Elements of effective partnerships – Findings from an AWP evaluation in the Mekong

In late 2023 AWP commissioned an independent evaluation to explore how partnerships have contributed to development and diplomacy outcomes in the Mekong. The evaluation, conducted by Strategic Development Group, focused on a set of recent and ongoing activities funded under the AWP’s Australia Mekong Water Facility (AMWF – running since 2019 and concluding in 2024). The effective consideration and delivery of gender equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI) within the different partnerships was one of the key points the evaluation looked at.

The evaluation team used a mixed-methods approach and, crucially, conducted interviews and focus group discussions with a range of AWP Australian, in-country, regional, and international partners, as well as DFAT Mekong Posts. In total 66 informants were consulted through a combination of remote and in-person interviews conducted in Lao PDR, Thailand, Vietnam, and Australia. We thank our partners for their time and for their contribution to this learning exercise.

The evaluation found that overall the AMWF is highly relevant to Australia’s broader relationship with partner country governments, with some variation across countries. Secondly, it found that the policies, practices, and tools shared, developed and applied through activities have contributed to promoting higher standards for water infrastructure and water governance in the Mekong region (and this despite the relative brevity of some of these activities). Furthermore, the capacity of the AMWF to augment Australia’s international water diplomacy was recognised, with the Facility proving to be a responsive and flexible mechanism to further enhance Australia’s existing water-related partnerships with the governments of the Mekong region, contributing to Australia being seen as a partner of choice.

On GEDSI the findings were mixed, despite some evidence of positive GEDSI actions and/or outcomes. Indeed while AWP has made considerable efforts to integrate and continually strengthen GEDSI across its operations, and although all the Australian partners interviewed understood the requirement to address GEDSI within their activities, results were somewhat limited overall. The evaluation did however find that the inclusion of, or access to, a dedicated GEDSI expert within the Australian partner’s team throughout activity implementation seemed to be the main factor contributing to progress on GEDSI.

Regarding partnerships, the evaluation found that the partnership modality has played a critical role in the success of AMWF activities, and that more broadly AWP has been effective in facilitating successful partnerships built on mutual respect, has promoted collaborative ways of working, and has delivered on what was expected and to a high quality.

What also emerged from the evaluation is that there are key elements which are conducive of effective partnerships. These elements include:

  • The context for partnerships – whether it is a new or established relationship, organisational buy-in, understanding of institutional context.
  • The governance of partnerships – shared vision and decision-making, transparency and accountability, clear roles and responsibilities and lines of communication.
  • Ways of working – flexible, responsive, diverse and inclusive, right expertise.
  • Trust and respect – mindful of context and sensitivities, genuine voice, conflict resolution.
  • Results, impact and sustainability – mutual benefits including developmental and diplomatic outcomes, sustainability of relationship.

The diagram below represents how the five elements contribute to effective AWP partnerships, both between Australian and in-country partners and, more broadly, between AWP and its Australian, in-country, and international partners.

Figure 1: Partnership Charter – Elements of effective partnerships (2024)

The ‘Partnership Charter’ features in the Partnership Brief that was developed by Strategic Development Group to share key insights from the above evaluation with all of AWP’s partners. Whilst the focus was on the Mekong region, the elements are relevant to the other geographies AWP works in.  

The full Partnership Brief can be accessed here.

Examples of effective AWP partnerships in the Mekong include:

  • Inclusive and strategic river basin planning for the Nam Xam, in Lao PDR
  • Sustainable groundwater management in the Sekong basin, and more broadly across Lao PDR
  • Improving reservoir water quality management in Thailand
  • Supporting the amendment of Vietnam’s Law on Water Resources
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