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When partners’ interests differ, develop a code of conduct for guidance


When partners’ interests differ, develop a code of conduct for guidance

When partners’ interests differ, develop a code of conduct for guidance

Posted on January 17, 2020 by Lillian Holmes

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Universal: No
Applicable Phases: Prepare
Last Updated May 22, 2024


When a partnership is built from diverse stakeholders, each partner brings different needs and interests to the table. For example, corporations working in a basin may be primarily interested in environmental improvement as a way to protect their brand image and social license to operate, while community and NGO partners may have different priorities, such as improving local livelihoods or protecting biodiversity. Within these differing interests, a partnership must work carefully to prioritize outcomes that benefit all stakeholders. This prioritization is best guided by an agreed-upon code of conduct.


Creating a system to balance different priorities will both engage local stakeholders with the project and ensure that project outcomes consider the needs of people and the environment. Consensus is best achieved through the development of a code of conduct to explicitly guide the project process. This code of conduct will ensure that different stakeholders’ needs are considered, rather than allowing one partner’s goals to dominate the project outcomes. Furthermore, partners’ interests may change over time – routine, ongoing discussion allows shifting needs to be evaluated.


  • Consider how some partners’ goals and approach may impact the reputation of other partners.
  • Allow partners to openly share their goals at the beginning of the partnership formation, so that the group can better form a plan of action.
  • Once partners agree on shared goals and approach, formally create a code of conduct to ensure that partners act together.
  • The code of conduct should include:
    • A decision-making process
    • An evaluation process for potential partners
    • Standards to be upheld by members
    • An information management strategy
    • Creation of a partnership steering committee and clear expectations for the committee’s role and responsibilities


In Uganda’s Kiiha watershed, a partnership between GIZ IWaSP, DWRM, Kinyara Sugar Ltd and the Ugandan NGO EcoTrust represented both business and local interests to address issues of wetland degradation near Kinyara’s plantations. The partners created a steering committee to guide the project work.

Members of the local community had begun using the wetlands for agriculture. The project team hoped to sensitize the local community on wetland management practices as well as restoration of degraded wetland areas. Some initial project actions were undertaken without fully consulting all of the partners, and the partnership had to adapt to these challenges by balancing Kinyara’s need to protect their sugarcane fields and adjacent wetlands with community members’ need for agricultural income. The project addressed both of these concerns by instituting an incentive programme that provided conditional grants to wetland Association members to start environmentally friendly alternative livelihoods in exchange for protecting the wetlands. Although the project outcome was a success, the partners concluded that future project work would benefit from a clear guidance process for all partners. The partnership agreed on increased involvement from the steering committee and clear designation of the committee’s role going forward, and determined that future work will be guided by a code of conduct.

Projects that have validated this Lesson

None found.

This lesson learned reflects the beliefs and experiences of the author, not necessarily the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate, or UN Global Compact.