Partner and Implement Cross-Sector Solutions
Approaches, Considerations and Resources
Although there is no single approach to establishing partnership roles in cross-sector work, facilitating transparent discussions and documenting roles and responsibilities are critical steps and can help ensure that partnerships have the support and resources needed to move forward.
When establishing roles within a housing and education partnership, it is vital to identify an organization or individual that can serve in a leadership or coordination role. Backbone organizations often play this role, as, typically, they already work across sectors and may have staff who can help manage collaborative work. Organizations that might be well positioned to lead or coordinate a housing and education partnership include the following:
- Existing backbone organizations (e.g., StriveTogether network member organizations).
- Public agencies (e.g., housing authorities, countywide social services offices, state housing or education departments).
- Locally active foundations or philanthropies.
- Active community development corporations or community- based organizations.
- Active service organizations (e.g., United Way, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club).
When considering the range of roles needed to implement a cross-sector partnership, it is vital to include a diversity of perspectives, individuals and organizations to represent a given community and to ensure that power dynamics are considered and balanced in the partnership structure. Beyond leadership and coordination, other common roles within cross-sector partnerships include community outreach liaison, data and measurement director, project manager, technical assistance provider, communications director and fundraiser. For an example of how cross-sector roles and staffing can be shared across agencies, consider the collaboration of multiple state agencies in the case study on the Homework Starts with Home initiative.
Cross-sector partnerships also may consider establishing a steering committee with additional stakeholders that are representative of the community, thus building in transparency about the partnership’s work and creating an opportunity for community input. An example of an advisory board with community representation is included in the case study on the Early Childhood Initiative. Links to guidance on establishing partnership roles are also included in Appendix E, under Resources for Stage 4.
It is important to recognize that many organizations — particularly complex, public partners like school districts or housing authorities — typically are not designed or funded with cross-sector collaboration in mind. For these partners, testing or piloting organizational and programmatic changes may be a helpful approach to trying out a new form of collaboration. Even smaller efforts, such as piloting new data-sharing agreements, can invite early collaboration, help make quick adjustments and demonstrate small successes. Regardless of the approach, it is important to remember that bureaucratic challenges may arise, and partners will need to manage expectations about how quickly new initiatives can be implemented.
Cross-sector partnerships take many forms, and some organizations may seek a formal partnership structure and agreement when beginning their collaborative work. A structure can help create clarity, organization and consistent communication. In addition to formalizing the role of a backbone or lead organization to serve as the primary coordinator, the partnership can define additional roles or groups to provide structure and accountability:
- Leadership table or board of directors.
- Steering committee.
- Advisory council.
- Operations council.
- Data teams.
A partnership structure may be as simple as defining a backbone organization to help convene stakeholders, identifying a set of working groups to address shared outcomes, and creating a community steering committee to offer feedback and input. For more information on this type of structure, resources and guidance are included in a presentation developed by Community Action Partnership and the FSG consulting firm on Collective Impact Roles and Developing Your Common Agenda.
One way to formalize partnerships is through a partnership agreement, such as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to outline the aims of the partnership, the determined roles and the key elements of the planned work. Even if not all project elements are in place, the process of discussing and creating an agreement or MOU can help partners clarify expectations and identify gaps in the partnership design.
For an example of how roles and expectations can be established through an MOU, consider the work of the Partnership for Children & Youth on its Housing and Education Initiative, included as the case study for this Stage. Guidance on and examples of MOUs also are included in Appendix E, under Resources for Stage 4.
As partnerships focus on their structure and management, discussions on resources and fundraising are both practical and necessary. Although dedicated funding can enable partners to set aside sufficient staff capacity to prioritize and implement the work, partnership may nonetheless seem unrealistic for organizations with limited resources and staff capacity. Absent the funding or capacity needed for a more formal partnership, cross-sector collaborations can focus first on aligning their separate work before establishing and implementing shared work; or they can seek out other opportunities to collaborate, such as serving on organizational boards, city- or county-level committees, or attending coalition meetings.
IMPLEMENTATION AND OUTCOME MEASUREMENT
A critical part of implementing partnerships around shared outcomes is tracking progress over time, which can help partners make adjustments and remain accountable to one another and the community they serve. Key elements and steps for outcome measurement include the following:
Identify indicators: To measure progress, partners need to identify specific indicators that align with the shared outcomes and determine appropriate data sources. For a more comprehensive view of progress, partnerships may benefit from identifying qualitative indicators or measures. Qualitative measures of progress can include such key milestones as a successful organizational change, community feedback, dedication of additional funding or expanded community partnerships.
The Housing and Education Outcomes outlined in Appendix C and Appendix D include examples of metrics for each of the housing and education outcomes referenced in this toolkit.
Create a data collection and measurement plan: Developing a data collection and measurement plan is an important process that helps to set expectations for data collection, data sharing and ongoing reporting between partners. It is best to ensure that data can be disaggregated by income and race whenever possible, enabling partners to better understand the population they are serving and to measure progress toward reducing racial disparities and inequality.
Examples of data collection and measurement plans are included in Appendix E, under resources for Stage 4, as a starting point for organizations to work from.
Establish data-sharing agreements: Creating a data collection and measurement plan can help determine the types of data-sharing agreements that may be necessary for effective measurement. Data sharing is particularly important in cross- sector partnerships when organizations have not previously exchanged data and may need to overcome bureaucratic or legal barriers to be able to do so.
Examples of and guidance for creating data-sharing agreements are included in Appendix E, under resources for Stage 4. These examples include case studies of collaboration and data sharing between education and homeless service providers.
Adopt continuous and collaborative improvement models: Continuous improvement is an approach that incrementally assesses progress and adjusts strategy and implementation. StriveTogether uses the concept of collaborative improvement to identify the adaptive challenges that create barriers to equitable results for children and families. The four components of this collaborative improvement approach are racial and ethnic equality, Results Count®, continuous improvement, and human-centered design.Ongoing outcome measurement helps organizations monitor progress, remain flexible as challenges arise and focus efforts on achieving the greatest impact. This process could lead partners to refine the shared outcomes originally articulated to better reflect the impact they are trying to achieve.
Examples of resources and approaches to continuous and collaborative improvement are included in Appendix E, under Resources for Stage 4, including two case studies from StriveTogether network members in Utah and Central Texas.