A transnational network on partnerships in the European Social Fund (ESF) contributed to significant learning and good practice exchange across EU Member States.
An evaluation carried out by the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) finds that the critical friend and peer review model is an effective way to support good practice exchange and transnational learning on partnerships in the ESF.
The Community of Practice (COP)
on partnership in the ESF was a transnational learning network set up to exchange good practices and learning on partnerships in the ESF. The COP network was funded by the European Commission (DG Employment). The aim was to improve the planning and delivery of Operational Programmes and contribute to policy.The COP on partnerships in the ESF comprised representatives from EU Member States or regions representing a mix of ESF Managing Authorities, ‘intermediary’ bodies specialising in ESF funded projects, a partnership expert, Commission representatives and an external facilitator.
The COP used a critical friend and peer review approach, which included peer review meetings. The COP also saw an online portal, summaries of peer review meetings, a partnership conference and project management activities.The evaluation assessed the effectiveness and relevance of the COP network and how it supported good practice and learning among and beyond the core membership.
The evaluation used a Theory of Change approach. The main data sources for the evaluation were COP documents, the online portal, qualitative interviews with members, observation at COP meetings and a literature review.
The evaluation found:
a) The group size of around 10-14 in each meeting was ideal, because it was large enough for there to be real diversity on partnership working and small enough to generate trust.
b) Some peers were able to reflect on their own partnership practices as a result of being aware of and understanding other countries’ practices.
c) The peer review model with face-to-face meetings in the host country was successful, because it spurred the host to reflect on their own partnership practices when preparing and answering questions from peers.
d) The engaging and knowledgeable support from a network and social innovation expert organisation created engagement and ensured high quality outputs.The evaluation found that the following aspects were challenging:
a) The shared online portal was not used as much as hoped, because members were more dedicated to the face-to-face peer reviews.
b) It was difficult to trace wider institutional and policy impact from the COP, because the time span of the project was too short and there are many intervening variables.This main challenge - and opportunity - for the COP in the next couple of years will be to capitalise on the learning generated by feeding it into the new Operational Programmes in the next ESF programming period post 2013.A presentation of the evaluation is available to download here.