Intersectoral Governance in Community-Based Organizations

Intersectoral Governance in Community-Based Organizations: Prevalence, Challenges, and Best Practices

by Howard P. Greenwald

Professor, Price School of Public Policy

Research Objectives and Background

The purpose of this research is assess the degree to which community-based organizations achieve inter-sectoral collaboration,  to identify challenges to inter-sectoral collaboration, and to communicate best practices in establishing and sustaining inter-sectoral collaboration.  Inter-sector collaboration is widely cited as an effective means of conducting large-scale community interventions and promoting social change.  Philanthropic foundations have been particularly active in promoting the concept of inter-sectoral collaboration, mandating that grantees operate in this manner.  Inter-sectoral governance may be thought of as a particularly advanced form of inter-sectoral collaboration, in which organizations that have operated independently or competed in the past plan and carry out community interventions together.

Despite the desirability of inter-sectoral collaboration, organization theory suggests that achievement of such collaboration, particularly true inter-sectoral governance, will encounter challenges. Maintenance of boundaries would appear to be a key property of organizations in all sectors. The boundary-maintenance function enables organizations to maintain sufficient stability and focus for goal attainment.  Organizations periodically adjust their boundaries for tactical and strategic purposes, making participation in inter-sectoral partnerships possible and influencing the manner in which participation will take place.  Because collaboration places boundary maintenance at risk. Organizations generally appear unlikely to engage in far-reaching collaboration except when:

  • Collaboration is based on loose and terminable linkages;
  • Collaboration is expected to be of a temporary nature;
  • An organization lacks sufficient resources to continue independent operations;
  • Third parties motivate or mandate independent organizations to collaborate.

Methods

This research focuses on community-based organizations that, as foundation grantees, have been mandated to carry out inter-sectoral collaboration.  To assess the degree to which this objective has been reached, the project reported on here is conducting interviews of key informants on organizational outlooks, strategies, and achievements.  Under the research plan, informants from 100 organizations will be interviewed using closed- and open-ended interviews.

Research activity conducted thus far has focused on developing and pre-testing indicators and collecting pilot data.

A set of closed-ended items has also been developed, rating degree of collaboration according to five dimensions: coordination of activities; communication; information-sharing, resource-sharing, and advocacy for policy and systems change.  Each of these scales has four response options, according to which interview subjects rate the degree of collaboration with other organizations according to a four-point scale.  In addition, open-ended item aiming at determining both the degree to which collaboration has been achieved and challenges encountered appears on some instruments:

Pilot Findings

To date, 15 closed-ended interviews and 8 open-ended interviews have been conducted.  All interview subjects reported on organizations that were funded by philanthropic foundations and whose grants mandated inter-sectoral collaboration.  Each organization had been awarded funding between one and two years prior to the interviews.  The percentages of organizations which, according to the informants, had achieved early or full inter-sectoral collaboration differed according to dimension of collaboration.  The table below presents findings based on the pilot data.

Dimension Percentage Early to Full Collaboration
Activity coordination 38%
Communication 60%
Information sharing 40%
Resource sharing 18%
Sharing advocacy 36%

These pilot findings suggest that the strongest resistance to collaboration occurs in the sharing of resources, defined in the interview question as funds, personnel, and work space.  According to the open-ended question, the greatest barrier to collaboration was lack of demonstrated benefit to each potential collaborator.  Evidence surfaced in the interviews, however, that this barrier had been overcome by some organizations.  Among these, there had been initial reluctance to embark on far-reaching collaboration, but this receded as the benefits of collaboration became more apparent.