Projects as Partnerships


Project management and cross-sector partnering

approaches to stakeholder engagement



By David F. Murphy, PhD

Institute of Business, Industry and Leadership
University of Cumbria, UK


Prof. Andrew W. Gale, PhD

Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering
The University of Manchester, UK


The fields of project management and cross-sector partnering are both said to share the challenge of enabling meaningful stakeholder engagement. There is growing attention to stakeholder involvement in projects. In cross-sector partnerships, practitioners and researchers have long grappled with balancing interests of partners and the wider stakeholder community. This challenge has increased as project management methodologies, skill sets and perspectives have been assimilated widely in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Funding agencies are often making both project management and cross-sector partnering practices mandatory in bidding and delivery. Inter-agency working is now axiomatic in effectively tackling complex health, socio-economic, environmental sustainability, and human security challenges. Questions about values and trust are fundamental to successful project and partnership outcomes. To what extent do projects and partnerships facilitate and enable stakeholder inclusion? We explore synergies and differences between project management and cross-sector partnering in relation to stakeholder engagement, with particular interest in strategies and approaches within project and partnering contexts. We conclude with a call for more collaborative action research by project management and cross-sector partnership academics and practitioners to share knowledge and experience and to identify more inclusive stakeholder engagement strategies and practices, using appropriate tools.

  1. Introduction: What is the paper about?

When is a project a partnership? To what extent is a partnership also a project? These are important framing questions for our paper, which explores connections between what appear to be two distinct fields of practice and academic study – project management and cross-sector partnering. How might project management and cross-sector partnership practitioners and academics benefit by learning about the experience and research of the other field? How do project managers, teams, and partnership practitioners each work with stakeholders within their respective (inter-) organizational environments? What are some of the parallels and variances in how stakeholder engagement and related ideas are understood and practiced in project management and cross-sector partnering contexts? There is apparent value in considering potential synergies and differences between project management and cross-sector partnering contexts, concepts, theories, frameworks, methodologies, and tools. This paper considers these questions, challenges, and opportunities.

  1. Narrative Overview of Project Management Contexts and Concepts

We can consider the management of projects through an enquiry analogous with the anthropological tradition, in which we learn with the environment to which we are responding. This is within physical, historical, political, economic, psycho-social, and emotional contexts, concerned also with the materiality of place and making, a proposition endorsed by Ingold (2013). Arguably, all projects involve making, which includes things virtual. Projects are also about delivering beneficial change. This implies a relationship between the values of the project organisation and the beneficiary. Is the beneficiary always the project sponsor? For example, who are the beneficiaries of a public infrastructure project? We argue that the management of projects, or behaviors associated with the conception and realization of projects, is axiomatic to the human condition. The creation of cave art, for example, would have involved at least one person in the realization but, we conjecture, more than one, thus engagement with others for the work to be achieved and witnessed. Currently, the oldest known human artwork in a cave first appeared in the Iberian Peninsula around 64,000 years ago (Hoffmann et al, 2018). Morris (2013a, p11) argues that the first suggestion of project management as a formal discipline was in the 1950s, citing the Manhattan Project as an early example. Led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project was a joint scientific and military initiative established in 1942 to develop a functional atomic bomb. This project would have not succeeded without the creative collaboration of some 600,000 individuals (Paulus & Nijstad, 2003; Wallerstein, 2013).

Morris (2013b, p20) states that “…the discipline [of project management] needs to be less inward looking: more relevant, not just to the sponsor’s needs but to society’s challenges in general. We can foresee several changes in the years ahead in the ways projects and programs will be managed…”. Despite the apparent growing importance placed on stakeholder identification and engagement in the Body of Knowledge (BoK) of the UK-based Association for Project Management (APM, 2022), or the American-based Project Management Institute (PMI, 2021), we suggest that project sponsors or clients are usually preferenced over the end users of projects. End users are stakeholders, and they often have little agency, due to their lack of skill sets, organisational power, and resources. Another consideration is the ‘worldview’ that can be inferred from most of the literature and methodologies supporting the discipline or domain knowledge of project management. The language used is usually uncritical of the capitalist construct. Tsing (2021) has written extensively about what she calls “salvage accumulation” within complex collaborative supply chains. To what extent might the theory and practice of project management contribute to reductionist and/or instrumental perspectives?


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Authors’ note: Revised version of a paper presented at the Project Management Symposium, 20-21 April 2023, Project Management Center for Excellence, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA; Murphy, D.F., and Gale, A. (2023). From Projects to Partnerships: Exploring connections between project management and cross-sector partnership approaches to stakeholder engagement.

How to cite this paper: Murphy, D.F., and Gale, A.W. (2023). Projects as Partnerships: Project management and cross-sector partnering approaches to stakeholder engagement; Second Edition, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/pmwj131-Jul2023-Murphy-Gale-Projects-as-Partnerships-featured-paper.pdf

About the Authors

David F. Murphy, PhD

Ambleside, Cumbria, England, UK


Dr David F. Murphy is Associate Professor of Sustainability & Collaborative Leadership and Academic Lead of the Initiative for Leadership & Sustainability (IFLAS), University of Cumbria. He is also leading the university’s new Doctor of Business Administration program.

David has extensive international experience of working on multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration with senior leaders and change agents in business, government, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and the United Nations system, including related teaching, applied research and consultancy on partnerships for sustainable development.

Recent research and knowledge exchange projects include: an international review of the transformational potential of partnerships for sustainable development; partnering capacity building for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Lancaster (UK); and empowering micro, small and medium enterprises for the SDGs. David has also recently been appointed as co-chair of the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership, which brings together diverse organizations to work towards the shared goal of carbon reduction.

David holds an MSc in Comparative Development and International Policy, and a PhD in International Policy on Sustainable Development, from the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK.

He can be contacted at david.murphy@cumbria.ac.uk


Prof Andrew W. Gale, PhD

Manchester, England, UK


Andrew Gale, BSc (Hons), PhD, CEng, FICE, MCIOB, MACostE is professor of project management in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester, UK.  A graduate of Brunel and Bath Universities, he spent 13 years in industry (UK and Middle East) prior to his academic career. Chartered engineer experienced in collaborating with various higher education institutions and industry developing of masters education in project managers. He has significant professional and academic experience in the Middle East and Asia Pacific.

He is a member of the Senate of the British University in Dubai (BUiD) and leads an academic collaboration with the Faculties of Engineering and Business at BUiD. He is Leader of the Management of Projects Expert Group, comprising 15 academic staff and 40 PhD students, in MACE, and is Programme Director for the MSc Project Management Professional Development Programme (PMPDP), a flexible modular programme led by an industrial consortium comprising: Rolls-Royce, AMEC, Goodrich, EDS, Sellafield and E.on.

He is a very experienced university lecturer and has 30+ years of experience in undertaking educational needs analysis in the UK and overseas, teaching project management in all its aspects. He is very experienced in designing and delivering courses for mature students and to those for whom English is not their first language. He manages research on people, organisation and culture aspects of project management and has published over 150 articles and papers.

Since joining UMIST (now The University of Manchester) in 1990 he has secured and managed over £2.3 million worth of research and consultancy grants. His research focus is on the application of project management in engineering, infrastructure, construction and aerospace sectors covering design, manufacture, construction and services. Examples of the issues that he is has investigated include: project complexity, project risk management, design change support tools and project managing carbon footprints. He led a research partnership with Rolls-Royce Risk Function, investigating the application of risk management strategies and tools in the context of projects, programmes and the enterprise. He has been co-vice-chair of the Global Accreditation Centre Board for the Project Management Institute in the United States. He is also currently External Examiner at the University of Limerick, Ireland and visiting Professor at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland.