Abstract: SDG 17 calls for the international community to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development,” emphasizing the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships for achieving the SDGs. Policy documents are replete with statements on the necessity of ‘meaningful’ engagement, especially with civil society—without clarifying what ‘meaningful’ stands for. In this article, we develop an analytical approach to partnership as a form and norm of metagovernance. Partnership as a metanorm is about the roles and relations of different sets of actors. We suggest operationalizing the concept of partnership according to different levels of accountability and participation, allowing for a gradual enhancement of the quality of partnership in terms of ‘meaningfulness.’ We apply our analytical model to the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well‐Being for All (GAP), a fairly new initiative by health and development agencies to accelerate progress towards the health-related targets of the 2030 Agenda. By investigating the development and the early phase of implementing the GAP, we empirically assess if and how the notion of partnership envisioned in the GAP qualifies as ‘meaningful’ with respect to civil society engagement. From our empirical example, we infer lessons for attaining normative standards of ‘meaningfulness’ and highlight implications for future research on partnerships.
Keywords: accountability; civil society organizations; global health; metagovernance; participation; partnership; sustainable development goals