differing priorities.

Collaboration partners are likely to come to the collaboration with their own organization- and sector-specific priorities and mandates. The most effective collaborations acknowledge and welcome these differences: While they can complicate the process of agreeing on a shared vision, they go hand-in-hand with the complementary resources and capabilities that cross-sector partners bring to the partnership. For example, government’s prioritization of the rule of law and providing public services accompanies its unique power of policy, significant reach, and ability to impact public opinion; the market approach of the business sector results in its considerable financial resources and expertise in product and service delivery; the social-benefit-orientation of non-profits contributes to its deep community- and issue-level knowledge, and perceptions of legitimacy. As the collaboration works to develop its shared vision of success, partners should be encouraged to communicate their differing priorities openly and honestly, so that the collaboration can surface areas of shared agreement and mutual benefit, building a solid foundation for its work.

Reconciling collaborative vision with organizational missions and goals.

Partners are unlikely to commit to a collaboration unless they perceive the collaboration’s goals as aligning with their own. In some cases, this alignment is clear. In other cases, partners may consider more subtle ways that the collaboration’s vision is complementary to, or incompatible with, their own work, including assessing how the collaboration’s targeted outcomes support their own, even if the alignment is not explicit (e.g. the organization’s aim is to decrease childhood obesity, while the collaboration’s aim is to build a community farmer’s market); considering how successful collaboration outcomes may support their organization’s understanding of the issue; and evaluating whether contributions to the collaboration create tension with other organizational commitments. If partners cannot effectively balance the collaboration’s vision of success with their own organizational mission and goals, or if they perceive that the collaboration’s goals begin to deviate significantly from their own, partners’ commitment to the collaboration is likely to weaken.

  • What will we include in our vision of success (e.g. a description of the current situation, the activity or program we will launch, our target beneficiaries, our expected intermediate and final outcomes, etc.)?
  • What will we do when partners have differing visions of success? What will we do when partners agree on a vision but disagree on the means to achieve that vision?
  • How will we manage tensions between partners’ individual organizational goals and the goals of the collaboration?
  • How will we document our shared vision of success?
  • Are we open to shifting our vision of success as the collaboration progresses? If so, what will be our process for revisiting it?

The determination of financial and non-financial resources from existing and potential partners

WHY IT MATTERS: The process of evaluating resources allows partners to assess whether the collaboration has the resources to meet its goals.

Assessing gaps in expertise, networks, and assets.

In assessing existing expertise, assets, and networks, partners may find that the collaboration requires additional resources to achieve its goals. For example, the collaboration may find it lacks sufficient convening power, legal expertise, or access to information. Identifying such gaps can guide the collaboration in selecting additional partners. If a collaboration neglects to account for resources in its early stages, it exposes itself to higher operating risk and ultimately limits its capacity.

  • What financial and non-financial resources are needed for our collaboration to meet its goals?
  • What will we do to develop a comprehensive picture of the financial and non-financial resources that all partners bring to the table?
  • How will we encourage partners to be transparent in communicating their own resources to the group?
  • What will we do if we determine the collaboration does not have the resources it needs to meet its goals?

The creation of an environment in which partners can communicate openly, allowing the collaboration to address partners’ differing priorities

WHY IT MATTERS: By creating channels to hear and respond to partners’ perspectives and concerns, the collaboration acknowledges the conflicting opinions that can arise from the distinct values and goals of each partner, establishes a forum for consensus-building, and nurtures understanding across organizations and sectors.

Characteristics of an open environment in intersector collaboration.


Open environments are critical to nearly every aspect of collaboration design and implementation, particularly those that require partners to come to consensus concerning issues on which they are likely to have differing perspectives. Building a common fact base, agreeing on measures of success, and establishing a governance structure are just a few examples. In an open environment, partners trust each other, have equal opportunities to express their diverse opinions, and perceive that they are able to raise concerns without fear of retaliation. If the collaboration is not able to create this type of environment, partners may feel disenfranchised

  • What characterizes an environment in which partners feel they can communicate openly? How will we create this type of environment?
  • How will we handle dominant partners or other potential disturbances to an open environment?
  • How will we manage a situation in which one or more partners feel they are unable to communicate openly?
  • How will we balance the desire to create an open environment with the reality that we need to make decisions and progress?
  • Will we consider using a third-party facilitator for some or all of our meetings?
  • How will we assess whether we have successfully developed an environment in which partners feel that they can communicate openly?

The consensus among collaboration partners as to what facts relating to the issue are most relevant

WHY IT MATTERS: Joint recognition of what data is relevant to the collaboration allows participants to determine how best to proceed.

Differences in perspectives among collaboration partners on what facts are relevant to the issue.


Collaboration partners may have sector-specific biases that influence their determination of what facts are relevant to the issue to be addressed by the collaboration. For example, a non-profit-sector partner may contend that facts related to accessibility are most relevant to guiding the collaboration’s understanding of the issue, while a business-sector partner may argue that facts related to operational efficiency are most relevant. Because agreement on a common fact base is critical to refining the collaboration’s understanding of the issue and honing the collaboration’s strategy, the collaboration should facilitate a process through which partners arrive at consensus on what facts are relevant. Without a common fact base, partners may perceive that one partner’s perception of the issue is dominant. This can leave partners with the perception that the issue is framed and understood by the collaboration in a way that does not accommodate their role in addressing the issue at hand.

Assessing qualitative and quantitative data related to the problem to be addressed by the collaboration.

Partners may have differing levels of familiarity with, and preferences related to, quantitative and qualitative analyses and information. By addressing each partner’s experience level and partiality, the collaboration can build a common fact base that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative information, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of an issue. Without such a process, partners may be reluctant to incorporate analyses with which they are not familiar, limiting the collaboration’s understanding of the issue and, ultimately, its approach to addressing the issue.

  • What are the different ways partners perceive the problem we aim to address? What are the differing facts partners think are relevant to defining the problem? How will we address these differences and overcome potential sector-specific biases when it comes to defining the problem?
  • How will we ensure that we consider a balance of quantitative and qualitative data in deciding what facts are most relevant to our understanding of the issue we wish to tackle?
  • Where will we look for data?
  • How will we decide when we have developed a satisfactory understanding of the issue?

The identification of indicators to be used in evaluating the progress and results of the collaboration

WHY IT MATTERS: Consensus among partners on what will define success for the collaboration in the short, mid, and long term creates accountability and helps keep the collaboration on track toward goals.

Evaluating potential indicators of success.


Cross-sector partners are likely to have differing views of what measures should be used to identify success. Instead of beginning with a discussion of indicators, partners may find it easier to first agree on criteria for evaluating and selecting indicators. Potential criteria the collaboration may want to consider include: How relevant are the indicators to the collaboration’s vision of success? How relevant are the indicators to the facts that have been agreed are applicable to the issue at hand? Are the indicators accessible during the time span of the collaboration? Do the indicators provide insight into the “living experiences” of those affected by the issue the collaboration aims to influence? If collaboration partners are unable to agree on indicators of success, the result can be diminished accountability within the collaboration and limited ability to make claims about the collaboration’s effect on target outcomes.

Assessing capacity to access, evaluate, and manage data related to measuring success.


The collaboration should ensure that it possesses the expertise (e.g. experience using certain methodologies), access (e.g. to data sources or rights to interview), and resources (e.g. human resources or technology) to collect, evaluate, and manage data related to measuring success. If the collaboration determines that it does not have these capabilities, it may enlist additional partners or a third party. If partners fail to assess incapacity in these areas, the result could be delays in data collection, errors in data evaluation, and missteps in data management. Ultimately, this limits the collaboration’s ability to measure and report progress and outcomes.

  • In discussing potential measures of success, how will we ensure that we consider both qualitative and quantitative indicators? Financial and non-financial indicators?
  • How will we handle disagreements among partners as to what indicators we should use?
  • How will we collect and manage the data we agree upon? Will one or more collaboration partners be responsible for these tasks? Will we enlist a third party?
  • How often will we review this data? What will be its role in shaping our actions as a collaboration?

The requirement that partners share data relevant to the collaboration’s efforts

WHY IT MATTERS: Openly sharing information, including disclosing sensitive facts, gives collaboration partners a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and builds trust among partners and in the collaborative process.

Encouraging partners to share data.

Partner organizations likely possess differing types of data related to the issue the collaboration aims to address. While some partners may come to the collaboration willing to share data, the collaboration will likely need to actively encourage partners to share information. Collaborations may choose to clearly communicate how information will further or enable the aims of the collaboration, develop information sharing protocols, establish confidentiality agreements, and more.

Managing shared data.

Partners will be more likely to share information if the collaboration can instill confidence that the data will be managed safely and securely. The collaboration may choose to entrust this task to partner who has a proven track record of successfully managing proprietary information, to a neutral third party, to a collaboration funder, or consider other possible management structures.

  • What are the different types of data that we might consider sharing with one another?
  • How will we determine what data each partner possesses and could potentially share with the collaboration? How will we encourage partners to share that data?
  • How will we ensure that the data we share is securely stored and managed? Will we consider confidentiality agreements among partners? Will we identify a partner or third party to manage the data? What other measures will we take?
  • What will happen to shared data at the end of our collaboration (assuming our collaboration is not ongoing)?

The deliberate allocation of decision-making authority according to area of expertise

WHY IT MATTERS: Assigning authority based on partners’ sector- or issue-specific knowledge allows the collaboration to benefit from the unique expertise of each partner and gives each partner a distinct stake in the collaboration.

Differences in expertise among collaboration partners.

By virtue of working in different sectors, collaboration partners will possess differing levels of expertise in the design, delivery, and assessment of products, programs, and services related to the issue to be addressed by the collaboration. By facilitating a process through which each partner can develop an understanding of other partners’ strengths and recognize the importance of their contributions, the collaboration increases the likelihood that partners will be willing to share decision-making authority. This process also decreases the risk that partners will perceive that others in the collaboration do not recognize the importance of their own contributions, a mindset that may lead partners to disinvest resources or withdraw entirely.

Expertise needed at each stage of the collaboration.

A collaboration will require different expertise at each stage. Examples might include surveying expertise required from a non-profit-sector partner during the diagnosis stage, legal expertise required from a business-sector partner during the design stage, or logistical expertise required from a government-sector partner during the implementation stage. By assessing and communicating the distinct collaboration stages during which each partner’s expertise will be needed, the collaboration allows partners to plan for the efficient use of their time and resources and helps partners avoid stretching resources between collaboration commitments and their own standard operating activities. If the collaboration fails to communicate its needs to partners, the risk that partners will be unable to fulfill their commitments to the collaboration increases.

  • What are the different types of expertise we should consider when assigning authority?
  • What different expertise does each partner bring to the collaboration? And how will we ensure that we consider this when assigning decision-making authority?
  • What will we do when there is overlap in expertise among partners?
  • How will we handle disagreements among partners over how to assign decision-making authority?
  • How will we handle disagreements that may arise on decisions after our decision-making model is in place?

The creation of a formal or informal organizational system for decision-making and project management

WHY IT MATTERS: Clear governance structures, such as committees, workgroups, or facilitated discussions, provide direction while nurturing equity and inclusivity to resolve actual or perceived power imbalances that can arise during collaboration.

Determining what governance structure is the best fit for the collaboration.

Collaboration partners may be accustomed to differing governance structures that vary in formality, mechanisms for checks and balances, and hierarchy. Partners will have to reconcile their varying expectations to agree upon a structure that is well-suited to the collaboration’s aims, and in which all partners are likely to have confidence throughout the collaboration. In determining what governance structure is the best fit, the collaboration may wish to consider whether partners are familiar or comfortable with particular structures, as well as a number of other factors such as: number of partners (more partners may necessitate a more hierarchical structure); project time line (longer time lines may benefit from increased formality to mitigate the potential loss of partners over the course of the collaboration); whether the collaboration has multiple outputs (e.g. both programming- and policy-related initiatives, as this may call for a system of independent working groups); whether the collaboration has goals to “scale up” (which may require increased rigidity in structure to be easily replicated); and more.

Nurturing equity and inclusivity.

Based on their organization- and sector-specific experiences, as well as the cultural context in which they have operated, partners may have differing understandings of “inclusivity.” Inclusivity is key to the collaborative process—It encourages investment in the collaboration by nurturing consistent, meaningful engagement, can lay the groundwork for resolution of perceived or actual power imbalances, and can ease partners’ acceptance of collaboration decisions that may not align with their interests. The collaboration can nurture equity and inclusivity through its governance structure in many ways, including providing for the equal allocation of speaking time during meetings, formalizing voting processes, and more. If partners perceive the governance structure to be exclusive, they may become frustrated, lose confidence in the collaboration, and disinvest.

  • What different governance structures will we consider?
  • How will we determine what type of governance structure is a best fit for our collaboration?
  • How will we handle disagreements among partners when establishing a governance structure?
  • How will our governance structure ensure equity and inclusivity?
  • How will our governance structure address power imbalances?
  • What is the relationship between our governance structure and how we have decided to share decision-making authority?
  • Will we formalize our governance structure? If so, how?

Many people will be involved in the partnership in its different phases, taking on a range of roles as required. It is important to recognise the differences and to understand which roles are needed, at what stage and for what purpose. It is equally important to ensure that the best person is allocated to a particular role. Roles may change often during the life of a partnership and partners may ‘grow’ into new roles as they become more experienced in partnering.

The selection of an individual or organization that is responsible for coordinating tasks that allow the collaboration to progress

WHY IT MATTERS: Establishing a single person, a body of managers, or an organization as a single point of accountability can ensure structure and instill confidence in the collaborative process.

Choosing a manager.

Collaboration partners may have differing expectations of managers and of project management practices. If partners are involved in determining criteria to select a manager, they will be more likely to work with the manager and have confidence in the manager’s capacity to coordinate the collaboration’s activities. Considerations for choosing a manager may include: whether the expertise and experience of the manager align with the collaboration’s needs; whether the manager has experience working with collaborations with similar outputs, goals, and types of partners; whether the manager’s cost is within the collaboration’s budget; and whether the manager is available during the timespan of the collaboration.

  • What type of manager — an individual, an organization, a team — is the best fit for our collaboration?
  • Does an existing partner have the capacity to act as manager? Or do we need to engage a third party to manage the collaboration?
  • If we choose a third party manager, how will we approach and engage them?
  • What will the role of the manager be? Will they have decision-making power and a place in our governance structure?
  • How will we manage differing opinions and priorities of partners when choosing a manager?

The development of an understanding among partners of how the differing expertise, resources, and networks of each partner enable the collaboration to achieve its aims

WHY IT MATTERS: Conveying the benefit of working with other sectors fosters continued participation in the collaboration and commitment to results.

Partners’ unique expertise, resources, and networks.

Partners will possess differing expertise, resources, and networks related to the issue the collaboration aims to address. A business-sector partner, for example, may have access to proprietary information or financial resources not readily available to other partners; a non-profit partner may have singular policy- or community-related expertise; a government partner may have unique authority to exercise means to design or implement the initiative. By facilitating processes through which partners come to clearly understand how the resources of other partners directly influence the collaboration’s capacity to achieve its goals, the collaboration increases the likelihood that partners will value others’ contributions and remain committed to the collaboration. Without this understanding, partners may withdraw from the process when challenges arise, viewing the issue at hand as solvable without the involvement of other sectors.

  • What unique contributions does each partner bring to the collaboration?
  • How will we communicate the contributions and value of each partner to all partners?
  • What will we do if one or more partners believe that their contribution to the collaboration is not valued by other partners?
  • What will we do if one or more partners behave in ways that illustrate they do not value the contributions of other partners?

The ability of collaboration partners to follow through on commitments that enhance the likelihood of collaborative success

WHY IT MATTERS: When partners fulfill their promises to the collaboration, they inspire trust among each other and among external stakeholders, building confidence in the collaboration and in the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Encouraging partners to follow through on their commitments.

Intersector collaborations often require partners to work in contexts that differ from their day-to-day operating environment, which can be a challenge. If partners are unable to fulfill commitments, however, progress may stall, and confidence and commitment may wane. The collaboration can hold partners accountable for their commitments by: identifying clear expectations from each partner and establishing time lines for these expectations, ensuring all partners understand and mutually agree to these expectations and time lines (perhaps through a partnership agreement or memorandum of understanding), and consistently communicating the fulfillment of commitments among partners.

  • How will we encourage partners to follow through on their commitments?
  • How will the collaboration track the commitments of partners and report on their progress?
  • Will we use partnership agreements, MOUs, or similar agreements to formalize the commitments each partner has made to the collaboration?
  • How will we ensure partners understand the relationship of their commitments to the collaboration’s success?
  • What will we do if one or more partners are not following through on their commitments to the collaboration?
  • What will we do to ensure that partners do not overcommit themselves?
  • What will partners do if they find they cannot fulfill the promise(s) they have made to the collaboration?
  • How will we communicate the commitments and follow through of partners to stakeholders external to the collaboration?

The capacity to communicate progress, celebrate success, encourage when needed, and allow for flexibility as the collaboration progresses

WHY IT MATTERS: Communicating progress toward goals, as well as recognizing when to adapt to changing circumstances, new information, and shifting priorities, allows the collaboration to maintain engagement and momentum.

Encouraging patience among collaboration partners.

Collaborations often take longer than expected, in part because partners must work in ways that take into account the practices and priorities of other sectors. The collaboration can encourage patience among partners by communicating progress and celebrating success, which instills confidence and commitment. Partners can do this by beginning meetings with progress updates, by sending reports of progress to partners on a regular basis, by organizing an event to celebrate the achievement of a milestone, or by seeking external opportunities (e.g. via media outlets, external stakeholder meetings, etc.) to share interim achievements.

Adapting to change.

Maintaining a willingness to shift strategy is crucial in cross-sector collaboration, as collaborations must grapple with changing priorities of partners, funders, and other key stakeholders; wrestle with changing political environments; and more. The most effective collaborations are also open to new, unexpected information that gives them a more accurate picture of the issue they aim to address; and are periodically evaluating interim indicators to assess whether they are on track to accomplish their goals—both activities that may suggest the need for a strategy shift. If the collaboration is overly rigid in pursuing a previously agreed upon strategy, it may risk losing key partners, resources, or influence, or may ultimately pursue a project, program, or policy that new information suggests will not be effective. To create an environment in which partners and their stakeholders are flexible to changes in strategy, the collaboration should focus on clearly communicating how the change influences the collaboration’s ability to achieve its goals. If the collaboration has effectively communicated past progress and worked to inspire confidence in its practices, structure, and past choices, partners will be more likely to trust the need to shift course, rather than seeing such a shift as a failure of planning.

  • How will we communicate the collaboration’s progress to all partners?
  • What will we do to ensure that progress is communicated in a way that is meaningful to the differing stakeholder groups of each partner?
  • When will we communicate progress not just to partners but to external parties, as well?
  • What are the different ways we will celebrate success?
  • What will we do to ensure that we are not being overly rigid or reactive, but flexible as the collaboration progresses?

The engagement of a person, a group of persons, or an organization committed to leveraging their influence, resources, and skills to help the collaboration achieve its objectives

WHY IT MATTERS: Well-respected, influential individuals or organizations can provide access to resources, lend legitimacy and prestige, and attract public attention to a collaboration.

The work of sponsors and champions.

Sponsors and champions are distinct roles, each bringing unique benefits to a collaboration. Sponsors, while not usually involved in the day-to-day operations of the collaboration, provide prestige, access to networks, convening power, and can mobilize financial and non-financial resources to support the collaboration. The collaboration may enlist a sponsor to build perceptions of legitimacy and prestige, to develop relationships with constituencies or stakeholders that are key to the collaboration’s goals, or to gain access to additional financial and/or non-financial resources. Champions, who often are involved in the day-to-day operations of the collaboration, typically offer expertise on the issue targeted by the collaboration and/or processes that are critical to the collaboration’s effort. The collaboration may enlist a champion to provide needed expertise, increasing perceptions of credibility among partners and external stakeholders. If the collaboration does not involve sponsors or champions, it misses the opportunity to benefit from the unique influence, resources, and skills that these individuals and organizations provide, ultimately limiting its capacity.

  • What are our gaps in influence, resources, and skills — areas where a sponsor or champion could assist?
  • Do we need both a sponsor and a champion? One or the other?
  • How will we identify individuals who are well-suited to act as a sponsor or champion for our collaboration?
  • How will we approach individuals we wish to ask to join the collaboration as a sponsor or champion?
  • What will the role of our sponsor and/or champion be? Will they have decision-making power and a place in our governance structure?

The agreement among collaboration partners on the purpose of an evaluation

WHY IT MATTERS: Facilitating consensus among partners as to the purpose of the evaluation allows the collaboration to move forward with generating insights that are mutually agreed to be relevant to all partners, while acknowledging that partners may have differing goals for the evaluative process.

Differing perspectives on the purpose of the evaluation.

Influenced by sector- and organization-specific practices, norms, and interests, partners may have differing goals for the evaluation. Some partners may propose an evaluation that focuses on collaborative process so that others can replicate the collaboration’s efforts; others may propose evaluating outcomes to report success to their constituencies; others may propose evaluating both process and outcomes in order to adjust collaboration strategy (assuming the collaboration is ongoing rather than project-specific). Partners must reconcile these and other potential differing perspectives; a lack of clarity on the purpose of the evaluation creates confusion as to what information should be collected and how it should be assessed, ultimately limiting the collaboration’s ability to complete an evaluative process.

  • What are partners’ differing goals for the evaluation? How will we reconcile those differences to arrive at a clear understanding of the purpose of the evaluation?
  • Do we have internal capacity to conduct the evaluation(s) partners have agreed upon? Or will we enlist a third party to conduct the evaluation(s)?

The documentation and communication of the collaboration’s outcomes and lessons learned, shared internally and externally

WHY IT MATTERS: Sharing results and insights into the collaboration’s process creates transparency, enables partners to communicate the value and legitimacy of intersector collaboration, and allows others to learn from, and potentially replicate, the initiative.

What story the collaboration will tell and to whom.

If the collaboration conducts a process-oriented evaluation, it may choose to tell the story of how collaboration design choices — its governance structure or method of sharing discretion, for example — were critical to its success. If the collaboration conducted an outcomes-oriented evaluation, the collaboration may choose to tell the story of its impact on a targeted population or issue, or of the indirect influence of the initiative on other, related factors (e.g. the impact of a transportation accessibility initiative on economic development). Given the increasing interest in intersector initiatives, it is important for the collaboration to decide how it will tell its story in a way that will be understood by those both internal to and outside of the collaboration. If its story is not accessible to a broad range of individuals in each sector, the potential value of the collaboration’s efforts may not be fully realized. When collaboration partners openly and accurately share their experiences among each other and with external parties, all can learn from the collaboration’s successes and challenges, which may influence interest in and effectiveness of future intersector efforts.

  • How will we tell our story in a way that is helpful to future collaborations? What do we think is the most important information to share?
  • How will we communicate our challenges or failures?
  • How will we tell our story if partners disagree on whether the collaboration was successful?
  • To whom will we tell our story? Who is/are our intended audience(s)?
  • What are the different ways we want to consider telling our story, and which format makes sense for us?
  • When will we tell our story? Throughout the course of the collaboration? Upon its completion? At certain intervals?

Partner Assessment

  • Potential Benefit of Partnership
  • Expanded awareness of Smart Circular City/Region opportunities
  • Technical, operational, or other expertise
  • Access to funding or resources
  • Vertical program or applications expansion
  • Community awareness and trust or prestige

When a Partnership Should be Considered

  • The goals are central to another potential partner’s mission
  • Another organization has more experience in the specific area of need
  • Partnership enables new Smart Circular City/Region services or initiatives
  • Partnership increases community support for the Smart Circular City/Region initiative
  • Both parties benefit from working together

Partner Assessment

  • Are the parties’ goals, objectives, and timeframe aligned?
  • For which party is the proposed service or function a core area of expertise?
  • Will the partnership expand the parties’ reach?
  • Will the partnership expand service and/or program offerings and increase the impact of the program in different fields such as education, economic development, or health?
  • Will the partnership reduce the cost of planning, financing, deploying, or operating the Smart Circular City/Region project?
  • Which of the parties has a track record for performance and strong references?
  • If one of the parties is part of a larger entity, does the Smart Circular City/Region  initiative have broader support within that organization?
  • Do the parties have strong management, organizational capacity, and fiscal stability?
  • Are levels of personnel appropriate to carry out the work?
  • Is the governance structure understood?

Checklist: Partnership Contracts and Agreements


Form of Partnership Agreement:

  • Handshake/informal
  • Mutual agreement
  • Memorandum of Understanding
  • Written contract
  • Contract with performance penalties

Legal and Regulatory Context of the Partnership:

  • Local
  • Regional
  • National
  • International
  • Policy
  • Procurement
  • Financing parameters
  • Operational parameters

Key Components of a Partnership Contract:

  • The parties involved
  • The expectations of the partnership
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Expected deliverables
  • Project timelines and milestones
  • Dependencies and/or risks that could inhibit performance
  • Remuneration (e.g., cost-sharing, rates, charges)
  • How intellectual property (IP) will be shared and managed
  • Procedures for managing change
  • Terms for dispute resolution

But even if there are many good reasons for creating partnerships to tackle major development issues, it is not always obvious to all that this is the best way forward. It is also not always easy to promote collaboration in particularly unsympathetic cultural, political or economic contexts. Obstacles to partnering can, therefore, take many forms:


  • Prevailing attitude of scepticism
  • Rigid / preconceived attitudes about specific sectors / partners
  • Inflated expectations of what is possible


  • Public sector: bureaucratic and intransigent
  • Business sector: single-minded and competitive
  • Civil society: combative and territorial


  • Inadequate partnering skills
  • Restricted internal / external authority
  • Too narrowly focussed role / job
  • Lack of belief in the effectiveness of partnering


  • Conflicting priorities
  • Competitiveness (within sector)
  • Intolerance (of other sectors)


  • Local social / political / economic climate
  • Scale of challenge(s) / speed of change
  • Inability to access external resources

The way in which partners use language can make or break a partnership. Each sector is riddled with its own ‘jargon’ that can be completely alienating to those who simply don’t understand it. At least, partners need to be sensitive to how they are using language – consciously and conscientiously speaking in language that is appropriate, clear and concise. A few words well selected and communicated is worth far more than a lot of words that are obscure and confusing. At best, well-chosen words can be used as tools to build consensus rather than allowing careless use of language to reinforce divisions. Some examples of useful distinctions in language can be drawn from partnership experience to date:


  • Trust –  Transparency
  • Profit –  Benefit
  • Common objectives  – Complementary objectives
  • Contract  – Agreement
  • Business plan – Action plan
  • Funding  – Resourcing
  • Sectoral priorities  – Sectoral values
  • Committee  – Focus / Working / Task group
  • Evaluation  – Review
  • Market analysis  – Scoping exercise
  • Consultation – Participation
  • Exit strategy – Moving on strategy

Distinctions are about how we understand and relate to the world. The ability to make distinctions is extremely important for effective partnering. It gives people greater freedom of thinking and acting, and leads to greater personal and professional success and satisfaction. A few more useful distinctions for individuals working in partnership are mentioned below:


The ability to distinguish between facts and the interpretation of those facts is extremely important for any life situation. It can be detrimental to any partnership if people’s action is based on their interpretation of events rather than on the evidence of the events themselves.



Break-downs can occur during any stage of the partnering process. Indeed, break-downs are natural by-products of any challenging process. In spite of this, break-downs can be de-motivating and are often seen as insurmountable hindrances. A break-down is not necessarily a bad thing but rather the interruption of a process which is trying to achieve something different. The challenge for partners is to see a break-down as an opportunity for a break-through.


Making requests is a feature of all partnering. Usually people don’t make enough requests, instead, they simply complain. But there is a big difference between the two. Complaints put people on the offensive. They are therefore disempowering and often lead to animosity rather than problem-solving. Requests, on the other hand, create a completely different situation. A request invites a response and action.


Partnerships are, at one level, networks of conversations. And the quality of the conversations between partners will largely determine the effectiveness of the partnership. In conversations partners create the future. They are jointly creating a vision of where they want to go. They discuss what they stand for, what each of them is accountable for, and create an understanding of how they can rely on each other. Conversations are one of the most powerful tools for building transparency and subsequently trust among partners. It is in conversation with each other that problems can be turned into opportunities and practical activity is generated.


  • Partnerships rely – especially in the early phases – on people meeting each other either on a one-to-one basis or as a partner group. Meetings easily become repetitive, tedious and un-productive if they are not highly focussed and well-managed. It is a particular skill to create a good meeting environment and to ensure that any meeting:
  • Achieves its goals
  • Keeps all parties actively engaged throughout
  • Concludes all the items on the agenda
  • Allocates follow-up tasks and timetables for completion
  • Agrees decision-making procedures that will operate between meetings
  • Alerts those present to issues to be addressed at a future meeting
  • Summarises all decisions taken and, above all,
  • Ends at the pre-agreed time. 

This comprehensive approach to meetings (whether formal or informal) will engender a sense that everyone’s input is valued and their time constraints are respected. At their best, meetings will also be able to operate as a partnership-building tool – through the way in which responsibilities for managing the meeting, such as chairing / facilitating / record-keeping, are shared. Other ways of making meetings meaningful and lively include:

  • Allowing opportunities for social interaction
  • Brainstorming a new and topical issue
  • Inviting a very interesting guest speaker
  • Sharing a relevant experience – perhaps a visit to a project or holding the meeting at the premises of a new partner organisation and seeing their work firsthand
  • Using the meeting for enhancing learning, by ending with a review of what worked well and what could be improved in the way the participants interacted. 
  • If attendance at partner meetings begins to drop off, it should be taken as a sign that the meetings are no longer engaging or important enough for partners to make the effort to come – some drastic measures should be taken!

Explores in more detail the importance of creative conversation as a basis for good partnerships.


Keeping good records of meetings and of the partnership’s progress is an art – it is a bad idea to give the role of record-keeper to the least experienced or most junior person available. The great challenge is whether to record everything or simply the bare minimum.

Each partnership will have to decide what it requires but some basic considerations include:

  • Deciding in advance who needs what kind of information and in what form and then adapting the information appropriately for different purposes
  • Reducing notes from meetings to a) decisions b) areas needing further discussion c) agreed action points
  • Keeping a lively record of the partnership’s ‘history’ (including illustrations / photographs) so that newcomers to the partnership will be able to understand what has been achieved and how
  • Making as many of the written records as openly available as possible so that the partnership is recognised as efficient and transparent


Most of those involved in partnerships agree that the partnerships that endure are ones that are most open to learning from their own and other’s mistakes. Every partnership can be seen as a form of ‘action learning’ where the partners are learning by doing. To see all partnership activity as a form of research (in addition to being a delivery mechanism for achieving a task) is to give partners the opportunity for deepening and enhancing their knowledge, skills and professional practice. True collaboration transforms the individuals that engage in it consciously: partners help each other grow personally and professionally while accomplishing the objectives of the partnership. In addition, every partnership will have much to teach others who aspire to creating collaborative approaches to sustainable development in their own areas of work. Many partnerships – even those that seem to be well established – have benefited from being part of a ‘learning network’ where experiences, good and bad, are shared.


Some simple ‘base-line’ rules agreed between partners can be very helpful when the partnership is new and different partners feel the need to assert themselves and their ‘agendas’ at the expense of giving space to others. Some partners, from the business and public sector especially, may find it strange to set rules for behaviour whereas their civil society colleagues are likely to think this quite natural and acceptable (an early encounter with sectoral diversity!).

Ground rules might include:

  • Active listening
  • Not interrupting
  • Speaking briefly and to the point
  • Dealing with facts not rumour
  • Respecting those not present

Typically, in the early phases partners may need to remind each other about the agreed ground rules – it can take a while to break behaviour patterns! But over time the partnership will naturally adopt these new methods and the ground rules are simply there in the background as a gentle reminder. Newcomers to the partnership then quickly adapt to a modus operandi that they see working well. Ground rules can even be written into the Partnering Agreement.


Partnerships work well when:

  • There are clear decision-making protocols / procedures agreed and in place
  • Most day-to-day decisions are carried by individuals or small groups on behalf of the partnership
  • Only major decisions (for example, of policy or expenditure) are brought to the partners as a whole group
  • There is regular, easily accessible and succinct information-sharing between the partners


Once the partnership is established and a Partnering Agreement in place, the partners will turn their attention to the development of their proposed project / programme of work or joint activities. This is the partnership getting down to business and marks a significant transition from a focus on partnership building to project development and implementation. Some partners will be far more comfortable with this phase because they like to get on with practical tasks and may have found the earlier phases irksome. Others will be anxious that the partnership is not yet robust enough to move from talk to action. As with all projects, considerable attention will need to be paid to working out the details and a clear Action Plan is important to give a framework and milestones that all can agree on.


Many regions, cities and local communities are supporting a collaborative multi-stakeholder environment to support Circular Economy Initiatives in their region – all in the face of shrinking budgets.

They are seeking to become “Smart Circular Cities/Regions”  But often lack the resources and in-house expertise to develop, deploy, and operate such initiatives. One way to meet these challenges is to harness the resources and strengths of private-sector stakeholders – innovators, businesses, anchor institutions, educators, and more.  Private-sector partners can be an important source of funding, technical knowledge, continuing innovation, and workforce development.

This Toolkit is for government officials, urban planners, citizen groups, and others who want to implement successful circular city/region projects.  Drawing from lessons learned, it provides a framework for getting the most out of public-private partnerships, including what to look for in a partner, assessing each partner’s contribution, and guidance on how to structure the most fruitful partnership agreements. The Appendices provide helpful checklists to use during the planning process. Our goal is to equip communities with the know-how to build long-lasting partnerships that contribute to vibrant and sustainable regions.

Why Partnerships Are the Foundation of Smart Circular Cities/Regions

Partnerships drive successful Smart Circular City/Region initiatives because each partner contributes unique knowledge and expertise to the project.  In addition, although local, regional, or national funding may be available to support circular regional projects, those funds rarely cover the entire cost. Partners can provide additional resources that help defray capital expenditures.  Collaborating with multiple partners also increases operational efficiency, broadens technical expertise, and increases buy-in from the broader community. The types of benefits partners can provide include:


Certain communities, particularly those in rural areas, might benefit by connecting with a broader region to lower the deployment costs. Forming a partnership with a cost-sharing component can help defray these costs and might provide access to new solutions.

Increased revenue potential:  

Private-sector partners might provide ideas or assets that could enhance revenue potential.

Expertise and support:  

Partnerships with commercial entities can supplement public funding opportunities, provide workforce training, and offer technical assistance among other things. A partner might contribute specialized knowledge to enhance the project.

Institutional collaboration:  

Partnerships with community institutions (research organisations, educational institutions) offer the opportunity to increase citizen engagement and participation and build greater support for the project.

Developing a Partnership Strategy

Questions to ask during the planning stage when developing a partnership strategy:

  • What are the areas of highest need?
  • What types of partners would add the most value?
  • What criteria should drive partner selection?
  • What methods should be used during the selection process?
  • What kind of relationship should be formed and how should it be formalized?


Partnerships take many forms. Here are four of the most common models. Many projects combine elements of all four models:

    • Private sector-led partnerships
    • Government-led and private sector supported partnerships
    • Government-led and non-profit supported partnerships
    • Joint ownership

Private Sector-Led Partnerships

In this partnership structure, private companies — e.g., equipment vendors, developers, technology firms — lead the project and provide the expertise and resources needed to implement a community’s circular city plan. The role of local governments, community anchor institutions, and economic development authorities is to provide the vision, strategic plan, facilities, framework, and metrics. They also assist with the project by, among other things, aggregating demand, engaging local residents, and making a long-term commitment to utilize the services provided by private-sector partners.

Government-Led and Private Sector Supported Partnerships

In this type of partnership, a government, city, or municipal utility — or some combination of those entities — owns the facilities and works with private partners to construct, operate, and maintain the infrastructure in exchange for financial or in-kind support. Oversight can be provided by an existing entity or a newly-created organization.

Government-Led and Non-Profit Supported Partnerships

In this type of partnership, a government entity takes the lead and partners with other city agencies or non-profit organizations to provide community services.  

Joint-Ownership Model

Under this structure, private companies and the public entity jointly invest in the underlying infrastructure. All partners contribute a mix of financial, in-kind, and other support to build and operate the circular cities/region project.  


Strategic partnerships enable local governments to join forces with partners that have common interests and can contribute valuable resources and expertise.  When selecting partners, it will be important to:

Pick partners carefully: A prospective partner’s experience, credibility, management and operational capability, financial standing, and ability to carry out the work on the scale required by the project should be evaluated carefully. Communities will need to investigate and assess a prospective partner’s skills, experience, and cultural fit with local government and other organizations involved in the project.

Offer champions: A key role in partnership development:  Advocates from community anchor institutions, universities, non-profits, and local government agencies can encourage interest in smart circular cities, build demand for consumer participation in specific initiatives, and provide access to valuable partners. Advocates involved in the project planning or development process will be more invested if their input is included in the objectives and terms of the partnership agreement.

Engage a comprehensive set of partners: A broad set of commercial, government, and community partners provides advantages in executing ambitious projects and ensuring long-term sustainability.

Assessing Strengths

Partnerships must offer value to all parties to be successful. Selecting the right partner or partners will accelerate near-term results and increase the likelihood that the project will grow, expand, and be sustainable over the long term.  During the selection process, consider whether a particular partner can help increase:

Awareness: A prospective partner’s marketing expertise might be able to improve credibility and awareness of the service a community is offering or implementing.

Market reach: Leveraging a partner’s customers, geographic service area, or knowledge base might facilitate the delivery of services to places or people that a community is trying to reach.

Expertise: Gaining access to a partner’s physical assets, expertise, cost-saving technologies, etc, can play a critical role in reducing expenses and accelerating the deployment of new services.

Funding or in-kind contributions:  Financial support from a partner and its suppliers, or in-kind contributions in the form of research, training programs, and other assistance, will help increase a project’s long-term sustainability.

Operational efficiency: Combining efforts with a resourceful partner can improve the project’s effectiveness and value to the community.

Quality: Joining forces with a trustworthy and experienced partner that can be used as a sounding board will improve the overall quality and worth of the project

Categories of Partners

The following chart lists examples of partners and the resources and expertise they offer:



Partner Role

Institutional Partners

Educational institutions and networks

  • Universities and colleges
  • Local school districts
  • University extension offices
  • Education
  • Research and testbeds
  • Participate in projects


  • Local libraries
  • Regional libraries
  • Offer community outreach and digital literacy expertise
  • Host sharing libraries (sports/tools)



Government & Community Partners

Economic development organizations

  • Local 
  • Regional
  • National 
  • Global
  • Identify champions for projects
  • Provide long-term planning for local and regional projects
  • Identify needs, resources, partners, and potential users
  • Promote projects

Community non-profits and anchor institutions

  • Neighborhood and community centers
  • Community-based organizations
  • Identify and market to target community and end users
  • Provide facilities and staff for training
  • Help with planning and encourage community participation


  • Consortium of local governments
  • National  governments
  • International  collaboration where users cross national  lines
  • Participate in planning and implementation
  • Develop plans to scale successful projects
  • Provide funding and loans
  • Conduct research on projects


  • Private/non-profit foundations
  • Funding and support
  • Promote the benefits of circular cities

Private Sector Partners

Private sector partners

  • Sector-specific industries
  • Internet platforms, IT, cloud, security, data analytics or other vertical service providers
  • Landlords, developers, real estate companies
  • Infrastructure expertise and facilities
  • Capacity, networks, services, operations
  • Workforce training
  • New technology
  • Cost-saving solutions
  • Funding, capital investment,

The Procurement policies may govern the partner selection process. If funding sources are from grants or loans, local governments should check applicable laws or requirements for guidance about selecting and implementing partnerships. Partnership selection might begin through collaboration on a new projects, where each potential partner provides the following characteristics from its own perspective: capabilities, experience, relationships, expertise, and resources. Project leaders must determine whether the partner has:

  • The requisite knowledge, skills, personnel, services, capacity, equipment, or resources for the project
  • A proven record of performance and the capacity to scale the project in a timely, appropriate manner
  • Fiscal stability and strong management
  • A shared vision for the project
  • A clear vision for the scope and timing of the resources it will contribute
  • Understanding of why public processes are in place and required

Even if public procurement processes are not used, project leaders should still consider the same selection factors.


An effective partnership spreads the risks and costs related to capital investment, operations, and long-term sustainability among partners.

Mapping Contributions

During the planning stage, a useful technique is to draw a graphic illustration of how the funding, resources, services, and assets will flow among the various organizations involved in the project. At a minimum, this mapping exercise should depict the timeline and flows of:

Funding: How much will each partner contribute and what will they receive for participating in the project?

Inventory of Assets: What assets will each partner contribute and/or own?

Assessment of Other Resources: What resources (e.g., facilities, labor, data analysis) will partners provide?


Knowing the timing and scope of each partner’s financial contribution is critical. As funding contributions are mapped out, project leaders need a full understanding of:

  • The source of all funding required to commence and sustain operations.
  • Each partner’s funding commitments and requirements.
  • The precise valuation of each partner’s in-kind contribution (e.g., service, technology).
  • The agreed-upon timeline of all financial and in-kind contributions (a significant factor if multiple, large contributions are involved).
  • The schedule of any payments due.
  • All agreements, formal and informal, relating to deliverables (e.g., services, third-party contractors).
  • All agreements relating to patents or newly-developed software, or intellectual property
  • Contingency plans if project is not completed on time or runs over budget.

Inventory of Assets

To be successful, partners must reach consensus on the range of details concerning contribution of assets.

  • Which party provides each specific asset and the timeline associated with delivery.
  • Which party owns each contributed asset, the point at which ownership occurs, and whether any transfers of ownership are expected.
  • Which party maintains the collective inventory of assets.
  • Agreements related to the asset-accounting process.
  • Agreements related to distribution, maintenance, accounting, and ownership of assets (e.g., time, activities, accomplishments).

Assessment of Resources

Partners often contribute services. Key points for discussion among potential partners include:

  • The specific resources being provided and the timing.
  • The scope and experience level of supporting personnel and the length and timeline of availability.
  • The customer, monitoring, data analytic, or other services being provided;
  • Any financial services being provided.
  • The timing of the other resources being committed.

Impact of Partner Contributions:

Mapping these contribution flows within the partnership framework will assist the parties in answering key questions about their relationships and agreeing upon commitments before the project begins.

How partner services and resources will be integrated with services provided by local governments and other organizations. Agreements associated with the resources provided and the timing and duration.

Additional Resources:

Partnership agreements should reflect local/regional needs and circumstances. The type of project and partnership model will determine the right blend of experience, qualifications, knowledge, resources, and vision needed for the partnership to be successful. Appendix A includes a helpful checklist to use as a tool for assessing each partner’s contribution.


Partnerships with a high degree of interdependency, or where funds are exchanged, require more formal partnership agreements, such as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or a contract. If parties are not transferring funds or assets or the partner’s deliverables are not central to the project’s goals, then a more informal agreement might suffice. Nevertheless, a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities will be important and should be agreed to in writing. The framework for partnerships includes:

  • Developing formal or informal partnership agreements
  • Assessing the regulatory and operational context
  • Maintaining strong partner relationships

Developing Formal and Informal Partnership Agreements

Contracts, MOUs, and other agreements increase the probability of a successful partnership, because all parties understand what is expected. The goal of all partnerships should be to execute a fair deal, known as a “win-win.” When incentives are aligned, conflict is much less likely to arise.

In formal partnerships, the responsibilities are recorded within contracts, grant agreements, or other legally binding documents. Formal partnership agreements are necessary when:

  • Funds change hands in exchange for deliverables
  • Parties commit to provide assets, facilities, and/or equipment
  • Staffing will be provided
  • Services or capacity will be provided
  • Existing partnerships or contracts with third parties will be leveraged
  • Informal partnerships can be important to a project. These arrangements are often implemented without a traditional contracting process and occur in cases where: The project can further the goals of partner organizations
  • Both parties can mutually aid each other (e.g., announcements in each other’s newsletter)
  • The informal partner’s mission is compatible with the project

Even with these informal partnerships, the project’s partnership policy or plan should still specify how the lead organization will maintain these affiliations and any dispute resolution procedures.

Assessing the Regulatory and Operational Context

In order to achieve successful partnership outcomes, local governments should develop a formal framework that entails:

Statutory, Legislative, and Regulatory Context: The national and local statutory requirements for entering into partnerships should be reviewed to ensure compliance. Official action or new legislation might be required. Some regions and localities restrict the types of projects that governments can undertake and/or operate. Government sovereignty and indemnification rules and requirements need to be clarified prior to entering into an agreement.

Policy Approach: Reviewing local policies on partnerships will determine if a smart circular cities/regions policy framework should be developed by the local government – that is, how smart circular cities/regions applications will be integrated into goals and long-term plans. If a local government has experience with partnerships in an area other than smart circular cities/regions projects, it is useful to understand any problems that arose and how to build upon what was learned.

Procurement: The procurement rules and regulations that apply to contracts, MOUs, or other instruments used for the partnership should be assessed. As partners are identified and selected, it is crucial to comply with these regulations (e.g., “best value” or “sole source”). A thorough understanding of the required procurement procedures will help evaluate what each potential partner brings to the table during the partner selection process.

Operations and Financing: The existing management structure of the local government will define any operational or financing role a government partner undertakes. This ensures that management is aware of the resources, staff, and financing required and works with local governmental bodies to address project needs on a timely basis.

Partnership Agreements: Agreements take many forms, such as contracts, MOUs, and service-level agreements. The agreement should detail the assets, resources, and funding flows for the partnership, reporting requirements, and standard contract terms (e.g., termination, dispute resolution, principal contacts). All financial obligations or critical paths to the project’s success should be documented in the agreement.

Monitoring and Oversight: The type and purpose of each partnership will determine the level of monitoring and oversight required; however, most partnerships benefit from establishing a process to report and monitor partner progress and provide oversight.

Evaluation: Incorporating project evaluation as part of the partnership plan or agreement greatly enhances partners’ project buy-in and ensures that everyone is aware of the project’s outcomes.

Maintaining Strong Partner Relationships

Although trust, mutual benefit, and mission alignment are core components of any partnership, clarity on roles, responsibilities, timelines, and deliverables is critical to the long-term success of these relationships. The best partnerships are purposeful relationships built upon well-defined processes, open communications, and flexibility. Regular meetings, status reports, and progress reports are important tools to ensure partners are on track to meet commitments. Many projects dedicate a full-time or part-time project manager to track partner obligations, identify issues, and maintain strong communication with partners and vendors. Partners might miss deliverables or commitments, but maintaining regular and frequent communications allows all partners to be responsive to issues before problems occur. Useful communication methods include regular calls, in-person meetings, and written reports on key activities, annual reports, assessments, and audits. The following best practices will help ensure successful long-term partnerships:

Designate a lead: Identify a representative for each partner to participate regularly in group calls or meetings. To avoid misunderstandings, a single person should feel ownership and be held accountable. Using digital tools (such as Loomio) can promote transparency and enable democratic decision making across a remote team and multiple working groups/sub-groups

Establish measures to facilitate coordination early in the process: Start with a strong understanding of roles and responsibilities. A large number of partners make coordinating the project, resolving conflicts, and governing the operations more complex. A robust governance model will facilitate decision-making and conflict resolution, and foster inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability.

Communicate regularly and convey important information and decisions in writing: Relationships among all the partners should be transparent. The value and relevancy of the partnership should be communicated openly to build support for the project and mitigate potential misconceptions. Communicate regularly through conference calls and at meetings. Memorialize decisions in writing and distribute to all partners so they remain well-informed.

Actively manage partnership agreements to reflect changes as they occur: Monitor progress on milestones and deliverables on a regular basis. No matter how clearly defined roles and deliverables are at the start of the project, expect change. Partnership agreements need clauses that include procedures for managing change and dispute resolution.

Listen and build trust: Relationships grow as partners develop trust.


New circular solutions will transform today’s communities into tomorrow’s sustainable and vibrant societies. This toolkit provides helpful guidance for local officials considering public-private partnerships as a cost-effective way to accelerate Smart Circular City/Region initiatives. As outlined above, careful planning, aligned incentives, clear deliverables, and regular communication are all key components to long-term success.

Circular Oslo – open sourced partnership methodology  V.1.0 a derivative of see source attribution
developing tools for supporting multi-stakeholder, cross sectoral collaboration for Smart Circular Regions. 
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