This study examines the conflict potential that lies in the partnership model as practiced by several northern non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged with the provision of development assistance to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged peoples in developing countries.
The three recurring issues connected to conflict that arise from the interview data are power, inter-group dynamics and cultural differences. In order to understand, analyse and frame these issues, the study mainly uses the work of Colemann and Deutch (2000) that discusses forms of individual and group power and Pruitt and Kim (2003) that interprets the various contentious and avoiding tactics that are used to resolve conflicts.
The issues of inter-group dynamics and cultural differences are analysed using the frameworks provided by Heinskou og Visholm (2004), Senge (1990) and Hofstede (1991). The multifaceted nature of power is illustrated with quotes from the interviews. Initially most interviewees state that power follows access to financial resources. However, a closer look at this shows that this is often not the case and examples of how so-called low power groups gain access to power is illustrated.
The study shows that despite the intentions of the partnerships, groups still define themselves in terms of their ethnicity, that is “them and us”, rather than “we”. Cultural differences as a source of potential conflict were referred to by all. The stereotypes about the other brought forward by the practitioners were not recognisable in the interview material.
Hofstede’s model on cultural differences could not be immediately confirmed on the basis of the interviews. Although culture was an issue in terms of increasing the conflict potential it also seemed as if culture by simply referring to it, was often used as a scapegoat for not addressing conflict.
The study concludes by highlighting three sources that generate extra conflict potential in the partnership model. These are 1) the gap between the official rhetoric and the realities that are present in the field, 2) the power-preserving attitude of the north, and 3) the lack of rapid visible field results that follow from an overemphasis on necessary, but difficult to measure, outputs like capacity development and local democracy.
The paper ends by looking at the similarities between the ideals of dialogue and the ideals of partnership. It is argued that if real partnership is to unfold, then it becomes imperative to nurture and facilitate the relationships in which dialogue can take place.