Perhaps more than ever before, addressing common, knotty problems in our modern life requires navigating across the government, business, and non-profit sectors. Yet sectors have differing languages, cultures, practices that make it challenging to work together. There is a need for a new sector, the intersector: a space where collaboration among government, business, and non-profit enables leaders to share expertise, resources, and authority to address problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone.
The following is a guide to help diagnose, design, implement, and assess successful intersector collaborations. While collaborations differ in their goals, scope, and size, practitioners from any sector can use these tools to navigate their challenges
- DIAGNOSIS: CAN INTERSECTOR COLLABORATION HELP TO SOLVE MY PROBLEM?
There is no litmus test to determine whether an intersector approach is an appropriate solution. Whether a cross-sector collaboration is mandated or voluntarily pursued, leaders must first consider the reason(s) a single sector has been unable to solve the problem and determine whether other sectors have an interest or a stake in developing a solution. Understanding the limits of one sector’s processes, expertise, and resources can help identify what other sectors can contribute and may shed light on the corporate and public policies that regulate the community context in which the collaboration will operate. Potential partners can be identified based on their level of influence on the issue and their proximity to key stakeholders and institutions. Initial engagements among partners should emphasize openness to discuss apprehensions about working across sectors and to reaching consensus on the collaboration’s goals and outcomes.
- ENGAGE POTENTIAL PARTNERS: The identification of and engagement with individuals and organizations that have a stake in the issue at hand to address their suitability for and interest in a cross-sector partnership
- WHY IT MATTERS: Stakeholder mapping and engagement allows would-be collaborators to learn about existing networks and efforts that are tackling the same issue, as well as those that may be impacted by partners’ efforts, and to align potential partners’ interests and resources to more effectively reach the desired outcomes.
- SHARE A VISION OF SUCCESS: The agreement on a set of project goals and ideal outcomes that clarify the mission and priorities of the collaboration
- WHY IT MATTERS: Defining a common purpose links stakeholders together and creates a mutual understanding of the benefits of success.
- ASSESS THE HISTORY OF ADDRESSING THE ISSUE: The examination of previous efforts at collaboration in a similar issue area
- WHY IT MATTERS: The successes and failures of other collaborations in similar issue areas can provide valuable information on conditions that are conducive to future success.
- ACCOUNT FOR RESOURCES: The determination of financial and non-financial resources from existing and potential partners
- WHY IT MATTERS: The process of evaluating resources allows partners to plan how their expertise, networks, and assets can be best utilized in the collaboration and to determine what additional resources may be needed.
- ESTABLISH TRANSPARENCY OF VIEWPOINTS: The creation of an environment in which partners can communicate openly, allowing the collaboration to address partners’ differing priorities
- WHY IT MATTERS: By creating channels to hear and respond to partners’ perspectives and concerns, the collaboration acknowledges the conflicting opinions that can arise from the distinct values and goals of each sector, establishes a forum for consensus-building, and nurtures cross-sector understanding.
- DESIGN: HOW DO WE LAY THE FOUNDATION TO OPERATIONALIZE OUR COMMON INTERSECTOR VISION?
Partners will bring a wealth of sector-specific knowledge and experience to the collaboration and should equally contribute to developing a plan that outlines the collection of activities they will implement to meet their goals. By reaching consensus on the nature of the issue the collaboration will aim to solve and how success will be determined, partners can establish a roadmap to guide them as they put their plan into action. Once partners have a clear understanding of the tasks that need to be completed to reach their goals, individual responsibilities can be assigned based on sector-specific expertise and access to resources, and a project management structure can be put in place to streamline implementation and ensure accountability.
- BUILD A COMMON FACT BASE: The consensus among collaboration partners as to what facts relating to the issue are most relevant
- WHY IT MATTERS: Joint recognition of what data is relevant to the collaboration allows participants to determine how best to proceed.
- AGREE ON MEASURES OF SUCCESS: The identification of indicators to be used in evaluating the progress and results of the collaboration
- WHY IT MATTERS: Consensus among partners on what will define success for the collaboration in the short, mid, and long term creates accountability and helps keep the collaboration on track toward goals.
- COMMIT TO INFORMATION SHARING: The requirement that partners share data relevant to the collaboration’s efforts
- WHY IT MATTERS: Openly sharing information, including disclosing sensitive facts, gives collaboration partners a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and builds trust among partners and in the collaborative process.
- SHARE DISCRETION: The deliberate allocation of decision-making authority according to area of expertise
- WHY IT MATTERS: 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.
- ESTABLISH A GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE: The creation of a formal or informal organizational system for project management
- WHY IT MATTERS: 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.
- IDENTIFY A MANAGER: Selecting an individual or organization that is responsible for coordinating tasks that allow the collaboration to progress
- WHY IT MATTERS: Establishing a single person, a body of managers, or an organization as a single point of accountability can ensure structure and instill confidence in the collaborative process.
- IMPLEMENTATION: HOW DOES OUR INTERSECTOR COLLABORATION ACHIEVE ITS GOALS?
There should be a collective recognition among partners of the need for each sector’s abilities and resources during the implementation of an intersector collaboration. When each sector’s expertise is respected, partners are more likely to remain engaged and motivated to sustain progress. Implementing an intersector collaboration is a challenging process. It may require a swift change of gears depending on the feedback partners gather throughout the implementation process and creative solutions to issues of capacity and resources that may arise. Establishing clear, achievable interim goals demonstrates to all participants that progress is possible. Celebrating even small successes can promote the vitality of this process. Partners may also consider engaging a sponsor or a champion to attract resources and provide greater access to networks of key stakeholders.
- COMMUNICATE THE INTERDEPENDENCY OF EACH SECTOR: The development of an understanding among partners of each sector’s unique contributions, and the recognition of their differing expertise, resources, and networks
- WHY IT MATTERS: Conveying the benefit of working with other sectors fosters continued participation in the collaboration and commitment to results.
- DEMONSTRATE ORGANIZATIONAL COMPETENCY AND ABILITY TO EXECUTE: The ability of collaboration partners to follow through on commitments that enhance the likelihood of collaborative success
- WHY IT MATTERS: When partners fulfill their promises to the collaboration, they inspire trust among each other and among external stakeholders, building confidence in the collaboration and in the likelihood of a positive outcome.
- MANAGE EXPECTATIONS OF PROCESS AND RESULTS: The capacity to communicate progress, celebrate success, encourage patience when needed, and allow for flexibility as the collaboration progresses
- WHY IT MATTERS: Communicating progress toward goals, as well as recognizing when to adapt to changing circumstances, new information, and shifting priorities, allows the collaboration to maintain engagement and momentum.
- RECRUIT A POWERFUL SPONSOR OR CHAMPION: The engagement of a person, a group of persons, or an organization committed to leveraging their influence, resources, and skills to assist the collaboration in achieving its objectives
- WHY IT MATTERS: Well-respected, influential individuals or organizations can provide access to resources, lend legitimacy and prestige, and attract public attention.
- ASSESSMENT: WHAT LESSONS DID WE LEARN FROM OUR INTERSECTOR COLLABORATION?
Ongoing evaluation from the early stages of the collaboration can help partners understand successes and setbacks in real time and point to possible improvements the collaboration can make moving forward. Depending upon the project design, partners have a variety of methodologies from which to choose to best capture their efforts and impact. Evaluation is important in part because it serves to advise other practitioners who might want to pursue a similar partnership structure or tackle a similar issue. Communicating the lessons learned and best practices implemented can inform future projects, allowing others to iterate the successes the collaboration experienced and avoid similar pitfalls.
- DEFINE THE INTENT OF THE EVALUATION: A discussion among collaboration partners to arrive at a clear understanding of the purpose of an evaluation
- WHY IT MATTERS: Facilitating consensus among partners as to the purpose of the evaluation acknowledges that partners may have differing goals for the evaluative process and enables the evaluation to provide insights mutually agreed to be relevant.
- TELL THE STORY: The documentation and communication of the collaboration’s outcomes and lessons learned, shared internally and externally
- WHY IT MATTERS: Sharing results and insights into the collaboration’s process creates transparency, enables partners to communicate the value and legitimacy of intersector collaboration, and allows others to learn from, and potentially replicate, the initiative.
Thanks to The Intersector Project for compiling the information above.