Research Request: Examples of Cross Sector Collaboration?


As part of your membership benefits, the Alliance staff provide research services for local government member submitted requests. Topics can range from pressing issues to emerging trends. This benefit is made possible through our partnership with Arizona State University Marvins Andrews Fellowship

Request Prompt:

“cross-sector innovation initiative (focused on public health) and they are conducting an environmental scan of information already available regarding the barriers and facilitators of cross-sector collaboration. Have we (the Alliance, ASU or project together) produced any products or case studies that highlight or call out barriers or facilitators and/or provide examples?"

Summary of Findings:

In order to breakdown the request prompt, we examined two different research pathways: 1) citizen surveys ranking satisfaction with county services received, and 2) reporting from more traditional sources that aggregate quantitative data. After reviewing both pathways, our research did not reach a definitive end since these surveys (citizen ranking and others) and benchmarks around Management, service delivery are not compiled in totality and compared.  

Going forward, we recommend the next steps outlined below. And, given the direction from the requestor, the Alliance team would be happy to continue to assist where needed. 

Background Research:

The Design and Implementation of Cross-Sector Collaborations: Propositions from the Literature, Articles on Collaborative Public Management, Public Administration Review, December 2006:  

  • “…cross-sector collaboration that is required to remedy complex public problems.” 

  • “We thus define cross-sector collaboration as the linking or sharing of information,  resources, activities, and capabilities by organizations in two or more sectors to achieve jointly an outcome that could not be achieved by organizations in one sector separately”. 

  • Barriers:  

  • “Collaboration — especially cross-sector collaboration — is no panacea. This is partly because of the interconnectedness of things, such that changes anywhere  reverberate unexpectedly and sometimes even dangerously throughout the system (Luke 1998).” 

  • “How to respond collaboratively and effectively to problems that are so interconnected and encompassing is a major challenge.” 

  • “…found that driving forces in both the competitive and institutional environments helped stimulate the partnership’s formation but quickly became restraining forces that hindered its sustainability. Institutional forces appeared to be more intractable than competitive forces; for example, a decrease in public funds and changes in welfare payment policies created strong disincentives for the partnership to continue. 

  • Limited Research – “Yet few, if any, research studies have gathered data on all of these in a way that could easily guide research or help policy makers in government, business, nonprofits, the media, or communities understand when cross-sector collaborations make sense, let alone how to design and implement them.” 

  • Facilitators: Article provides Propositions for enabling better collaborations to need a number 

  • “Second, an important linking mechanism is initial (albeit general) agreement on the problem definition (Gray 1989; Waddock 1986).” 

  • “By agreeing on the purpose of the collaboration, partners may consider elements of structure, such as roles, responsibilities, and decision-making authority.” 

  • “Informal agreements about the collaboration’s composition, mission, and the process can work (Donahue 2004), but formal agreements have the advantage of supporting accountability…” 

  • “For example, Huxham and Vangen (2005) emphasize the effectiveness of achieving “small wins” together.” 

  • “…make an important distinction between the strategic purposes of those networks, delineating policy-making and strategy-making networks from resource-exchange and project-based networks.” 

  • Prior networks – “The more partners have interacted in positive ways in the past, the more social mechanisms will enable coordination and safeguard exchanges (Jones, Hesterly, and Borgatti 1997; Ring and Van de Ven 1994).” 

  • “Service delivery partnerships are more frequent and easier to sustain than those aimed at planning for systems change because system-level planning activities, like agenda setting in the public policy process, involve negotiating tough questions about the problem and creative solutions (Bolland and Wilson 1994).” 

  • “An accountable collaborative . . . needs a measurement system to document its results and how those results change over time.” 

  • Further reading: 

Four skills key in establishing nurse-led cross-sector collaborations, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL OF NURSING, May 29, 2018:   

  • Facilitators: "It also provides initial insights into how health care providers can collaborate with both health and non-health entities, on the ground at the community level and at the funder level, to benefit local communities and populations." 

  • The four key themes discovered to be relevant to cross-sector collaborations that develop a community's culture of health include: 

  • Being bilingual - Edge Runners found they needed to be able to speak the language of both the community and the institutions of power. 

  • Neighborliness and trust - Successful Edge Runners are able to demonstrate to community leaders their long-term commitment to the communities they serve and a willingness to listen and understand community needs. 

  • Having a business sense - Ensuring continued support often requires Edge Runners to make a business case for their programs, particularly in explaining how to sustain or expand these programs. 

  • Shared vision and language - Being able to communicate shared visions with potential collaboration partners is an essential way Edge Runners gain trust and engagement. 


Cross-Sector Collaborations And Partnerships: Essential Ingredients To Help Shape Health And Well-Being, Health Affairs, 1 November 2016:  

  • Cross-sector collaboration also is the second Action Area of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s four-part Action Framework to build a Culture of Health in the United States 

  • “Genes and biology, clinical care, and health behaviors (such as tobacco use and physical activity) are estimated together to explain only 30 percent of the variance in health status. The remaining 70 percent is determined by social and physical environmental factors such as access to adequate housing, education, income, healthy food, and safe places for social and physical activity.” 

  • Barriers: 

  • “One lesson learned by policymakers is that evidence-based research and the resulting knowledge about what works does not change population health outcomes without the essential commitment of stakeholders to engagement, community buy-in, and advocacy.” 

  • “…needs improvement is how to engage partner sectors as collaboration leaders, not merely as participants.” 

  • Facilitators: 

  • “To achieve truly effective health partnerships, more widespread use of leadership models that distribute decision making and authority across collaborators is necessary.“ 

  • “health coalitions must be intentional about including partner sectors, such as social service organizations, that can address equity by balancing representation on health issues.” 

  • Can’t just be time-based grants: “need to identify diverse sources of investment, and their efforts must be sustained over long periods of time.” 


Cross-Sector Collaboration To Improve Community Health: A View Of The Current Landscape, Health Affairs, November 2014:  

  • “…2013 study in support of the work by the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America documented collaborations between the community development and health sectors in the United States and analyzed the factors that influence the success of such joint initiatives.” 

  • Facilitators: 

  • “When planning community health improvement initiatives, health practitioners might invite these entities [community development financial institutions and banks] to take part operationally, not just financially, in the education and services that often occur in financed facilities.” 

  • Barriers: 

  • “The current state of measurement does not enable adequate summary and meta-analysis of the results of multiple initiatives.” 

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