Multi-organizational partnerships are now an important means of governing and managing public programmes. They typically involve business, community and not-for-profit agencies alongside government bodies. Partnerships are frequently contrasted with competitive markets and bureaucratic hierarchies. A more complex reality is revealed once partnerships as an organizational form are distinguished from networks as a mode of social co-ordination or governance. Data from studies of UK urban regeneration partnerships are used to develop a four-stage partnership life cycle: pre-partnership collaboration; partnership creation; partnership programme delivery; and partnership termination. A different mode of governance - network, market or hierarchy - predominates at each stage. Separating organizational form from mode of governance enables a richer understanding of multi-organizational activity and provides the basis from which theory and practice can be developed. The key challenge for partnerships lies in managing the interaction of different modes of governance, which at some points will generate competition and at other points collaboration.