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(Perspectives on Public Management and Governance, 2022-10-05) Islett, Kimberley R.; Bryan, Tara K.; St Clair-Sims, Rebekah L.
Power is a construct that is relevant anytime two actors come together. Typically power examinations have been focused on assessments among actors with asymmetrical power profiles. We argue existing characterizations of power are insufficient to understand perceptions of relationship quality when partners have a more balanced power profile. This is the case with an important class of partnerships—those between governments and philanthropic Foundations. We assessed power mutuality and its effects on relationship quality with a mixed methods approach, relying heavily on fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis techniques and interview data. Our findings point to new insights into those power relationships typically examined in the extant literature, those with asymmetry, as well as under condition of mutuality. With regard to asymmetrical power, we point to needed investigation into the role of intangible resources, such as knowledge and legitimacy, to achieve goals, rather than the predominant focus on financial and other tangible resources. With regard to conditions of mutuality, we illustrate that mutuality yields relational ambiguity in the relationship and results in partner tension. Furthermore, our study finds that under conditions of mutuality, resource contributions from the benefactor need to address instrumental organizational needs, not just needs that contribute to mission outcomes.