Research Bulletin February 2019: Social Sector Collaboration

This month’s research bulletin focuses on articles and reports about successful collaboration and improving collaborative initiatives in the social sector.

The reports below explore the interpersonal and systemic aspects of collaborative efforts as well as the factors and approaches that lend themselves to successful collaboration. They explore the concepts of social capital and whole-person care and identify barriers to collaboration and common pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Street Level Divergence in the Functioning of Social Welfare Networks
  2. Whole Person Care in Underresourced Communities
  3. Delivering Integrated Care: The Role of the Multidisciplinary Team
  4. The Need for Cross-Sector Collaboration

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1. Street Level Divergence in the Functioning of Social Welfare Networks (US 2017)

This article focuses on a study of community partnerships and interagency collaborations in the state of Virginia. The authors examined the process side of collaborative efforts in order to better understand the “divergences” that occur between the management and front-line participants and the impact these have.

The article groups the underlying process-related aspects of collaboration into two broad dimensions: the relational and systemic. The relational dimension includes factors that reinforce or produce social capital—things like trust, internal legitimacy, commitment, and knowledge flows. The systemic dimension includes factors that reinforce or shape the procedural arrangements of collaborative networks—the mode and frequency of interactions, the degrees of autonomy, and the clarity around roles.

According to the authors, collaborating includes a higher degree of risk to participants (compared to coordination or cooperation) so the linkages in a collaborative network require more formality than in those other types of working relationships. Collaboration also requires larger amounts of social capital, which takes time to develop and often requires targeted investments and activities. In other words, successful collaborations require both investments in developing social capital (relational) and efforts to establish the appropriate level of formality (systemic).

2. Whole Person Care in Under-resourced Communities (US 2018)

This article reports the findings of a study of community-wide mental health interventions in Los Angeles. The goal of the study was to better understand how collaboration occurs in under-resourced communities and how it might be improved. The study provides an illustrative example of how multi-sector collaboration among agencies may help address the complex mental health needs of individuals.

Addressing the needs of clients often requires linking them to resources offered by other agencies. And, according to the authors, the success of this crucial step is informed by the levels of understanding and coordination among a wider network of agencies addressing different needs and issues. As such, the biggest barriers to collaboration are the challenges that arise when linking clients to other services—staff shortages, lack of electronic health records, and poor staff training.

This study’s findings are consistent with the experience of BC service providers and the authors suggest that future research and initiatives must focus on improving mechanisms to effectively and efficiently provide integrated services and identify different strategies to do so. There also remains a need for much more research on community-based collaborative coalitions.

3. Delivering Integrated Care: The Role of the Multidisciplinary Team (UK 2018)

This web article from the UK’s Social Care Institute for Excellence explains the concept of multi-disciplinary teams and promotes them as one way for practitioners in health and social care sectors to collaborate more successfully.

The article suggests that, in some circumstances, such multi-disciplinary collaborative teams will result in positive outcomes for people and their families as well as improved job satisfaction for the professionals and practitioners working on and with the teams. However, this is not guaranteed; there is also evidence that, if not well organized, such teams can have no impact or even a negative impact.

The article explores both the pitfalls and opportunities of multi-disciplinary teams and offers case studies that illustrate the different ways to support groups of professionals and practitioners to collaborate successfully. It also includes key definitions, existing evidence, and a list of the “enablers” that need to be in place to ensure a team’s success: clear purpose, institutional support, clear leadership, evidence and evaluation, and role diversity.

4. The Need for Cross-Sector Collaboration (US 2018)

This short article by the Stanford Social Innovation Review explores how we can develop the capacity to lead collaboratively and some ways to more effectively work across sectors. According to the authors (and the secondary sources they refer to in the conclusion), the capacity to be an effective cross-sector leader is not merely the result of moving between sectors or a collection of traits to be hired for. Instead, collaborative leadership is the product of a series of mind-sets and skills that can be effectively developed.

According to the authors, the goal of collaboration (and the gift it offers) is the possibility of using differences as an asset—differences in resources, experience, demographics, and sector as well as differences in perspective (such as assessments of risk, time, and scale). As such, cross-sector leaders must recognize that the most robust and sustainable solutions will come from designing with (and not just for) the communities most affected. They must also be able to address power dynamics effectively, build trust, and help team members address any breaches of the shared culture they are developing (factors that echo the “relational dimension” of successful collaboration mentioned in the first article).