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Look for Opportunities to Collaborate Across Sectors

Advice for New Professionals

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Intersector Project
July 21, 2015

wax - Advice for Professionals

Collaborative approaches are increasingly en vogue among government, business and nonprofit sectors alike, especially as public officials continue to grapple with limited financial resources and increasing need in areas like infrastructure, public space development, public health, housing and more. Navigating these partnerships can be considerably difficult. Although the growing industry of training and advisory organizations that have appeared in recent years to support cross-sector collaboration routinely serve Fortune 500 companies, major foundations and well-endowed nonprofits, our exploratory research at The Intersector Project suggests the public sector may be underserved.

Public sector professionals must seek out their own opportunities to learn how to work effectively across sectors. In addition to learning from more seasoned professionals, The Intersector Project Toolkit is an excellent place to start. A planning guide that is particularly well suited for early- to midcareer professionals, the Toolkit can assist leaders in: creating a common language, process for driving progress and mutually agreed upon measures of success and expectations. Our Case Library offers examples of midcareer public administrators leading successful collaborations. Here are some of their experiences.

Perspectives from Cross-Sector Leaders

“For cross-sector collaboration you might need to talk in terms that you’re not necessarily familiar with, but you have to do your research in order to find those connections to other areas and harness those partners. That is how we were able to make our projects work with very little funding and no line item in the city budget for what we were doing.”— Dr. Rose Zavaletta Gowen, Brownsville City Commissioner, from “Creating an Environment for Healthy Lifestyles in Brownsville.”

In this collaboration, a cross-sector community advisory board organized and designed a farmers market, an annual weight loss event and an open streets program. They also worked on policy changes that included a sidewalk ordinance, a safe passing ordinance, a complete streets resolution and smoking ban ordinance. They were also able to accomplish a master bike and hike plan, which aimed at providing a trail within one-half mile of every residence in the city.

“The strength of a management group is much better when it’s not just a single agency. When you get different people involved, they see things differently and everybody brings something into the collaborative process…If you want to go fast, go by yourself, but if you want to make a difference, go with others.”— Paul Summerfelt, Flagstaff Fire Department’s Wildland Fire Management Officer from “Reducing the Risks of Catastrophic Wildfires in Flagstaff

In this collaboration, a partnership among the city, county, state and federal governments, with support from local nonprofit and for-profit organizations, resulted in the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP). FWPP plans to mitigate the risk of potentially devastating wildfires in Flagstaff’s critical watershed areas by managing forest fuels and restoring natural ecosystem functions. This will include thinning out dense forests and reintroducing a low-intensity fire regime. To fund FWPP, Flagstaff passed a $10 million municipal bond with 74 percent approval rate, making FWPP the only forest restoration work on national forests funded through municipal bonds.

“Cities are remarkable places, and there is an incredible opportunity here to take on long-standing challenges. Whether it is improvements in public health, or transportation or environment, we need very new models of working and of collaborating.”— Chris Osgood, Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics from “Providing Public School Bus Information to Parents in Boston

In this collaboration, MONUM partnered with Code for America, a nonprofit of civic minded developers, to work on a series of projects, including an app called “Where’s My School Bus?” MONUM, in partnership with Boston Public Schools, the GPS Provider Zonar and Code for America (and later, Vermonster), created a free app that would deliver needed information to parents in a safe and expedited way. Today, “Where’s My School Bus?” provides Boston parents with real-time public school bus locations of their children and city officials report that the app is used by parents 1,000 times a day.


Author: The Intersector Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cross-sector collaboration as a way to address society’s pressing issues. We work to provide practitioners in every sector with the tools they need to implement collaborative solutions to complex problems. 

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