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Building Inter-Organizational Collaboration

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

The following is a summary of the lessons learned from an inter-organizational collaboration among seven social agencies to create, implement and institutionalize a community-based service network of informal and formal family support programs to help prevent child abuse and neglect. Though the source article specifically addresses the experiences from the child abuse and neglect project the lessons learned are applicable to any situation where several organizations are attempting to work together to accomplish a set of project goals. The source article reports findings from an organizational analysis of Dorchester CARES, one of the nine National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) funded demonstration projects. By project completion, seven nonprofit health and human services organizations had collaborated to develop a community-based model to prevent and reduce child abuse in a poor neighborhood of Boston. It discusses the factors that facilitated the collaboration and the characteristics of the service system.

Overview - A nonprofit, statewide children's advocacy organization paired with a federation of neighborhood settlement houses to implement a federally funded, $1 million, five-year demonstration project-Dorchester CARES. The grant mandated development of a community-based prevention alternative to the existing child welfare system.

Findings of the Organizational Analysis
    •    Relationship Building - Building cooperative relationships that not only involved representatives from organizations, but also included residents as partners facilitated organizational development, implementation and institutionalization of a neighborhood service network.

    •    Assembling Multi-Sector Support - Broad multi-sector support was solicited and received from business leaders, social services agencies, religious leaders, health professionals, educators and residents. However, events did not unfold according to plan. In the first three months of operation, the project director encountered three resistive forces.

    •    Narrowing the geographic scope - Building relationships across organizational boundaries brought professionals into a collaborative governance structure, but collaboration in the community context meant working with residents as partners.

    •    Criteria for partner participation - Unlike collaborative approaches in which many agencies from multiple sectors meet to coordinate existing services or resolve multisectoral or community conflicts, this project added new agencies to the network on the basis of geographic, programmatic, organizational and interpersonal criteria.

    •    Governance and Operations - The steering committee made decisions on governance, policy and membership, and the network operated on the front lines in a decentralized, team based format.

Lessons Learned
    •    Develop a culture of mutual trust - A culture of mutual trust is imperative to generate cooperative behavior. Mutual trust must exist among administrative decision makers and frontline workers, and in a neighborhood network, it must exist with residents, as well. Learning to trust evolves over time.

    •    Build and fund an administrative infrastructure - A funded administrative infrastructure is central to a collaboration's success.

    •    Start small, grow incrementally - The network obtained more breadth in its service continuum when it narrowed its geographic scope to get closer to consumer preferences.

Building a neighborhood network: Interorganizational collaboration to prevent child abuse and neglect; Elizabeth A Mulroy, Social Work. New York: May 1997. Vol. 42, Iss. 3; pg. 255, 10 pgs

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