Cross-sector Collaboration is a Critical Tool for City Leaders

The Intersector Project’s Neil Britto offers a number of resources to help local officials cope with declining budgets, a changing public-private partnership arena, and the inadequacy of a single-sector approach to problem solving.

(Wikimedia Commons)

As in the world of motorsports, collaboration in the public service arena can produce results that are impossible to achieve without the efforts of many individuals working together. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Neil Britto of the Intersector Project.

While cross-sector collaboration isn’t new, city leaders across the country are adopting collaborative approaches in increasing numbers. Why is collaboration in the United States more important now than ever?

Single-sector inadequacy
There seems to be consensus from leaders across sectors and issues that the critical challenges facing our communities today are unsolvable, or at least not easily solvable, by single-sector efforts. Arguably, this has always been the case – but trust in government is at a notable low, and there is increasing recognition that sectors have complementary strengths and ought to find ways to work together.

Declining public budgets
In an era of constrained public-sector budgets, the assets of other sectors need to be deployed to support public well-being. Since the Great Recession, the public sector has lost more 700,000 jobs. Discretionary spending budgets by public-sector managers have been severely cut. At the same time, citizens are demanding more, better and faster services from their government.

The evolving nature of public-private partnerships
A recent report from the Fels Institute suggests that 92 percent of the National Association of State Chief Administrators agreed that government and private organizations should develop new processes to create partnerships that were not simply transactional but relational, relying not only on contracting but shared resources, risks and decision-making processes.

Our Work

At the Intersector Project, we work to advance cross-sector collaboration by creating accessible, credible and practically valuable resources and research that are publicly available in full through our website.

  • We’ve developed one of the country’s leading case study libraries on cross-sector collaboration in the United States. Our 40 cases range in issue area from infrastructure to education, are written with a practitioner audience in mind, and all are freely available online.
  • We’ve also created a Toolkit – a “how-to” guide for practitioners of cross-sector collaboration in every issue area. We recommend practitioners download the Toolkit from our website, distribute to core partners in early planning stages, and use the resource to support shared understanding of key elements for their collaborative process and to create a common language for those elements.
  • Another key resource we’ve created for practitioners is our Resource Library, an online, searchable catalog of hundreds of quality resources related to cross-sector collaboration from research organizations, advisory groups, training organizations, academic centers and journals, and other sources. These resources relate to a wide variety of partnership types (from contractual public-private partnerships to community partnerships) and a broad array of issues such as transportation, education, public health and more.

The Intersector Project has made a unique commitment to connecting research to practice by maintaining active relationships with groups in both arenas and working to produce content that brings them together. For example, we publish a research brief that highlights the latest research relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and an in-depth look at one article per month through our Research to Practice series. We also invite scholars to distill their research for our practitioner audience in our Researcher Insights series.

We work to engage with a wide variety of thinkers and practitioners on this topic as well, from designers of innovative public-private partnership mechanisms at NASA to local government managers pursuing improved service delivery for their constituencies. We teach, facilitate, moderate, and lead events with leading membership organizations like the National League of Cities, the American Society for Public Administration, CEOs for Cities, the Alliance for Innovation, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association. We also work with leadership development and fellowship organizations like the Presidio Cross-Sector Leadership Fellows and Coro Leadership programs in New York, and with issue-oriented groups like the National Resources Defense Council to provide resources and expertise to personnel who work across sectors.

Throughout our work, we strive to maintain the key features that distinguish us. While many organizations focus on cross-sector collaboration in a global context, our commentary, research, and thinking focuses particularly on the United States. Our work is sector- and issue-neutral, created for practitioners from all sectors working on a range of issues across the nation. Also, because the models and methods for cross-sector collaboration are proliferating, the Intersector Project’s resources speak to the broad array of collaborative approaches that practitioners in the field are actively using to solve problems.

Our NLC University Seminar

This March, we’ll be hosting a NLC University seminar, “An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-sector Collaboration in the Public Sector,” at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. The seminar is designed to introduce public-sector officials and staff to key management tactics for cross-sector collaboration through an interactive training session.

Each sector – and indeed, each entity within the sectors – has its own language, culture, and work practices, which can prove challenging to align when pursuing shared goals in a consensus-oriented environment. Our three-hour training session includes interactive activities designed to help participants deepen their awareness of these differences, commentary on trends relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and a facilitated discussion to support peer learning. It also includes an introduction to the Intersector Project Toolkit as a planning guide designed to assist practitioners in navigating differences between sectors and overcoming barriers to effective partnership.

The session also includes a simulated exercise through which stakeholders will design and negotiate a detailed partnership agreement to create an effective framework within which the partners can work and lay a foundation for sustained collaboration. In the context of a transportation and air quality collaboration comprising 48 organizations, including local, county, and state government, business, environmental interests, community groups, and more, participants will consider key design choices related to decision-making structure, resource allocation, project management and more.

In an era of rising public expectations and declining resources, our NLC University session will equip you with tools and resources to lead effective cross-sector collaborations in your community. We look forward to seeing you in March.

The Intersector Project previously published a CitiesSpeak blog post on Boston’s innovation district.

About the author: The Intersector Project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower practitioners in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We present real examples of collaborations in many places and across many issues, and illuminate the tools that make them successful. Visit us at intersector.com, and follow us on Twitter @theintersector.

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