The Tasmanian state-local partnership agreements program, instituted in 1998 by the late Premier Jim Bacon, is proving an innovation in the reorientation of inter-governmental affairs. The partnerships established thus far have totally transformed state-local relations. Indeed the program has been so successfully implemented that it is now impossible to imagine local governance in the state functioning without it. However this paper is concerned with partnerships in broader than functional terms. It is concerned with formative concepts, such as strengthened community, local sustainability and enhanced democracy, and whether these are being advanced by the partnership experience. It is not hard to judge the partnership program an innovation in the administrative and functional sense, for embedding the systematic networking of institutional relations for example. However this paper argues for evaluation against more complex criteria. The failed emphasis upon participatory governance in particular shows that the Tasmanian program cannot be judged a success against the partnership notion when it is more broadly defined. The paper identifies and interrogates a form - function dilemma in the partnership experience and provides a discursive account of, and refection upon, the Tasmanian context. It finds that thus far the emphasis has been upon improved process design rather than upon exploiting the partnership program as a means of promoting more 'formative' aspirations.