Building structure in cross-sectoral collaborations
Institutional structure is crucial to the success of a cross-sectoral collaboration. Building such a structure is an on-going and complex process and not a one-time exercise.
The experiences from the RiConfigure Social Labs and Dialogue Days suggest a list of structural elements that partners in a collaboration should attend to in order to make it thrive:
- The financial framework – financial resources and their distribution naturally affects the nature of collaborations. Partners should be aware that their financial contributions are closely related to (often tacit) power structures, which manifests themselves in agenda setting, decision power and inclusion/exclusion from the collaboration. Moreover, civil society often lack financial resources, which is why external funding that is often stable and equally distributed is a powerful means to achieve a successful quadruple helix collaboration.
- Collaboration constellation – the order in which partners enter into the collaboration is central to its structure. Partners should be aware that the initiating actor often has a decisive impact on the structure of the collaboration and that civil society is often the last one to enter leaving its actors with a more peripheral role.
- Legal and governance frameworks – clear guidelines support collaboration. These might include non-disclosure agreements, letters of intent and written workplans but also agreements with external actors such as funding agencies or governance boards. However, partners should be aware that familiarity with these types of agreement varies. They might especially be new to civil society actors.
- Common vision and shared goals – these should be ensured to help overcoming collaboration barriers. Common vision and shared goals both apply to the concrete collaboration working toward a certain value output, but it also implies wider goals such as national R&I strategies or the UN SDGs. Idealist perspectives might also motivate collaboration.
- Regular reflection – cross-sectoral collaboration is complex involving a variety of people, cultures, practices, geographical distances etc. Consequently, partners should prioritize regular reflection in order to help aligning goals, building trust, fostering transparency, and overcoming communication barriers and power gaps.
In addition to this, participants of the RiConfigure Dialogue provided the following recommendations for policy that could ease the efforts of building structure:
- Increase funding for inclusive collaboration that allows adaptation and experimentation as well as support- and training structures.
- Raise awareness of collaborative innovation and challenge the dominance of ‘business orientation’.
- Support collaborative efforts as opposed to stakeholder engagement.
- Pluralize the understanding of civil society, establishing a continuum from civil society organizations to less privileged publics.