By The Intersector Project //
In 2001, the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville launched a clinical research project to identify health risks in the community. Alarmingly, researchers found that 80 percent of Brownsville residents were either obese or overweight, one in three were diabetic (50 percent without knowing it), and 70 percent had no healthcare coverage.
The School of Public Health swiftly went to work, launching the Tu Salud Si Cuenta (Your Health Matters) community media campaign and forming a cross-sector Community Advisory Board to promote change in the Brownsville community. The Community Advisory Board today comprises more than 200 members and has provided a critical avenue for cross-sector partners to conceive and advance solutions to the complex, systemic issue of public health in the community. The board unites members from the health field, the business community, and a number of government, education, social service, and non-profit organizations. Its work won the community the coveted Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (You can learn more about the Brownsville initiative by reading our case study.)
Cases like Brownsville are of particular interest to us at The Intersector Project, where we seek to empower practitioners in the government, business, and non-profit sectors to collaborate to solve complex problems. While cross-sector collaboration certainly isn’t new, leaders across the country appear to be adopting collaborative approaches in increasing numbers. Why is collaboration in the United States more important now than ever?
- Single sector failure. 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 a new process to create partnerships that were not simply transactional but relational, relying on not just contracting but shared resources, risks, and decision-making processes.
At The Intersector Project, we work to advance cross-sector collaboration by creating free, publicly available resources for practitioners to use in designing and implementing their own cross-sector initiatives. 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.
In addition to creating resources, we devote considerable time and energy to working with public sector membership associations — a sector we believe is underserved by the growing cross-sector collaboration support services industry. We teach, facilitate, moderate, and lead events with leading membership organizations like the American Society for Public Administration, the Alliance for Innovation, 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. We also work 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. We are committed to continuing to create high-quality resources that are publicly available through our website. While many organizations focus on cross-sector collaboration in a global context, we are one of the few to focus exclusively on the United States — predominantly at the state and local level, where we see most collaboration occurring. We are a leader in highlighting examples of government, business, and non-profit collaboration across issue area and location. In addition to our Case Library, we regularly identify these collaborations on our blog, where we hope practitioners will visit, read, and learn. Lastly, we work to provide a bridge to connect research to practice by maintaining active relationships with key influentials in both groups and work to create knowledge products that bring them together. (Check our monthly Research to Practice feature for an example.)
This summer, we’ll be joining CEOs for Cities at the annual City Cluster Workshop. We look forward not only to sharing our resources but to learning from the important work you are doing in communities around the country. As The Atlantic’s Jim Fallows wrote recently “Positive developments are afoot in the country now. It’s worth connecting and highlighting them, as The Intersector [Project] and other groups are, and figuring out and making known their new names.” You are the changemakers we seek to support. We’ll see you in June.
About the Author
The Intersector Project is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower practitioners in the business, government, and non-profit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. They conduct research in intersector collaboration and convey their findings to leaders in every sector to help them design and implement their own effective collaborative initiatives.
What is The Intersector? 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.