Intersectoral partnerships constitute a central approach in health promotion. By combining different perspectives, knowledge and resources from different sectors, partnerships are important for addressing complex health problems. When successful, intersectoral partnerships create synergy, which is suggested to be a proximal outcome that links partnership functioning to health effects. Nonetheless, partnerships are also difficult and time-consuming and may result in conflicts, hostility and power struggles. Such antagonist outputs are expected to produce negative results. However, conflicts may also be a source of valuable learning. This article explores the relationship between conflict and synergy in health promotion partnerships. The empirical material is derived from an evaluation of a 4-year Danish government partnership program. Data consist of survey data collected from 35 partnerships and in-depth qualitative case studies of 10 partnerships. The analysis was inspired by realist evaluation. The qualitative data were coded, and cases written up. Cross-case analysis was conducted and triangulated with survey data. Surprisingly, disagreements and conflicts of interests between partners were common and associated with synergy creation. Moreover, the partnerships’ experiences of synergy were often linked to their attribution of differences rather than to common goals or value congruences. The study identifies that a potential for synergy lays in the productive confrontation between partners different perspectives. Moreover, a key mechanism enabling productive conflicts was inclusive dialog, in which the partners’ differences were valued, and all voices were included. The study thus builds on the existing synergy literature and adds nuance to the understanding of conflicts in health promotion partnerships.

This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (