Local government partnerships for producing services are ubiquitous in many countries. However, the approach has rarely been applied in India—likely owing to a history of centralized planning and independent urban and rural governance systems. Nonetheless, the country’s transforming sanitation landscape could benefit from intergovernmental partnerships for scaling services with speed and efficiency. The ongoing national sanitation program has espoused the approach in theory but the body of practice to support its wide deployment is sparse. This paper critically reviews one of the first experiments with the approach for producing sanitation services in the Dhenkanal district, Odisha, India. We ask the question: what can Dhenkanal’s case tell us about the challenges and opportunities for delivering sanitation services through local-level intergovernmental urban–rural partnerships in India? As part of our practice research, we supported the district government pilot the approach. The data, consultations, and observations underpinning the experiment form the basis of our insights. We find that the urban–rural partnership increased access to sanitation services among rural households within a short period, lowered service charges, and clarified institutional responsibilities. The experiment highlighted issues relating to planning, responsibility, accountability, and financing that need tackling in order to strengthen the model going forward. We recommend that evolving a definitive model(s) of intergovernmental partnerships would require experimenting with the approach in diverse institutional contexts and granting governments the flexibility to recreate and renegotiate the form of the partnership.
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