Impact partnerships are a specific type of multi-sector partnership, designed to create clear and meaningful impact towards a social or environmental goal. The partnerships set clear outcomes, have a transparent division of labour, they have a mechanism for taking stock, adapting and learning. As an innovation method, the central goal of an impact partnership is to scale current effective activity in a given area through the power of cross-sector collaboration, or to generate new ideas and solutions with measurable impact delivered across sectors.
There is a growing consensus that to tackle the most pressing problems the world is facing, such as inequality and the changing world of work, we need to harness the collective resources, skills and power from multiple sectors. Impact partnerships unlock a significant and untapped pool of resources for social good, by bringing together the commitment, assets and expertise from across different sectors to tackle tough challenges more effectively.
Impact partnerships typically bring together:
Although there is often a desire from cross-sector parties to work together, it is not always easy to determine how a collaboration might work in practice. Through a structured process, impact partnerships can help define the key objectives and challenges, identify each parties’ strengths and contributions, and determine the best approach to tackle the problem at hand.
Impact partnerships can be particularly helpful in the following situations:
Creating and brokering effective impact partnerships typically involves four key stages:
1. Discovery and design - This includes rapidly researching the problem to be tackled, and defining the key challenges. This involves key stakeholders from across sectors through workshops and research, and mapping the current system. What is the problem that really needs solving? Where do existing solutions fall short? What funding or resources might be needed? What are the assets that each organisation can bring to the table? In this stage there is a formal orchestration of evidence so everyone has a shared understanding of ‘what works’.
2. Engage and establish - This stage involves curating the right ecosystem around the problem, including business, government, civil society, social innovators and citizens. This could include putting out an open call for innovators looking for support to address the issue in question, or assembling a ‘leadership group’ of individuals from across the different sectors. At this stage clear outcomes are adopted, a process of measurement and taking stock is developed and a clear process for learning is generated. This step also includes creating the right environment, language and culture for change where all parties:
3. Deliver and implement - This is a time-bound period where projects are executed. The partners remain engaged through structured collaboration platforms both online and offline through working groups. Throughout this process when activities are not working or need to iterate, the group supports each other to do that.
4. Amplify and learn - This stage involves demonstrating and amplifying the best projects and solutions with a direct link to policy making. Lessons learnt are shared in an open way. Events and activities highlight the success and learning in order to bring new people into future partnerships.
Impact partnerships can lead to:
Impact partnerships, as distinct from standard partnerships, generally share these characteristics:
Nesta’s belief in partnerships to tackle tough social challenges is longstanding, and one of the cornerstones of our work. (It’s one of our core values: we never work alone). We have been writing about creating effective partnerships for several years, with blogs and reports looking at the role of partnerships in healthcare, startups, inclusive growth and financial inclusion - and a practical toolkit on how to get your partnership off to a good start.
Impact partnerships specifically is one of the newer innovation methods we are exploring, developing and testing. We set out some of initial thinking in 2013 with a paper on systems change and for several years we have been developing our 100 day method which includes partnership across sectors in our health lab in partnership with the rapid results institute.
Since 2014, we have been working with the European Commission to help deliver the Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) programme (and more recently, SEP 2.0), a programme designed to support startups to scale across Europe by collaborating with larger corporates which has also fed into our knowledge of partnerships and what works.
In November 2017 we launched the Flying High Challenge. Run by the Challenge Prize Centre at Nesta, in partnership with Innovate UK, Flying High is the first programme of its kind to convene city leaders, regulators, public services, businesses and industry around shaping the future of drones in UK cities, to make sure new drone systems place citizens’ needs first.
Most recently, we have co-designed the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) along with the UK government. The IEP is bringing together three different parties: business, civil society and government, to unlock new ideas to tackle social problems and support existing solutions to scale. Eighteen projects are being developed through the IEP, each one harnessing the resources and expertise of different sectors to significantly increase their impact and reach. One hundred partnerships have been confirmed between our 18 social innovators and various other organisations and parties.
Through these projects we are delivering our innovation expertise in a collaborative, high-intensity, structured but agile fashion. Each programme has the championship and support of government and business, and captures the hearts and minds of social innovators and civil society.
Nesta has worked with the UK Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) to develop the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP). This unique partnership between business, civil society and government is designed to take individual and collective action towards three big societal challenges. These are: financial inclusion and capability; transitions to work for young people, and mental health support in the workplace.
We’re working with 18 social innovators (selected via an open call) to develop projects across our three challenge areas. Nesta developed a six-month partnership accelerator - a bold new approach to accelerating social innovation - to support these new, but proven, social innovators to scale, which turbo-charged the partnership activity and helped leverage the unique assets, resources and power of each party.
Throughout the programme Nesta engaged with 150 corporate partners, who have offered varying levels of support. We made 230 introductions between the 18 social innovators and various delivery partners, from which 100 confirmed partnerships have been established – far exceeding the original programme target of nine partnerships.
Read our report to find out more about the impact and results of the programme so far.
Drone technology is advancing rapidly. UK cities now have a unique opportunity to shape this disruptive technology, to maximise the economic and social benefits it could bring while ensuring safety.
Run by Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, in partnership with Innovate UK, our Flying High programme is a collaborative effort to position the UK as a global leader in shaping drone systems that place people’s needs first. The programme has brought together city leaders, technologists, researchers, regulators, government, public services, businesses and citizens to shape the future of urban drone use in the UK.
The first phase comprised a nine-month research and engagement process, working with five city regions across the UK (Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands - selected following an open call for ideas), to develop visions for the future of drones and assess technical feasibility, and economic and social impact of urban drone applications. The outputs of this phase, which also included mapping the UK drone industry, are summarised in the Flying High report.
The next stage of the programme will involve designing a series of innovation challenges and developing test beds to pioneer safe, sustainable drone systems that deliver the benefits for citizens outlined in phase one. The challenge objectives include: shaping city plans on the future of drones; identifying and addressing key complexities around technology, infrastructure, law, safety and privacy; and creating technical and economic plans that maximise market opportunity.