Jamestown, New York, Part I: The need for cross-sector partnership

Thirty-year-old study of intersector collaboration still relevant today

blog_image_JamestownPart1Jamestown, New York was one of the first cities to inspire the work of The Intersector Project. In the late 1980s, Winthrop Knowlton, Director at The Intersector Project and Former Director of the Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, participated in a program led by Harvard’s Center for Business and Government. The “Community Revitalization Project,” as it was called, was charged with identifying what, if anything, industrial cities could do to help themselves in light of a struggling economy.

After working with the community for several years, the Community Revitalization Project published its findings in 1989 in Knowlton’s report, “One’s Own Place.” Although the report draws specifically on the Jamestown experience, many of the challenges identified are still relevant to communities across the country.

Before leaders could effectively respond to the needs of their communities, they needed to better understand the source of the problem. In the absence of collaboration, leaders are often confronted with one particular aspect of a problem. However, complex problems involving areas such as education and healthcare have elements that span sectors and therefore demand a collaborative approach to the solution. Yet, as Knowlton noted, many leaders lacked the training to manage cross-sector collaborations, or in some cases to even identify the potential of these partnerships.

Addressing these obstacles and preparing leaders with the tools to identify and understand the tools and resources available to them through collaboration is the first step in creating a successful partnership and in developing an innovative solution that accounts for the multifaceted nature of these problems. Through the Intersector Toolkit, we have worked to create a roadmap that can help leaders recognize the opportunities available — rather than focusing on the obstacles and limitations — and promote a more collaborative, innovative approach to problem-solving.

Still, as Knowlton cautions, “there is no assurance that the lessons learned are applicable everywhere or in the same proportions in each place” — each community has its own unique challenges and strengths. But by reframing the solution and understanding the possibility of cross-sector collaborations, leaders can work more efficiently to provide for their citizens.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three part series on the revitalization of Jamestown, New York. In part two of of our series, which will appear on Wednesday, we will discuss the lessons learned from Jamestown and how they may serve as a starting point for cross-sector collaborations.