Intersectoral collaboration: Addressing complex, health-related local issues

March 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — There is growing interest in the use of intersectoral collaboration — alliances, coalitions, partnerships — to address complex, health-related issues in local communities.

Researchers at Penn State found that the perceived importance of intersectoral collaboration was greater for partnership alliances located in communities with greater overall needs. Likewise, the perceived importance of intersectoral collaboration was greater, on average, among government stakeholders and consumers.  

The strength of these relationships, however, varied for different types of collaboration. The researchers studied collaboration with nonmedical health care sectors, such as public health and behavioral health; and nonhealth care sectors, for example, housing and criminal justice. Likewise, respondent perceptions of the strategic priorities of the alliance influenced participant ratings of the importance of collaborating with nonmedical health care sectors and nonmedical, nonhealth care sectors.  

Their findings appear in the Journal of Community Psychology. 

The publication stemmed from the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) evaluation research project, which was headed by Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration and director of the Center for Health Care and Policy Research at Penn State.

The AF4Q Initiative, a nearly decade-long investment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, aimed to improve health and healthcare through various alliances formed across the United States. Scanlon was principal investigator of the evaluation component of the initiative and the team collaborated with a number of faculty in other universities, including the publication's lead author Larry Herald, director and associate professor, Department of Health Services Administration, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Research to date on the development of health care collaborations has focused on the conditions that give rise to their formation, however, few studies have examined how to foster and sustain collaboration during later stages of alliance operations.  

To address this gap, the authors examined the perceptions of participants of 15 multisector health care alliances participating in the AF4Q initiative, regarding the importance of collaborating with different industry sectors as they transitioned from stable, prescriptive foundation support, to a more uncertain future.

The authors analyzed the relationship between the perceived importance of collaboration and a range of individual, alliance, and community characteristics.

Specifically, the study addressed two primary research questions: 

  • How much importance do alliance participants ascribe to collaborating with different industry sectors as they transition into a more uncertain operating environment? 
  • Do the perceptions of alliance participants regarding the importance of collaborating with different industry sectors at this critical juncture vary as a function of community, alliance and member characteristics?

The study relied on three data sources: an Internet-based survey of alliances, conducted from June to September 2015; the Area Resource File; and the County Health Rankings. A total of 638 individuals (38.6 percent) completed the entire survey (the range across alliances was 21.8 to 92.9 percent). Additionally, 77 (4.7 percent) responded to a portion of the survey. 

Collectively, the authors’ findings point to the importance of thinking more comprehensively, across multiple levels of influence, when considering ways to foster or sustain intersectoral collaboration.

Other authors of the publication include Laura J. Wolf, qualitative research specialist, Center for Health Care and Policy Research, Penn State; Yunfeng Shi, assistant professor of health policy and administration, Penn State; and Jeffrey A. Alexander, professor emeritus, School of Public Health, University of Michigan.

This work was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Last Updated February 11, 2020