Stakeholders' Views of Factors That Impact Successful Interagency Collaboration

By Johnson, Lawrence J.; Zorn, Debbie et al. | Exceptional Children, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Stakeholders' Views of Factors That Impact Successful Interagency Collaboration


Johnson, Lawrence J., Zorn, Debbie, Tam, Brian Kai Yung, LaMontagne, Maggie, Johnson, Susan A., Exceptional Children


Our nation is witnessing the downsizing of governmental agencies and the merging of many private corporations in order to capitalize on the largest number of resources at the lowest cost. Interagency collaboration is at the cornerstone of this phenomenon. Through interagency collaboration, the level of services provided by the service delivery systems can be maximized and operational costs can be reduced. Moreover, each agency or discipline has its own specialization and combining areas of specialization can help remediate deficiencies existing in the service systems.

Many interagency collaborations have been developed as a result of shortage of funds or resources, lack of qualified or trained personnel, legislative priorities or mandates, duplicated services or the need for additional services, pressures from clients, and ownership of mutual problems (Audette, 1980; Baxter, 1982; Brudder, 1998; Imel, 1992; Johnson, McLaughlin, & Christensen, 1982; LaCour, 1982; Melaville & Blank, 1991). Such an endeavor is valuable when encountering problems that cannot be resolved efficiently by a single agency and requires the attention of multiple agencies (Bruner, 1991; Imel). Competition among agencies for resources often provokes frictions that could harm individual agencies as well as whole service delivery systems. Ultimately, the only losers are the clients served by the systems. Reducing competition and developing a sense of cooperation and interdependence among agencies are, therefore, vital to serving children and families (Gallagher, LaMontagne, & Johnson, 1995). As W. H. Johnson et al. (1982) described, "coordination of service delivery systems has a benefit besides economy; that of comprehensively providing child services based on a continuum of child needs across social, psychological, medical, vocational, and educational domains" (p. 395).

Although there are many benefits to be derived from collaborating with others, the spirit of collaboration and cooperation is constantly under attack (Gallagher et al., 1995). In their statewide study, Stegelin and Jones (1991) identified that the following factors inhibit the success of collaboration: (a) lack of understanding of other agencies' policies, (b) lack of communication between policymakers and service providers, (c) lack of time for collaborative efforts, (d) unclear goals and objectives, and (e) gaps in screening and diagnostic services. Other barriers identified by Friend and Cook (1996); Guthrie and Guthrie (1991); Harbin (1996); Johnson, Pugach, and Hammitte (1988); Johnson, Ruiz, LaMontagne, and George (1998); LaCour (1982); and Pugach and Johnson (1995) included (a) inconsistent service standards, (b) excessive use of jargon, (c) different definitions of collaboration, (d) conflicting views on confidentiality issues, (e) establishment of a new layer of bureaucracy, (f) difficulty in defining decision-making rules among team members, (g) insufficient time, (h) lack of sustained availability of key people, and (i) resistance to change among agency members. Service delivery systems are largely made up of both federal and state governmental agencies.

Since the efficiency of these agencies has a direct and significant impact on the services provided to families and children, and interagency collaboration has been shown to enhance efficiency, the question of how federal and state governments facilitate and promote collaboration among agencies is of special interest. Studies investigating interagency collaboration for the past two decades have focused on community- or neighborhood-based collaborations (Capper, 1994; Morris & Kirkpatrick, 1987; Quinn & Cumblad, 1994); school-based collaborations (Greenan, 1986; Mitchell & Scott, 1993; Payzant, 1992); and early childhood services collaborations (Stegelin & Jones, 1991, Suarez, Hurth, & Prestridge, 1988). Clearly interagency collaboration is very important to providing appropriate services to young children with special needs and their families. …

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