About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Five ingredients for successful partnerships

New technologies, globalisation and ageing populations are radically transforming labour markets around the world.

According to the 2018 Future of Jobs Report, 75 million jobs could be displaced by 2022 in 20 major economies. At the same time, technological advances may also create 133 million new roles.

Already, many workers are finding their skills are no longer in demand. On the other hand, many employers are also struggling to hire skilled workers for emerging roles. As a result, governments need to invest in reskilling initiatives, lifelong learning and educational reform.

These challenges are too big for governments to tackle alone. They need to partner with employers and education institutions to develop innovative solutions. However, building successful partnerships is hard, especially across such diverse sectors with different ways of working and conflicting priorities.

In preparation for our most recent Digital Frontrunners workshop, we carried out ten in-depth interviews with partnerships and policymakers from across Europe who are collaborating in innovative ways to solve social problems.

We’ve summarised five key ingredients that they told us partnerships need in order to succeed:

1. A sense of urgency

For a partnership to work, all players need to recognise that the issue is critical. Otherwise, you won’t generate the momentum and commitment needed for partnerships to succeed. Sometimes there is a gap between government identifying a problem and industry feeling its effects, or vice versa. Governments can play an important role in increasing awareness of the issue.

“If there isn’t an urgent problem then nothing is going to happen...When it’s a nice topic but companies don’t really care about it, I’d advise not to start a partnership.”

Pieter Moerman, Katapult

2. Autonomy

It’s crucial that the people running a partnership have autonomy over their goals and their approach, with government providing direction and feedback. This way of working has several advantages for government; there’s less time-consuming administration and it encourages innovation. However, there’s a trade off too. Government has less control over whether the programme delivers on policy objectives.

“We don’t mandate what Green Deals should be about as we’ve found it doesn’t work. When different organisations bring their ideas and a working group decides whether it works or not - that is the best way.”

Arne Daneels, Green Deals

3. Time

It takes time to build a partnership and then to implement it. However, government funding windows are often short and their priorities tend to change. Partnerships looking to scale need long term funding to plan for the future and be bold in their aims and approach. That said, not all partnerships should be long term - some are created to tackle a single issue quickly.

“The government’s model is based around financing these short projects....We can’t say what we’ll do in 2021 for example. Stakeholders will often ask about our plans and we can’t give them a straight answer. The government sets an agenda and then it changes. If we could wish we would be happy with less money but over a longer term.”

Nicklas Tarantino, Triple Steelix

4. Culture of collaboration

Structures and processes are very important in partnerships, but culture often matters more. In partnerships between education, business and political institutions, a common challenge is a clash of cultures. All these partners have a different way of working and different objectives. Strong relationships based on trust are not only critical to partnerships lasting, they save time because decisions can be made more quickly.

“The most important thing is having close relationships with our members… We work very closely with our members, meeting companies so we are very driven by what they need and we are not guessing what they need.”

Lars Lindblom, Samarkand2015

5. Shared vision

All actors need to agree on the aims of the partnership - otherwise it’s unlikely to get started, or deliver on its objectives. Crucially, these shared goals need to be supported by an action plan and budget, and partners need to keep revisiting the goal to check they’re still on track.

"It is crucial to invest the time, money and coordination to make sure you are working towards a shared goal. On a national level and in local government it’s not enough to just sit around the table and talk. It is key that you put a budget on the table and that you agree on a structured way to get things done with input from outside of those sessions...Then you need to keep iterating, reinventing yourself, asking ‘Are we still on track with our vision?’.”

Sara van Damme, Digitaal.Talent@Gent - Digipolis

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Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Senior Researcher, Future of Work and Skills

Georgie worked on the research needs for the Digital Frontrunners and Futurefit programmes.

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