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Norad’s Strategic Partner Scheme

Norad is introducing a scheme for strategic partnerships with large and strategically important civil society organisations (strategic partner) that meet certain criteria relating to, for example, strategic focus and expertise, implementation capacity and good control systems. The challenges related to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 require innovative thinking with our partners, and optimal strategies for development cooperation. A more trust-based relationship with strategic partners could help improve the quality of development cooperation.

The intention for the Strategic Partnership scheme is to enhance the quality and effectiveness of development cooperation. The resources of Norad and strategic partners will be freed-up and used for more overarching dialogue, strengthening the focus on innovative thinking, and testing new approaches. The scheme will contribute to a more flexible approach to challenges related to the humanitarian-development nexus.

The Strategic Partner scheme will: 

  1. improve the effectiveness and efficiency of administration at Norad and its partners;
  2. make the development cooperation more knowledge-based, flexible and innovative; and
  3. differentiate the grant management by putting more trust in large and robust partners to implement programmes (based on prior, thorough system assessments). 

The scheme for strategic partnerships with civil society organisations is a formal application-based approval that is applicable for the grant schemes administered by Norad and targeted at international and Norwegian civil society organisations.

Approval as a strategic partner will be formalised through an individual decision with a right to appeal.  Strategic partners must document that their competence, capacity, experience, and systems are of such quality that they qualify for more overarching follow-up than other grant recipients. If a strategic partner application is rejected, and the decision to reject the application is upheld, the application can be resubmitted 12 months after receiving the final rejection decision.

Rights and obligations of strategic partners

Approval as a strategic partner does not in itself entitle the strategic partner to grants. Strategic partners must apply for grants when grant funding is announced in competition with others. As usual, assessments when processing the application will be governed by the requirements set out in the call for proposals, portfolio considerations and theories of change, etc. For strategic partners, the information about the applicant and project will be a combination of a system assessment (strategic partner assessment) and an application for the specific grant.

Organisations are not entitled to be granted strategic partner status even if they meet a minimum level of quality in accordance with the criteria. Norad reserves the right to assess the organisations’ strategic role in relation to Norwegian development policy priorities.

Partners who have had their applications for strategic partner status approved receive the following follow-up from Norad:

Simplified application for grants in the areas in which the strategic partner’s thematic competence has been assessed and approved. A simplified application means that strategic partners generally only submit a brief/general description of the initiative (what, where and with whom) and target group. This must include a problem analysis, brief description of the present situation, overarching theory of change and goals at different levels (it will be sufficient with categories or examples of deliverables/outputs). Overarching risk analysis (not down to country level). Submission of a logframe (logical framework) is not compulsory. The budget must be submitted at an overarching level (sector/thematic area, country, head office/local level). Other relevant information will be documented at system level as part of the preceding strategic partner assessment.

For grant applications that entail particular risk and/or complexity, Norad may, if necessary, request more information.

Please note that the simplified application process applies to thematic areas that have been part of the strategic partner assessment. Strategic partners can submit applications for any call for proposals in the same manner as any other applicant, however the right to a simplified application process is linked to the preliminary assessment and approval of the organisation's competence and capacity in thematic areas for which funding is sought.

Flexible funding within approved grants. The budget is agreed to at an overarching level, which provides a high degree of flexibility, with the option of reallocating up to 20% between thematic budget lines and up to 30% between budget lines for countries before it is necessary to request approval of budget changes.

Strategic partners can choose to allocate parts of the budget (up to 20% of the total grant amount) as programme funds to be used freely to achieve goals across the agreed target areas (thematic area/sector/outcome). This means (as an example) that if three thematic target areas have been agreed to, education, health, SRHR, the programme funds must be used to achieve results within these three target areas. This will enable the organisation to set its own priorities and react quickly to changing conditions. Strategic partners must report on the use of this budget line to enable it to be possible to assess whether it creates added value (provides the organisation with the opportunity to adapt to context, possibilities and innovation).

See here for budget template for strategic partners.

Results shall be agreed to at an overarching level. This entails that the problem analysis, theory of change, and goals must focus on the overarching and combined effects that the initiative seeks to achieve. Reporting results to Norad must be at an overarching level and reflect the part of the programme cycle that the strategic partner is in. This means gradually less focus on activities and project deliverables in narrative reporting, and an increased focus on analysing the programme's contribution to changes at outcome level. Contributions to change at the level of impact must be substantiated where possible.

System for results management: Norad wants to have a stronger focus on flexibility, use of partners' own systems, learning and adaptive management during the project cycle. Norad will not require a specific format or method for results management, however the partner's method and procedures for results management and monitoring will be assessed in the strategic partner assessment.

Right to follow-up at a more overarching level.  This entails a focus on change and strategic dialogue. As a rule, there is no need to request approval of annual plans and budgets.

The total budget framework and a tentative annual allocation are agreed to, depending on appropriations from the Storting (Norwegian Parliament). Any potential need to adjust the agreed annual allocation must be approved by Norad.

Large budget lines provide good flexibility to reallocate between budget lines without requesting approval of revised budgets. Results information is an important part of the strategic dialogue between Norad and its strategic partners, and thematic and portfolio meetings, field visits, use of evaluations and reviews are other important arenas for conveying and discussing such information.

Financial reporting is generally provided in the budgets agreed to at an overarching level. Audit requirements will follow from the conclusions of the strategic partner assessment of existing systems. The grant funds will be audited, however Norad will, insofar as possible, adapt to the organisation's systems and assist in avoiding duplicate work.

Strategic partners are assigned certain obligations

  • Obligation to inform Norad of changes of material importance to strategic partner approval. Changes of material importance may include changes to guidelines/policies that have been considered in connection with the strategic partner assessment, a new strategy, or the loss of approval that Norad has used as part of the documentation in the strategic partner assessment.
  • Obligation to assist with Norad’s need for statistical reporting. As previously, statistics must be submitted to Norad. However, a simplified budget structure also entail simplification in the collection of statistics.
  • Obligation to facilitate control measures by Norad. Control measures are normally carried out as spot checks during the agreement period. The spot checks will relate to compliance with the criteria.
  • Obligation to provide information about programme activities as part of the strategic dialogue.

Controls will be maintained through a closer dialogue, spot checks and the strategic partner’s obligation to inform Norad of any major changes relating to systems that were assessed when strategic partner approval was granted.

More time for strategic dialogue and follow-up of results

The framework for interaction between Norad and the strategic partner will be developed in dialogue and based on real needs in terms of platforms for strategic dialogue, sharing experiences, field visits, planning and reporting etc. over the course of a year. The annual planning cycle and reporting can look different depending on the prevailing stage of the support period and the needs of the partner and Norad.

The strategic partner organisations will be key contributors to achieving objectives and strategic thinking related to thematic priorities. There will also be opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue that goes beyond the individual sector, and for dialogue on the strengthening of civil society. Common arenas will be established for joint dialogue and learning for strategic partners and Norad.

Competence and knowledge

In the dialogue between Norad and the strategic partner, expertise and knowledge will be developed about what development efforts and working methods produce the best results and under what conditions.

Evaluations and reviews must be used actively and strategically. An increased focus on learning is sought using evaluations, both in individual projects and across these, and by using this knowledge for prioritising and developing new projects/programmes/portfolios. There will be a mutual dialogue to prioritise evaluations where it is deemed most important, and partners will have greater freedom to choose the type, topic and time of the evaluations to take place. 


The Strategic Partner scheme will provide scope for innovation. New, useful, utilised: Creativity or innovation involves doing something new or doing something in new ways (change). It must be useful for achieving more effective development cooperation and it must be able to be realised. Innovation requires a willingness to test new ideas, to sometimes discover that they do not work, and to learn from this. Norad’s aim with the Strategic Partner scheme is to provide flexibility to prioritise these processes, and to have an open dialogue regarding what has been achieved and learned.

Topics for strategic dialogue

The current political priorities will be of key importance to the dialogue. Relevant topics may, for example, be how best to work with innovation, the humanitarian-development nexus or with a human rights-based approach and gender equality in development cooperation. Locally led development is another relevant topic that is high on the agenda.  

The right and obligation to engage in strategic dialogue does not give the strategic partner any right to support for its priorities. In accordance with general requirements for investigations and a sound factual basis, Norad will gather insights from various sources as a basis for formulating new schemes, thematic priorities and calls for proposals. Strategic dialogue shall not concern specific calls for proposals. Under all circumstances, grant scheme rules and calls for proposals will be established according to a broader factual basis which ensures that different interests are taken into consideration.

Published 13.10.2022
Last updated 02.07.2023