A Framework for Learning about Cross-Sector Collaboration

Alison Gold

Can you imagine a world where there are individuals working in all sectors who are equipped to collaborate to solve our toughest social, economic, and environmental problems? It’s hard to do, because for decades, we’ve been trying to take on these challenges through siloed solutions, whether policy, market-based, or social programs. And very few of these attempts have been sufficient to address the problems at the scale at which they exist. This is because our problems are not a result of one policy, investment or program—but an interaction among many of them. And as Albert Einstein noted “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is why we need movement of leaders equipped to work differently – across silos and sectors—in cross sector collaborations.

Independent Sector’s Organizational Relationships focus area looks closely at cross sector collaboration as the starting point for examining how organizations can more effectively work together. This blog outlines key questions and themes addresses in the focus area, which presents a set of core resources that can help leaders increase their knowledge and application of cross sector collaboration.

Cross sector collaborations are alliances of organizations that together have a role in solving a problem and achieving a shared goal. Cross sector collaboration is an umbrella term which 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.

It’s common that when people read or hear the term “sector,” they think of tax code designations: private, public, and nonprofit. A useful alternative is to take a broad view of “sectors” which includes business, nonprofits, government, education, health care, labor, faith institutions, philanthropy, and even communities. Thinking about sectors more broadly increases the diversity of stakeholders around the table which has been shown to strengthen the quality of problem solving and decision making, as well as the likelihood that solutions will be implemented.

Cross sector collaboration isn’t new. For decades individuals and organizations have been building alliances within and across sectors to achieve shared goals. What has changed in the last decade is that more individuals and institutions have become focused on this way of working. Philanthropic and Federal Government grants are increasingly requiring recipients to work in cross sector collaborations, and one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is explicitly focused on it.

After decades of trying to address our most “wicked” problems through segregated policies, programs, and investments, there remain far too many that we haven’t solved, and some – like income inequality – that have been getting worse. An increased interest in cross sector collaboration is a positive step, but what will be even more powerful is a critical mass of individuals and organizations equipped to work together in service of solving problems and achieving better results.

At the Presidio Institute, we deliver programs and convene events that build the capacity of individuals and teams to solve complex problems through cross sector collaboration. We were excited when Independent Sector invited us to curate some resources on the topic of cross sector collaboration. In that spirit, we reviewed the resources we use in our programs and reached out to alumni, faculty members, and friends to identify the resources that they’ve found most useful and valuable in their work of cross-sector collaboration. These resources fall into four categories:

  1. Models and Theory of Cross Sector Collaborations
  2. Case Studies
  3. Practicing Cross Sector Leadership Skills
  4. Insights, Trends, and Critique

We hope that the Organizational Relationships focus area not only serves as a useful foundation (or refresher) on cross sector collaboration, but catalyzes your desire to learn more, build your cross sector leadership practice, and join the movement of people working to solve some of the toughest, and most important, problems we face in the world today.

Please share your thoughts and feedback, and let us know if there are other resources or questions that we should consider by emailing Marie LeBlanc or by tweeting using the hashtag #xsector.

Related article: Building Capacity to Practice Cross Sector Leadership and Collaboration: A Framework

Global Topics: Organizational Relationships
Focus Areas: Organizational Relationships
Resource Types: Article