Trust, partnership experience, and indicators of success emerge as key trends in public sector leaders webinar

blogimage_ASPAwebinar“Problem solving and delivery of public services has become very complex,” said professor and former local government leader Stephen Rolandi in the opening minutes of our recent webinar for public sector leaders looking to work across sectors. Longtime local government manager Cheryl Hilvert echoed, “I think problems today are probably a little more complicated and difficult than what they may have been at one time, and that necessitates partners working together to more effectively to solve those.” Rolandi and Hilvert’s discussion of the challenges of and techniques for working across sectors was the centerpiece of our recent webinar, hosted by the American Society of Public Administration, “Tactics for Successful Cross Sector Collaborations.”

The Intersector Project’s Neil Britto used our Case Study Library and Toolkit as a starting point for discussion. Here are highlights from these two practitioners’ intriguing conversation about what it takes to forge and manage successful partnerships.

Build a Common Fact Base
Consensus among collaboration partners as to what facts relating to the issue are most relevant.

  • “Regardless of the partners involved, it’s really important to develop a common understanding of what is being targeted by the potential collaboration project,”Hilvert began. “While that sounds rather simplistic, unless you hone in on what exactly is it you’re looking to collaborate on, it becomes ripe for misunderstanding,” Hilvert spoke of how many local communities set out to collaborate in the area of public safety, but this is a “really big topic” comprising issues from shared patrols to crime labs to shared facilities and more. To develop a common fact base, Cherly advised practitioners to “avoid positions”: “If we come to the table with an idea of exactly how we want to do something already, that’s really a position and not open for a lot of ideas on how to work together to collaboratively solve the problem.”
  • Partners must first lay a foundation for consensus building around a common fact base, Rolandi said. “The first challenge [is] to build a level of respect, mutual respect and support,” he said, citing that fact that communities can sometimes be “cynical of government people who ‘swoop in’ and ‘swoop out.’” Partners have to take time to get to know and understand each other, building credibility and trust, before they begin the work of building a common understanding of the problem the collaboration aims to address.

Agree on Measures of Success
The identification of indicators to be used in evaluating the progress and results of the collaboration

  • Each cross-sector partner has to contend with its own organizational priorities and stakeholders in tracking and reporting success, which often leads to conflict for the collaboration, Steve reminded listeners. Speaking particularly about state and local government partners, Steve commented that these practitioners have to lobby for and justify allocation of funds from government budgets and have to report success in ways that are convincing to the appointed and elected officials who exercise control over often bureaucratic budgeting processes.
  • “Each partner will really come to the partnership with different degrees of sophistication and experience with the use of measures,” Cheryl said. To complicate matters even further, she added, one or more partners is often interested in purely financial measures, which provide only a partial picture, at best, of whether the collaboration is meeting its goals. She also honed in on the importance of measures that allow the collaboration both to track past success and that provide indicators of future performance.

Commit to Information Sharing
The requirement that partners share data relevant to the collaboration’s efforts

  • Both panelists spoke to the importance of information sharing discussions and agreement, which are often complicated by government regulations around sunshine and freedom of information laws. Sharing information can become a more sensitive subject in collaborations on topics of great interest to the public, commented Steve, as media requests for information can become an issue in government agencies, which often have strict procedures for sharing information with media outlets.
  • Sharing information in this context is unlikely if partners have no history of working together, or have a failed past experience working together, Cheryl commented, highlighting the importance of relationships among sectors that create trust.