Managing Cross-Sector Collaboration

By Forrer, John J.; Kee, James Edwin "Jed" et al. | The Public Manager, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Managing Cross-Sector Collaboration


Forrer, John J., Kee, James Edwin "Jed", Boyer, Eric, The Public Manager


Public managers can choose from four types of cross-sector collaboration. Here's a look into the tradeoffs of each type.

Cross-sector collaboration (CSC) is becoming a more familiar fixture on the governance landscape. Alliances involving government, business, and nonprofit organizations are now addressing issues that were once viewed as the prerogative of government.

Local healthcare services, foster care and adoptions, safe drinking water and water treatment, homeless shelters, wildfire response and recovery, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, building and improving roads, park maintenance, expanding seaports and building airports: All these and other public goods and services are now delivered through some form of cross-sector collaboration.

Why Cross-Sector Collaboration?

Public managers engage business and nonprofits in CSCs for several reasons. Many governments are facing a budget crunch at the same time that the cost of and demand for public services is on the rise. CSC can be one way to bring additional resources to communities and areas of need.

In addition, many of today's complex problems--childhood obesity, for example--require responses from multiple and interconnected sectors and perspectives. CSC brings together different actors, each with unique expertise, experiences, and vantage points to find solutions to these problems.

Typically, businesses and nonprofits have greater flexibility than government agencies and are positioned to move more quickly and take advantage of emerging opportunities. As a result, CSC allows governments to offer public services that may be more responsive and adaptive to citizens' needs.

For these reasons and others, the practice of CSC is growing and expanding. Public managers are right to raise questions and concerns about their efficacy, but CSCs are growing in popularity and they are here to stay as a tool of governance.

Different CSC Approaches

CSCs come in all shapes and sizes and have adapted to the specific conditions found in local communities or state and federal governments. Emerging from the diverse practices are four basic CSC approaches. Each one offers a different set of relationships, expectations, and governance issues that must be managed by public managers. * Collaborative contracting. These "complex" modes of contracting generally adhere to one or more of the following characteristics:

* They involve "incomplete" specifications of expectations because the involved parties modify their requirements over the course of the exchange.

* They are "relational"--they involve aspects of governance that stretch beyond the formal or written terms of agreement.

* They are generally long term in nature and involve frequent interactions of the parties.

* Partnerships and public-private partnerships (PPPs). Governments collaborate with businesses or nonprofits in three typical ways:

* short-term, one-to-one partnerships for a specific purpose or goal, such as private and public formation of a downtown business district or commercial development, or a partnership between government and a local community organization to fund and equip a local park

* intermediate-term partnerships involving government and nonprofit providers, such as a state department of human services or a local shelter for the homeless

* long-term partnerships involving the creation or renewal of major infrastructure projects (often termed P3s in North America), which include private financing and operations and maintenance of infrastructure systems and facilities.

* Network governance. Collaborative arrangements that involve a broad range of non-governmental stakeholders working interdependently with government. Networks typically organize themselves in three different ways:

* shared or self-governed, where network members are collectively involved in their own governance

* lead organization, where one entity coordinates the network's operations

* network administrative organization, where a designated entity (with designated staff and responsibilities) supports and governs the network's activities. …

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