Research Briefing, October 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:

  • partnerships between military and civilian agencies to provide services to veterans,
  • power imbalances,
  • collective impact as a model to address public health,
  • cross-sector efforts to address obesity,
  • government-initiated partnerships with non-profit organizations to provide a public service,
  • and assessing and conveying the value of cross-sector collaboration.

Assessing Partnerships Between the Military and Civilian Agencies To Meet Transitioning Service Members’ Needs,” Armed Forces and Society

Of interest to: leaders in military and civilian agencies who work collaboratively to provide services to veterans.

In this study, authors Katharine A. Neill-Harris, Sara Resnick, Wendi M. Wilson-John, Katrina Miller-Stevens, Tancy Vandecar-Burdin, and John C. Morris explore communication channels between military and civilian agencies that partner to serve military members transitioning into civilian life. Looking at a 2013 Hampton Roads, Virginia, report that gauges the frequency of these military-civilian service provider partnerships, the authors find that “navy agencies in Hampton Roads do work with community partners, but the military is more directive than one might imagine in a true partnership, leading to ‘uneasy’ partnerships.” The authors also examine “important structural and organizational barriers that prevent true partnerships from developing between navy agencies and the community providers.”

Power imbalances are a common concern in cross-sector partnerships, where partners bring differing financial and non-financial resources. Unchecked, power imbalances may lead to one or more partners’ taking on a more directive role. Establish a Governance Structure, a tactic from our Toolkit, may help mitigate power imbalances. For an example of an excellent collaborative governance structure, see our case study, Creating an Environment for Healthy Lifestyles in Brownsville. For an example of a successful cross-sector collaboration involving military and civilian agencies to serve veterans and military personnel who are in between tours, see our case study on the Augusta Warrior Project, Connecting Veterans to Resources in the Central Savannah River Area.

The Collective Impact Model and Its Potential for Health Promotion: Overview and Case Study of a Healthy Retail Initiative in San Francisco,” Health Education & Behavior

 Of interest to: practitioners and funders of efforts to achieve large scale change in public health and practitioners and funders of collective impact in any issue area.

As resources for health promotion become more constricted, it is increasingly important to collaborate across sectors,” write authors Johnna Flood, Meredith Minkler, Susana Hennessey Lavery, Jessica Estrada, and Jennifer Falbe. Their case study looks at the use of collective impact — a model for creating large scale social change that relies, in part, on cross-sector collaboration — in the Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition in San Francisco. The authors look at each of collective impact’s five core tenets (a shared agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and a central infrastructure) and explore how these strategies “are being used, and with what successes or challenges, to help affect community- and policy-level change to reduce tobacco and alcohol advertising and sales, while improving healthy, affordable, and sustainable food access.”

The Tenderloin Health Improvement Initiative has received significant attention for its use of collective impact to improve community health in the Tenderloin neighborhood, one of San Francisco’s most densely populated and neediest neighborhoods. For additional examples of cross-sector initiatives in public health, see our case study, Creating an Environment for Healthy Lifestyles in Brownsville, a public health initiative in a community where 80 percent of residents were either obese or overweight, one in three were diabetic, and 70 percent had no healthcare coverage. Also see our case study, Combatting Childhood Obesity in Somerville, which brought together intersector partners to launch Shape Up Somerville.

Cross-sector Partnerships and Public Health: Challenges and Opportunities for Addressing Obesity and Noncommunicable Diseases Through Engagement with the Private Sector,” Annual Review of Public Health

 Of interest to: practitioners in the public health field, as well as both public and private organizations working to lower obesity rates in the United States.

In “Cross-sector Partnerships and Public Health,” authors Lee Johnston and Diane Finegood note that partnerships with the private sector have become “increasingly accepted” in public health, especially when tackling infectious diseases in low- and middle- income countries. Such partnerships are also gaining currency for addressing obesity reduction and prevention and the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases. The authors posit that partnerships with business provide resources and “opportunities to influence the private sector toward more healthful practices” but also have risks and challenges that should be considered. They “identify key challenges — including goal alignment and conflict of interest — and consider how changes to partnership practice might address these.”

For more information on practices that enable goal alignment among cross-sector partners and the community in a public health context, see our case study on a community initiative to improve healthy and active lifestyle options for residents, Combatting Childhood Obesity in Somerville. Brownsville, Texas, also serves as an example of a cross-sector partnership comprising the City, the local university, businesses, and community members. Government agencies such as the City Health Department, City Parks and Recreation Department, City Planning and City Traffic, and Mayor’s Office worked together with non-profits, including the University of Texas School of Public Health, the Community Advisory Board, and the Wellness Coalition, and the seven largest employers in the community. This tri-sector collaboration resulted in an open streets program dubbed CycloBia and policy changes including a sidewalk ordinance, safe passing ordinance, and Complete Streets Resolution. Read the full case study, Creating an Environment for Healthy Lifestyles in Brownsville.

A Deficit Model of Collaborative Governance: Government–Non-profit Fiscal Relations in the Provision of Child Welfare Services,” Journal of Public Administration and Theory

 Of interest to: public sector practitioners involved in awarding government contracts to non-profit organizations, particularly in human services fields, and leaders of non-profit organizations that receive public funds to implement programs or provide services.

In “A Deficit Model of Collaborative Governance,” authors Nicole P. Marwell and Thad Calabrese examine “how government deploys private organizations, via the mechanism of government funding, to secure a public good.” Focusing on the non-profit child welfare sector in New York, the authors theorize a “deficit model” of collaborative governance in which “non-profits have been deputized by the state to secure children’s social rights but do not receive sufficient resources to cover the costs of securing those rights.” They explore the ramifications of this model, together with the financial insecurity of non-profits, and assess ways in which non-profit “organizational instability … threatens the securing of individual rights.”

In our work with public sector practitioners, we often come across government-initiated contractual partnerships with non-profit and business sector entities that, while bringing together the resources of multiple sectors, do not involve the shared decision-making processes that are at the heart of collaborative governance and intersector collaboration. The authors’ findings highlight the importance not only of shared decision-making processes and open communication, but also of Account for Resources, a tactic from our Toolkit that refers to the determination of financial and non-financial resources from existing and potential partners. Without a process of assessing resources in the earliest stages of the collaboration, the collaboration exposes itself to operating risks, limits its capacity, and may not ultimately accomplish its aims.

Creating Value in Networks: A Value Network Mapping Method for Assessing the Current and Potential Value Networks in Cross-sector Collaboration,” The Public Sector Innovation Journal

 Of interest to: practitioners of cross-sector collaboration seeking to better assess and convey the value of cross-sector collaboration to internal stakeholders and potential partners alike. This research will also be of particular interest to practitioners from across sectors working in elderly care.

In “Creating Value in Networks,” authors Daniela Grudinschi, Jukka Hallikas, Leena Kaljunen, Antti Puustinen, and Sanna Sintonen propose a new “value network mapping” method that aims to answer a key question for practitioners of cross-sector collaboration: How do such collaborations add or create value? Value network mapping is a tool for assessing the value of a network and can be used to forge “stronger value creation links with strategic partners.” The authors look at a case study of a tri-sector collaboration in elderly care and describe how their tool “can be applied in practice to help managers and experts understand how to develop complex value network maps, how new values can be created, and how to maximize the potential of a collaboration.”

This is a fascinating article that may assist practitioners in communicating the potential value of collaborating to both internal stakeholders and potential external partners. Such understanding could be used to better Communicate the Interdependency of Each Sector, a tactic from our Toolkit that refers to the development of an understanding among partners of the value of each sector’s unique contributions. Conveying the benefit of working with other sectors fosters continued participation in the collaboration and commitment to results.

Making Open Innovation Ecosystems Work: Case Studies in Healthcare,” IBM Center for the Business of Government

Of interest to: public sector practitioners in a wide variety of issue areas looking to increase innovative practices.

“Despite calls for more efficient utilization of declining public resources, government agencies are being asked to deliver innovative solutions to operational and strategic problems,” write authors Donald Wynn, Jr., Renée Pratt, and Randy Bradley. One way to pursue open innovation despite dwindling resources is through participating in “technological ecosystems” — understood as “the set of individuals and members surrounding a given technological product or platform from which an organizational system can pursue open innovation.” These individuals and members are often cross-sector partners. This report presents two examples from the healthcare sector that describe how technology ecosystems work and can effectively stimulate the development and dissemination of innovation, both internally and externally. The first case study, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Open Source Electronic Health Record Alliance, outlines how the VA worked with vendors and partners to create an open innovation ecosystem. The second case study describes how the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources joined an open innovation ecosystem to improve patient care via implementing electronic health records.

Several of the best practices described in this report echo tactics from our Toolkit. “Establish and observe effective governance and leadership,” for example, mirrors Establish a Governance Structure. Clear governance structures, such as committees, workgroups, or facilitated discussions, provide direction while ensuring equity and inclusivity to resolve actual or perceived power imbalances that can arise during collaboration. “Encourage openness and transparency,” as another example, mirrors Establish Transparency of Viewpoints, as well as Commit to Information Sharing.