Symposium conclusion: future research on the dimensions of collaboration.
Abstract: As the research findings in this symposium demonstrate, public and nonprofit managers in health and human service agencies continue to collaborate with multiple goals in mind. As would be anticipated, the collaborations described in the symposium generally addressed service gaps, enhanced services, improved access, and expanded programs. A common underlying expectation was that participation in the collaboration would further an agency's mission (Goodsell, 2011). As cautioned by Word in her commentary, however, making joint decisions and sharing power does not come easy when agencies also must respond to countervailing pressures that inherently flow from the agency's political, social, and economic contexts.

Overall, the symposium examines levels of linkages, decision-making, hierarchy, autonomy, shared administration, governance, outcomes, and more. Reflecting their various research questions, the authors use a variety of methods to examine the multiple dimensions of collaboration. Clearly, the symposium's researchers are building on and adding to our knowledge about cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (Keast, Brown, & Mandell, 2007; Keast, Mandell, Brown, & Woolcock, 2004) as well as how to assess the multiple dimensions of collaboration. The authors effectively used existing instruments and models to understand collaboration dimensions but also propose new models and test metrics/variables.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Public health administration (Research)
County services (Management)
Human services (Management)
Author: Clay, Joy A.
Pub Date: 06/22/2012
Publication: Name: Journal of Health and Human Services Administration Publisher: Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Government; Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. ISSN: 1079-3739
Issue: Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 35 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 304051555

The case authors and practitioner commentaries respectively offer interesting suggestions for potentially fruitful research directions. In reacting to the symposium, key research directions appear to have some urgency. Clearly, an important area of research should include a fuller examination of collaboration impacts, beyond the outcomes of a specific collaborative effort to community-wide issues of equity, diversity, fairness, and responsiveness. Mayhew's research draws attention to the need for more attention to how end users, not just the collaboration participants, assess the effectiveness of the collaboration and whether the resulting programming actually yields innovation and effectiveness. Similarly, Wrobel comments that assessing additional stakeholders, especially parents, is needed to assess the impact on the children and families served by a collaborative. These researchers convincingly argue that there has been insufficient attention to measure end user perceptions of outcomes from collaborations.

Especially relevant to health and human services sectors, research directed at improving our capacity to identify specific indicators that pinpoint cultures of competition vs. collaboration could enable participants and policymakers to build more effective collaboration structures and processes. This issue appeared relevant throughout the symposium. Similarly, concrete measures to analyze how the diversity of professional cultures and norms affect collaboration dynamics and structures could help practitioners be strategic about collaboration practice and leadership. Very importantly, research attention to how organizations learn effective collaboration practices could also be rewarding and insightful and help funders set better benchmarks for expectations.

Both practice and theory would benefit from more researcher attention to the role of local government, especially counties, in affecting collaboration dynamics, structures and outcomes, positively and negatively. As mentioned by Knepper, further examination of the role of county government in network analysis as well as more comparative studies of networks would be beneficial. Sullivan's rich description of SPARC highlights how the same program resulted in an enduring collaboration in one county but not in another nearby county. What indicators predict the barriers? In his commentary, Mirvis notes many barriers to county involvement. With counties playing such an important role in health and human services collaborations, a better understanding of the counites as intermediaries, facilitators, and/or participants could be a productive area of research. Again, more comparative studies of counties and counties within regions also would be beneficial to build our knowledge base about collaboration.

Given the importance of intergovernmental relationships and the increased role of government or nonprofit agencies serving as intermediaries, deeper examination their role(s) on outcomes could help build and sustain more effective collaboration practice. Although the Head Start collaboration increased access to funding, reduced duplication, and served more children, Wrobel notes that policy constraints made collaboration difficult for each agency. Consequently, further research into local, state and federal constraints on collaboration seems justified. Leslie calls for additional research on state and federal dynamics, noting that where one is in the system affects problem definition, accountability demands, and the building of trust and performance. More insight into these dynamics would provide very usable insights. Sakran convincingly argues for more examination of the dynamics of merging funding streams and regulatory differences, and how these dynamics affect interagency collaboration.


The interconnection of government and nonprofit sectors continues to be important in serving our communities (Roberts, 2011; Crosby, 2010; Weber, 2009; Bryer, 2009; Dawes, Cresswell, & Pardo, 2009; Agranoff, 2008; Keast, Brown, & Mandell, 2007; Keast, Mandell, Brown, & Woolcock, 2004; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2003; Schulz, Israel, & Lantz, 2004). As noted by Goodsell (2011), agencies are not acting in silos but seek collaborative relationships to further their missions, what he labels as "dispersed public action" (p. 270). However, questions about the degree and quality of the collaboration approach remains. For example, does the collaboration result in more than superficial, instrumental approach to collaboration? Does the collaboration yield the programming improvements and enhancements only minimally expected? Alternatively, does the collaboration approach yield a shared relationship that drives innovation, quality, and effectiveness? Does the collaboration effectively engage the investment of the community, key stakeholders, and concerned citizens not affiliated in agencies in ways that sustain their involvement and commitment? As Lubin and Esty (2010) note, gaining advantage for organizations caught in an emerging megatrend requires "leadership, methods, strategy, management, and reporting" and thus the need to "transition from tactical, ad hoc, and siloed approaches to strategic, systematic, and integrated ones" (p. 47). The pressure to coordinate, partner, and collaborate shows no sign of diminishing. Consequently, research into how to do this more strategically and systematically appears justified.

Although the policy-area literature often uses qualitative research from case analysis, the sophistication level of methodology needs to continue to increase as researchers compare multiple cases to identify patterns or test frameworks (Welsh, 2004; Agranoff, 2008; Vogel, Ransom, Wai, & Luisi, 2007; Simo & Bies, 2007; Chen, 2008). Our understanding of the dynamics and multiple dimensions of collaboration would benefit from more research that examines large-scale collective impact. Complaining about the approach that has nonprofits chasing grants and attempting specifically to measure their individual influence, Kania and Kramer (2011) convincingly argue that isolated initiatives will not likely solve large-scale social problems. Instead, they call for a more systematic approach to collaboration that supports and drives social impact from collective action.

The research in the symposium contributes to our knowledge base as the researchers have focused on unpacking collaboration and partnering dynamics and the evolution of these dynamics. This research also describes the breadth of interests involved in the collaboration, the goals and priorities that attracted the various agencies to join together, and the variety of structures that were designed for the collaboration. The cases and commentaries also provide insights into factors that may yield successful or unsuccessful collaborative efforts. Clearly, more research from a multi-level, multi-dimensional approach remains to be done.


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Bryer, T. (2009). Explaining responsiveness in collaboration: Administrator and citizen role perceptions. Public Administration Review, 69 (2), 271-83.

Chen, B. (2008). Assessing interorganizational networks for public service delivery: A process-perceived effectiveness framework. Public Performance & Management Review, 31 (3), 348-363.

Crosby, B. (2010). Leading in the shared-power world of 2020. Public Administration Review, 70 (Supplement), S69-S77.

Dawes, S., Cresswell, A., & Pardo, T. (2009). From "Need to Know" to "Need to Share": Tangled problems, information boundaries, and the building of public sector knowledge networks. Public Administration Review, 69 (3), 392-402.

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Vogel, A., Ransom, P., Wai, S., & Luisi, D. (2007). Integrating health and social services for older adults: A case study of interagency collaboration. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 30 (2), 199-228.

Weber, E. (2009). Explaining institutional change in tough cases of collaboration: "Ideas" in the Blackfoot Watershed. Public Administration Review, 69 (2), 314-327.

Welsh, M. (2004). Fast-forward to a participatory norm: Agency response to public mobilization over oil and gas leasing in Pennsylvania. State and Local Government Review, 36 (3), 186-197.


University of Memphis

Joy A. Clay is a professor in the Division of Public and Nonprofit Administration and Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Memphis. Her research interests include collaboration and community-based evaluation as well as maternal and infant health policy.
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