Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships for Community Sustainability Plan Implementation: Understanding Structures and Outcomes at the Partner and Partnership Levels
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Worldwide, the prevalence and complexity of sustainable development challenges require coordinated action from actors in the private, public, and civil society sectors. Partnerships that embody inclusivity and heterogeneity are emerging as a way forward. Such partnerships build capacity by developing and leveraging the diverse perspectives and resources of the multiple stakeholders that represent all three sectors. Multi-stakeholder partnerships are designed to address and prioritize social problems and due to the number of partners, do not have the resources to negotiate the strategic interests of individual partners. Thus, it can be problematic to define the value proposition for partners involved in multi-stakeholder partnerships. Moreover, multi-stakeholder partnerships address social problems by building and leveraging the collective capacity of the partnering stakeholders; however, there are significant issues related to accessing the necessary resources at the partnership level. This dissertation uses resource-oriented theories to examine how resources are gained at both the partner and partnership levels of analysis. At the partner level, resource-based view theory is used to, i) identify which partnership resources are valuable, rare, and costly for competitors to imitate, and ii) identify how partners can organize to capture value by creating internal implementation structures. Specifically, this study examines the relationship between individual implementation structure and four types of partner capital: physical/financial, human, organizational, and shared. At the partnership level, relational view theory is used to understand how the processes of knowledge-sharing and collaborative decision making work together as subcomponents of structures to develop partnership capital. Two separate surveys were used to collect data for this dissertation: the partner survey and the partnership survey. The partner survey collected data about partner-level implementation and outcomes. It surveyed 42 partners involved in multi-stakeholder partnerships implementing community sustainability plans across Canada. Findings from the partner survey indicate that partners prefer outcomes related to building relationships and gaining knowledge. The survey also found that partners who implement by creating internal structures for implementation, such as creating new sustainability-related positions or teams, experienced more learning and gained further knowledge, better relationships, and more cost savings than partners who did not implement in this way. The partnership survey collected data about partnership-level implementation and outcomes. It surveyed 94 local authorities leading the implementation of community sustainability plans through partnerships from around the world. Findings from the partnership survey indicate that collaborative decision making has a positive effect on communication and renewal systems, which has a positive influence on a partnership’s capacity in the areas of knowledge and learning, relationships, and adaptability. The findings in this dissertation contribute to the social partnership literature by indicating that plan implementation can occur concurrently at two levels: the partner and the partnership level. Moreover, it finds that based on partner perceptions different approaches to implementation at each level may result in varying outcomes for partners and the partnership. The overarching implication of this research is that while multi-stakeholder partnerships and local sustainable development challenges are embedded in complex social, ecological and economic systems, and are themselves complex, there may be aspects within the control of the partners that can contribute to realizing desirable outcomes.