Research Briefing, December 2015

blogimage_researchbriefingEach month, there is new, fascinating research emerging that provides practical insight into the intersector — the space where collaboration among government, business, and non-profit sectors enables leaders to share expertise, resources, and authority to address society’s most pressing problems. To keep our readers up to date, we compile a monthly briefing that captures the newest research on cross-sector collaboration and publish it on our blog, with a focus on practitioners, who may be interested in the research, but lack the time or resources to extract takeaways that are truly meaningful to their work.

This month’s briefing includes articles about:

  • the role of non-profits in disaster management,
  • how government agencies can strengthen their capacity to collaborate,
  • collaborative models for urban commercial revitalization,
  • tensions experienced by non-profits involved in partnerships,
  • and the current and historical context for collective impact in education.

“Voluntary Non-profit Organizations and Disaster Management: Identifying the Nature of Inter-Sector Coordination and Collaboration in Disaster Service Assistance Provision,” Risks, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy

Of interest to: non-profit professionals working in emergency relief services and long-term disaster recovery initiatives who seek to coordinate service delivery across sectors.

In this article, Warren Eller, Brian J. Gerber, and Lauren E. Branch investigate the key role that non-profits play in collaborating with business and government for effective disaster management, specifically delivering early response assistance and mass care services. The authors note a that there is ‘’limited prior empirical literature accounting for the specific nature of non-profits’ disaster service provision efforts’’ and attempt to rectify this gap by focusing on the ways non-profits worked with partners during Superstorm Sandy. The authors’ analysis contributes to existing literature in three ways:  “it demonstrates the scope of disaster-related services provided, it outlines the key qualities of inter-sector coordination and collaboration actions, and it identifies the way in which the non-profit sector’s early phase relief actions might be connected later to longer term disaster recovery efforts.”

In a recent report on the state of the non-profit sector that we profiled on our blog, Independent Sector called for the non-profit sector to better communicate its value: “Help the members of the public, corporate sector, government – as well as the staff and board of our own organizations – better understand the valuable work done by the nonprofit and philanthropic community.” Research like this, that examines in detail the role of non-profits in one particular event, is one way to accomplish this, particularly within the academic community. To help ensure that all three sectors are taking on the responsibilities that align with their resources and strengths, our Toolkit provides several tips for cross-sector partners who are determining the role each sector will play in a collaboration, such as sharing discretion. Assigning authority based on partners’ sector- or issue-specific knowledge allows the collaboration to benefit from the unique expertise of each partner and gives each partner a distinct stake in the collaboration.

Putting Collective Impact in Context: A Review of the Literature on Local Cross-Sector Collaboration to Improve Education,” Teacher’s College

 Of interest toindividuals and organizations from across the business, non-profit, and government sectors who are involved in collective impact initiatives or other local cross-sector collaborations related to education.

In this working paper, Jeffrey R. Henig, Carolyn J. Riehl, Michael A. Rebell, and Jessica R. Wolff note “a broad renewal of interest and investment in local, place-based, cross-sector collaboration as a strategic approach for the improvement of educational outcomes and community development in cities across the United States.” Through a literature review, the authors put the collective impact movement into context, discussing “historical precursors and underpinnings,” examining research on current initiatives, and providing a conceptual framework. The paper offers some preliminary findings on the challenges and successes of local cross-sector collaboration in education, including that “successful collaboration typically builds on a foundation of earlier efforts, even when those earlier efforts may have seemed to fade without having achieved their stated aims.” The authors plan to present further findings identifying “leverage points for increasing their chances of success” drawing from 180 U.S. efforts, three deep case studies, and five moderately detailed case studies.

When looking at our Case Library, it’s clear that local, cross-sector approaches have become popular for improving education in the United States. See Helping Underserved Students in San Diego, Improving Educational Equality in the Greater Roaring Fork Valley, and Preparing Students for STEM Jobs in New York City for successful examples. In the diagnosis stage of any intersector collaboration, whether related to education or another issue area, it’s important for partners to Assess the History of Addressing the Issue, as the successes and failures of other collaborations in similar issue areas can provide valuable information on conditions that are conducive to future success. As the authors of this paper point out, collaborators should build upon previous efforts, so they must first determine what those efforts were and what made them successful or challenging.

From Personality-Driven to Institutionally Driven Collaboration by the U.S. Forest Service,” Conflict Resolution Quarterly

 Of interest to: public managers in natural resources who seek to work with external parties.

Authors Marcelle E. DuPraw, Andrea Bedell-Loucks, Maia J. Enzer, Katie M. Lyon, Daniel Silvas,  Laurie A. Thorpe, and Peter B. Williams discuss an approach used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service “to assess and strengthen agency-wide capacity to collaborate effectively with external stakeholders.”  The authors also highlight “strategic reasons for investing resources in this endeavor in an era of fiscal austerity.” The authors investigate the third-party neutral actor’s role in assisting agency stakeholders to map the short and longer term path forward. The authors also provide reflections on the traits of the third-party neutral’s role that are ”most important to the efficacy of the over-all effort in this particular case.”

With reference to our “era of fiscal austerity” in government, the authors of this article bring up a challenge — limited public resources — that frequently leads to the public sector to turn to a cross-sector solution. As the authors mention, collaboration can be resource-intensive as well, but when handled properly, it can pay off in bringing resources and expertise together to solve complex problems. For examples of successful intersector collaborations related to forestry, see Reducing the Risks of Catastrophic Wildfires in Phoenix, which brought together the non-profit Greater Flagstaff Forestry Partnership, the U.S. Forest Service, and several private partners to mitigate the risks of potentially catastrophic forest fires, and Reforestation of Parks in Seattle, in which intersector partners are making strides to restore 2,500 acres of forested land by 2025.

A Comparison of Public and Private Partnership Models for Urban Commercial Revitalization in Canada and Spain,” The Canadian Geographer

 Of interest to: public managers working with business partners in urban commercial revitalization projects.

Is this article, Ana Espinosa and Tony Hernandez examine two types of public-private partnerships: the Business Improvement Area (BIA) concept and the Centros Comerciales Abiertos (CCA) model. BIA originated in Ontario, Canada, in the 1970s, bringing local municipalities together with local businesses to promote “collaborative efforts to revitalize commercial areas.” The CCA model has been used in Spain to carry out urban commercial public-private partnerships. The authors draw from case study research undertaken in 2011 with 18 BIAs in Canada and 16 CCAs in Spain to compare the “mandate, structure, and partnership model” of these BIAs and CCAs. The authors’ findings from interviews with BIA and CCA managers illuminate the “nature and extent of the challenges associated with urban commercial revitalization projects.” Though BIAs and CCAs are conceptually different, the authors find that “the level of engagement by the private sector stakeholders is a common critical factor identified by management in determining their success.”

While the authors of this article compare two collaborative economic development models from outside the United States, their finding linking the level of engagement of the private sector to initiatives’ success is relevant to U.S. collaborations as well. In the redevelopment of the riverfront in Detroit, for example, private sector involvement was key. General Motors moved its headquarters to the area and provided key resources, including an investment of $25 million into waterfront renovations. Groups of other business leaders interested in investing in the local economy provided the impetus for for funding asks to the larger business community, without which the project may not have succeeded.

Collaborating Across Sector Boundaries: A Story of Dilemmas and Tensions,” Voluntary Sector Review

Of interest to: public and non-profit managers in children’s services working collaboratively across sectors.

Focusing on a case study of children’s services in the United Kingdom, Carol Jacklin Jarvis explores the tensions experienced by non-profits working with the public sector. The author identifies three “inter-related tensions experienced by voluntary sector participants — tensions between agency and dependency, values and pragmatism, and distinctiveness and incorporation” — which relate to power imbalances between sectors. The author takes a theoretical approach to these tensions inherent in cross-sector collaboration, identifying the tensions that actors experience, the inherent tensions that underlie these experiences, and the ways in which actors manage these tensions.

Power imbalances between sectors can derail an cross-sector collaboration. In fact, when examining examples of failed collaborations, there are often signs of power imbalances that were not addressed throughout the collaborative process, resulting in an inability to carry out the project. There are several tactics that can be used to directly address power imbalances and ensure that the tensions inherent in collaboration are identified and worked through. As we advise in our Toolkit, inclusivity is key to the collaborative process because it encourages investment in the collaboration by nurturing consistent, meaningful engagement, can resolve perceived or actual imbalances in power that may arise, and can ease partners’ acceptance of collaboration decisions that may not align with their interests. Building the governance structure of a collaboration that establishes a place for each partner in the decision-making process can help partners avoid the pitfalls that come from each having varying levels of influence. For detailed examples of cross-sector collaborations in children’s services, see Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Children in Marion County and Combatting Childhood Obesity in Somerville.