Report Details Important Lessons for Partnerships in All Issue Areas

ReThink Health, an initiative of Fannie E. Rippel Foundation, recently released a report on multi-sector partnerships to improve health, equity and economic well being.  Based on a nationwide survey of multi sector partnerships, the report details lessons learned from the work plans, finances and organizational development of these groups.

Some excerpted highlights that reinforce the message of GCRI’s Collective Impact panelists:

Challenges Based on Partnership Lifecycle

While most partnerships faced challenges related to collaborative infrastructure, sustainable financing, and data-sharing, other challenges were more prominent at certain phases, as are several distinctive momentum builders.

Earlier partnerships may face barriers in terms of “lack of authority and fragile infrastructure are special barriers in the Earlier phase, as partnerships establish their standing to lead change on chosen priorities. Groups in this phase tend to generate momentum by engaging multi-sector stakeholders and by building a region-wide vision around shared values.”

In the middle phases, partners may encounter “difficulties measuring progress and contending with political resistance…Their longer track record may raise expectations and they may have yet to negotiate all the vested interests that tend to reinforce the status quo. Experimenting and learning from easy wins gains special prominence as a practical way to drive progress.”

In more mature partnerships, their previous successes may actually be a challenge:  “Partnerships may have exhausted strategies that center primarily around win-win solutions or achievements that are perceived as low hanging fruit. They generate momentum more often by exercising influence upward and outward, as well as by taking a longer view of future scenarios.”

The report made several recommendations for successful partnership development:

All partnerships may benefit by having a wider view of the health ecosystem in their region, and by contributing toward a strategy for the region as a whole that will assure all of the vital conditions and services that people need through an organizational structure that best fits the local landscape. In addition, partnerships at each developmental phase may accelerate progress in different ways.

Earlier: Partnerships in the Earlier phase can set themselves up for success when they: (1) Articulate a region-wide vision based on shared values (both moral and economic); (2) Establish authority and expand engagement far as possible; and (3) Strengthen infrastructure through staff capacity, operational capability (e.g. backbone functions), and long-term financial planning.

Middle: Progress in the Middle phase may turn on building enough trust and transparency for more ambitious action as well as more difficult negotiations ahead. Groups may want to:  (1) Develop a compelling picture of the value they are poised to deliver; (2) Engage policymakers to create conditions that better enable regional action; and (3) Adopt a mindset for sustainable financing focused on creating new funding flows, especially ones that move beyond an excessive reliance on short-term grants, which often constrain the very ambitions and abilities that groups in the Middle phase need to succeed.

Later: To propel progress in the Later phase, we recommend that partnerships: (1) Surface vested interests and negotiate tough topics that otherwise threaten to reinforce the status quo; (2) Employ a learning practice that delivers evidence of results and is also tied to continuous learning, adaptation, and renewal; (3) Align with state and federal policy, such as changes in payment or regulatory systems; and (4) Establish new forms of distributed leadership, with a focus on broad-based coordination to avoid placing too much power in the hands of a few key players.

Considerations for Funders, Policymakers, and Other Allies

For funders, policymakers, and other allies who support multi-sector partnerships, we suggest the following activities:

• Learn about and consider developmental phases when crafting initiatives;

• Support long-term planning—extending over decades—so that strategies will persist through inevitable leadership transitions and adapt to change in wider contexts;

• Position grant funding as a bridge to more dependable financial structures.

• Fund core infrastructure and backbone organization, which can be decisive factors in the success of any multi-sector partnership.

Full report