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A Research Agenda to Advance Cross-Sector Collaboration in the U.S.: An Update



Connecting state and local government leaders

Research is on the rise and the best of scholarly work holds insights relevant to the design and implementation of cross-sector collaboration.

At The Intersector Project, we’ve recently revisited our proposed Research Agenda to Advance Cross-Sector Collaboration in the United States. This list of research topics and questions reflects our thinking on where scholarship can and should advance the intelligent practice of cross-sector collaboration in the United States and is informed by our ongoing research projects, regular reviews of literature relevant to the field, and learning conversations with practitioners and supporters of government, business, and non-profit collaboration in the United States.

We first published this agenda on our blog in September 2015. (You can find the original agenda here, and topics covered in that agenda are listed below.)

Research Topics

Since September, we’ve expanded the Agenda to include two additional topics—the gap between research and practice, and public awareness. We have also amended one research area—trending topics and cross-sector collaboration — to include additional questions, also reflected below. We invite those who work on these questions and may be aware of relevant research and resources to share their thoughts with us at

Gap Between Research and Practice

Research on cross-sector collaboration is on the rise. The best of this scholarly work holds insights relevant to the design and implementation of cross-sector collaboration. Yet few practitioners have the time or resources to read the academic journals in which this research is published. Meanwhile, practitioner experiences and collaborations offer rich learning opportunities for researchers. Research activities that connect practitioners and scholars are an opportune way to simultaneously advance thinking and practice as those actively working on collaborative projects have rich knowledge to offer to researchers and vice versa.

  • How can the growing number of entities working to support cross-sector collaboration in the United States — advisory firms, training organizations, leadership programs, and the like — help advance knowledge and understanding on the practice of cross-sector collaboration?
  • How can collaboration participants and the organizations that provide support services build learning processes into their collaboration and share their findings?
  • How can funders support initiatives that build structures for interplay between research and practice, and expand the initiative’s capacity to collect data during cross-sector collaborations?
  • How can organizations practicing cross-sector collaboration use research to better understand the limits to cross-sector collaboration and thus the conditions, processes, structures, and interactions necessary for success?
  • Which stages or aspects of cross-sector collaboration are receiving scholarly attention, and what are the implications for practitioners? Which stages or aspects of cross-sector collaboration are not receiving scholarly attention?

Public Awareness of Cross-Sector Collaboration

Cross-sector collaboration is not recognized as a popular public issue, yet it influences the livesof many citizens. A stronger understanding of how the public perceives the sectors and cross-sector collaboration can lead to greater attention and resources for the issue.

  • How does sector affiliation, political orientation, and income affect which sector an individual thinks is responsible for taking the lead in responding to public challenges?
  • How much influence does issue type have on public perceptions of cross-sector collaboration?
  • Should cross-sector collaboration be “top of mind” for citizens as a means to address public challenges? And, if so, why isn’t it?
  • How can practitioners, researchers, and others engaged in the space increase public awareness of cross-sector collaboration?

Trending Topics and Cross-Sector Collaboration (Additions – See previous trending topics here.)

Emerging issues and opportunities inspire new questions about the role cross-sector collaboration can play in the United States. Understanding the role cross-sector collaboration plays in these fields provides an opportunity to explain the relevance of cross-sector collaboration in society.

  • How do sustainability rankings account for (or fail to account for) cross-sector collaboration?
  • What is the relationship between cross-sector collaboration and collective impact?
  • What is the role of cross-sector collaboration in cybersecurity?

This article was originally posted on the blog of The Intersector Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing collaboration across sectors as a way to address society's complex issues, and is republished here with permission.

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