5 Practical Resources on Cross-Sector Leadership & Collaboration

I love connecting people with resources, and lately, it seems like I’ve had a handful of conversations with people about cross-sector collaboration where they were wondering about some useful places to learn more and go deeper.   By the way, I define cross-sector collaborations as alliances of organizations that together have a role in solving a problem and achieving a shared goal.  This is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of models from private-public partnerships to shared value to collective impact, as well as alliances that are working in ways not yet labeled or codified.

Since 2003, my work has involved building and staffing, providing technical support to and building the leadership capacity of cross-sector collaborations.  Even in 2003 the idea wasn’t new – organizations had been working together across boundaries for decades – however there weren’t a lot of practical resources on building effective collaborations. In the last 10 years, that’s changed a lot.  So, I figured I’d share some of my most often-used practical resources and recommend a few websites where you can go deeper on cross-sector leadership and collaboration.

Source: Presidio Institute

Source: Presidio Institute

Building Capacity to Practice Cross Sector Leadership and Collaboration: A Framework (Presidio Institute: July 2016) 

It’s now sunset, but the Presidio Institute was a national effort (based out of a federal government agency) focused on developing the capacity of people working in all sectors to address complex social, economic, and environmental problems through cross-sector collaboration.  In this short framework, the Institute lays out four areas where individuals and their organizations need to develop capacity in order to be high-impact practitioners in cross sector leadership and collaboration.  Full disclosure, I worked at the Institute and with the contributions of many on its faculty, I was charged with codifying this framework as part of the Institute’s curriculum.  Read it here.  Bonus resource: Five Lessons in Cross Sector Leadership.


Source: The Partnering Initiative

Source: The Partnering Initiative

Fit for Partnering Framework and The Partnering Assessment Checklist (The Partnering Initiative)

The UK-based The Partnering Initiative (TPI) was founded with a passionate belief that only through collaboration across business, government, NGOs and the UN can we tackle the greatest development and business sustainability challenges.  They do consulting, training, and research with some of the biggest institutions in the world (World Bank, USAID, UN World Food Programme) focused on international development.  I particularly value their work on organizations’ and partnerships’ readiness to collaborate.  In one page, the Fit for Partnering Framework contextualizes all the pre-conditions for effective partnership including leadership & strategy, systems & processes, skills & support, and partnering culture.  The Partnering Assessment Checklist goes deeper into these idea by asking partners to self-assess across eight criteria whether they should move forward with the partnership.  You can review and download them both here: Fit for Partnering Framework and The Partnering Assessment Checklist

Source: The Partnership for New Communities

Source: The Partnership for New Communities

The Partnership for New Communities: Collaboration, Leadership, and Political Will  (The Partnership for New Communities: 2011)

The Partnership for New Communities, which operated from 2001 to May 2012 in Chicago, was a group of business, civic, and foundation leaders working together to support what was then the largest and most ambitious reconstruction of public housing in the country's history.  This report provides a brief history of the Partnership, describes some key design and operating questions that face all cross sector collaborations, discusses the specific choices made by The Partnership and reflects on why they contributed to success. 

Because it was developed through a collaboration between the MacArthur Foundation & The Chicago Community Trust, The Partnership for New Communities is a rare example of a long-working effort which intentionally captured and shared key insights and analysis throughout its lifecycle.  It is also relatively unique in that it was intentionally designed to sunset once it achieved its mission, and then did. The lessons from the Partnership for New Communities remain relevant, and this resource provides an incredibly useful set of questions and insights for practitioners ranging from “Who should be engaged?” to “What organizational and leadership capacities are particularly important for a civic intermediary?” to “How does a civic intermediary work to create policy and system change?”  Read it here.

Source: The Forum for Youth Investment

Source: The Forum for Youth Investment

Transforming Government, Transforming Communities (The Forum for Youth Investment: April 2016) 

The U.S. government is our country’s biggest investor in social programs. For instance, the Obama Administration made very significant investments in cross-sector collaborations to achieve better outcomes in communities through place-based initiatives.  How effective federally-funded place-based initiatives are in achieving positive outcomes in communities is not only dependent on the policies that created them, but also on the capabilities of the federal staff who are tasked with supporting and collaborating with those in communities.

In this research report based on interviews with 90+ stakeholders in the Federal Government and in communities it funds, The Forum for Youth Investment shines a light on “the critical yet often poorly understood roles frontline federal staff play in helping communities implement place-based initiatives.”

While the report features findings on a range of topics, for those interested in cross-sector collaboration, the first section, which shares specific competencies respondents identified as crucial for federal staff engaged in place-based work.  The competencies fell into five areas, which are also relevant for funders and intermediaries outside of government working with cross-sector collaborations.  Read the report here.

Source: Living Cities

Source: Living Cities

What Barriers? Insights from Solving Problems through Cross-Sector Partnerships (Living Cities: October 2014) 

I realize that I’m biased because I authored this one, but part of the reason I developed What Barriers? was because, at the time, there was no strategic framework for describing the structures and behaviors of  cross-sector partnerships. The “traits” and behavioral “cycles” of partnerships illustrated with concrete examples from case studies.  The report provides stakeholders beginning a new partnership with useful framing and practical language for designing the structures and behaviors of their effort.  It can also serve as useful tool to support a strategic conversation about how an in-existence cross-sector partnership is structured and doing its work.  Download it here.

Bonus:  There are three case studies associated with What Barriers?  (on The Partnership for New Communities, Partners for a Competitive Workforce, and the Itasca Project) and Living Cities also provides a free, online assessment tool and discussion guide that stakeholders can use in their own cross-sector partnerships.

BONUS: Seven useful websites for continuing to learn about cross-sector collaboration – preparing for them, structuring them, leading them, different models of them, and more…

Collective Impact Forum – Designed to be the place for individuals practicing collective impact to find the tools, resources, and advice they need. This is a great resource, particularly for seeing how the model has evolved and been adapted since the first publication about collective impact in 2011: https://collectiveimpactforum.org/

Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) -- Blog that features insights from IISC staff (and others) about collaborating for impact. Combination of insights from 10,000 feet, and stories of advancing work in communities. They also do some great facilitation trainings: http://interactioninstitute.org/blog/.

Intersector Project – Cross-sector partnership case studies and academic resources galore: http://intersector.com/ .

Living Cities – This site features what the philanthropic collaborations Living Cities is learning from its grants, investments, research and convenings as well as a lot of content on cross-sector collaborations, and in particular, those employing the collective impact model: https://www.livingcities.org/

The Partnering Initiative (TPI) – The UK-based TPI was founded with a passionate belief that only through collaboration across business, government, NGOs and the UN can we tackle the greatest development and business sustainability challenges.  I’m a big fan of their training, tools, and publications: https://thepartneringinitiative.org/.

Social Leadership Australia – This blog from Australia’s longest running charity, which leads change and changes leader, is almost entirely devoted to the topics of leadership and collaboration: http://leadership.benevolent.org.au/  .

Tamarack Institute —An online resource and learning community from Canada’s leaders in cross-sector collaboration, community engagement, and building vibrant communities: http://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/.