Education & SDG 4.7 Partnerships Vision & Strategy

Event Summary: Partnering in Public Engagement

To achieve the SDGs, we need all of society on board. To reach all of society, we need partners. Here is some partnering advice from OECD DevCom members.

To achieve sustainable development, we need all of society on board. To engage all of society, we need partners. At our DevCom meeting on 7 July, senior communicators from 16 development organisations shared experiences and ideas on how to partner in public engagement.

Our discussions confirmed the findings of our DevCom survey on partnering, which was published in June and found that communicators consider partnering to be an important feature of their communications work.

We heard from organisations who are innovating in their partnerships.

  • Norway’s Enlightenment Trails have engaged tens of thousands of citizens for the SDGs, helping raise national SDG awareness from 35 to 60%. The key to their success has been the close collaboration with local municipalities, authorities (e.g. transport, schools and police) and the national trekking association.
  • The Austrian Development Agency (ADA) has launched a number of innovative initiatives to engage the private sector. ADA’s strategy revolves around “key accounts”. Instead of focusing on major multinational corporations, the idea is to partner with SMEs, start-ups or social enterprises that can fully engage in the partnership for sustainable development.
  • Through its Aid Match scheme, the UK government doubles funds raised by charities that can demonstrate both their development impact and an ability to engage citizens. The scheme has helped engage groups like churches, schools or scouts. One initiative – Soccer Aid – was broadcast live on television, bringing UK aid messaging into millions of homes.
  • The 2X Challenge, launched by the G7 Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) in 2018, has mobilised USD 4.5 billion to support women’s economic empowerment. Accompanied by storytelling, videos and infographics, the partnership has raised awareness about gender equality not just in organisations that seek DFI funds, but also within the DFIs themselves.


The partnerships above are very different in nature. Some are more “transactional” (i.e. funding exchanged for a service), while others focus more on the relationships being built. Yet, all have a common feature: shared ownership. The partners have good reasons to invest in the success of their partnership.

Based on our discussion, here are 5 ways to ensure the buy-in of partners.

1. Do the research to choose your partners wisely

Should we partner with small enterprises or big multinationals? Which CSO can help reach specific target audiences like “aid sceptics”? Who is the right entry point in a company: the CEO or Head of Sustainability? To answer these questions, we need a clear understanding of our needs and of the value that each partner can bring. This requires research! 

2. Link up with colleagues in policy and operations

Colleagues in policy and operations departments can help communicators reach out to potential partners and provide insights into partners’ incentives and ways of doing business. As the examples above show, there is also a trend to integrate operational and communications partnerships: partners with a shared interest in delivering results will also have shared communications interests.

3. Work with intermediaries

Rather than seeking partnerships with individual companies or CSOs, it may be more effective to work with intermediaries like trade associations, trade unions, NGO umbrella organisations, corporate foundations or chambers of commerce. These intermediaries are a bridge to new audiences and can translate our “development jargon” into language that is more accessible to specific constituencies.

4. Find the right mix of incentives to align messaging

Public sector communicators often fear that their partners will go “off message”. Managing this risk requires a good mix of incentives. Sometimes partners simply need informal guidance and useful advice. Where budgets are at stake, it is helpful to have more formal rules and jointly agreed performance indicators. The bottom line, however, is that partnerships thrive on trust: sometimes, communicators need to let go and allow partners to tell stories in their own way.

5. Focus messaging on achievements and make sure your partners get credit

Development messaging often focuses on inputs (i.e. how much has been committed or spent). “Input messaging” rarely engages audiences in positive ways. In partnerships, it may even be counterproductive, focusing audience attention on “who did what” rather than what the partners achieved together. A more positive approach is to talk about results and ensure that all partners receive credit for their contributions.


The Irish Aid Development Education Strategy 2017-2023 was designed in close partnership with civil society, and includes an agreed performance measurement framework, which is linked to funding for public engagement and monitored independently.

The government encourages partners to pursue their own focus, but also outlines activities that cannot be conducted with public funding (e.g. fundraising; political advocacy). The government provides guidance on messaging, for example to avoid sensationalist stereotyping.

There is ongoing dialogue to ensure that: smaller CSOs are not overburdened by reporting requirements; public engagement focuses on attitudinal change, not just numbers reached; and NGOs communicate with all citizens, not just supporters.


Our discussion suggests that partnerships can be hard work, but bring powerful results. DevCom members are innovating, by working with new partners or by working with traditional partners in more creative ways.

Yet, there is a lot left to learn about good partnering for public engagement. For example, we need to explore how to best link operations and communications. In their recent joint blog, the DevCom Co-Chairs argued that communications has become “core business” for development organisations. This relationship goes both ways: to deliver results, operational teams need better communications; to deliver communications results, communicators need to make better use of their organisations’ operational partnerships and relationships.

DevCom will continue tracking good practices, also as part of its new Toolkit, which includes a Learning Area on partnerships.

This was the third meeting in the DevCom Zooms In series. For more information, please visit the DevCom webpage or write to

Felix coordinates the OECD Development Communication Network (DevCom), and manages DevCom's SDG Communicator site.

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