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This article discusses the process of transforming partnership from a conceptual framework into a practical, operational framework for field-level interaction among humanitarian organisations. The authors approach this transformation from the perspective of the core values of the partnership concept and the ability of field workers to behave in ways that are consistent with these core values, illustrated by an empirical study of the relationships between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs in a refugee-assistance programme in northern Uganda. The authors connect inter-organisational structures with the role of people charged with making partnership work, concluding that the structures and context in which individuals operate make it impossible for them to ‘act out’ the core values of partnership. By identifying the major challenges to creating field-level, operational partnerships, the authors offer lessons for current and future partnership-building initiatives, such as the Global Humanitarian Platform.

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