Exploring Human Potential

Cross-Sector Partnerships and Public Health

Posted on | January 28, 2016 | 2 Comments

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 2.30.47 PMSource: NIH

Mike Magee

In an article this week in JAMA, titled “Aspirations and Strategies for Public Health”, the authors explore how best to position the role of Public Health in advancing population health.  Three points were especially noteworthy.

1. “Public health must engage the social, political, and economic foundations that determine population health.”

2. “The conditions that make people healthy often are outside what have historically been considered the remit of the health professions: health improvement now requires participation in politics and social structures.”

3.  “..public health advocates must work with actors across government, academia, industry, and not-for-profit sectors to achieve the goals of public health.”

These insights reinforce two important truisms:

1. Health is political.

2. Cross-sectors partnerships are essential.

Complex forces at work over the past two decades have created a myriad of social, economic and political challenges that demand cooperative and collaborative solutions.  Such cross-sector partnerships presume clear role delineation, well defined strategies and objectives and evolving relationships that challenge historic checks and balances.

The desire on the part of government, academics, non-governmental organizations and industry to forge new partnerships reflects the common belief that no one sector can address such complex challenges in isolation.  The rapid advance of technology has supercharged the environment accelerating globalization, regionalization and the rate of change in social institutions while virtually disintegrating geographic boundaries.  Success in forming stable and productive cross-sector relationships will largely determine the extent to which we are able to ensure societal justice and progress.

The rapid emergence of new technology has conspired to eliminate previously well-defined sector boundaries.  On a most fundamental level, these previously heavily segregated sectors now possess, in varying degrees, a common language and set of tools.  In addition, information and knowledge are no longer subject to reliable isolation whether by geography, class, gender, race or religion.  Finally, the acquisition and implementation of new information technologies have ignited a highly compressed, cross-sector and globally competitive exercise in process redesign that has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and do business with each other, and in the process ramped up expectations for progress absent a fundamental alteration in our human capacity to absorb change without destabilizing our societies.

Government, business, academics, and non-governmental organizations today confront a complex series of public challenges that no one sector can address in isolation. Each sector has well defined historic purposes, roles and strategies for success.  Appreciation of these unique traditional assets is a starting point in our common movement toward mutual appreciation and partnership.

Industry has focused on business performance, the creation of wealth, the discovery of new markets, the expansion of social engagement, the delivery of customer service, and expanding and aligning philanthropy with core mission.  Government has focused on purpose and governance, redefining basic roles and responsibilities, exploring centralized and decentralized approaches, tapping cross-sector expertise to expand efficiency, and developing skills as bridgers and collaborators in an effort to share responsibility for creation   and execution of sound policy.

Academics have traditionally focused on a mission of service, education and research. Today they confront diminishing resources and increasing demands for service and social action.  In response, they have emphasized reengineering of patient care processes to accomplish operational efficiencies, and constructive approaches to partnering emphasizing trust and transparency, with a constant eye on institutional integrity.

Non governmental organizations (NGO’s) have focused on shaping attitudes and behaviors of government, industry and academics.  This relatively new mission has been layered upon one of traditional service and activism directed at specific concrete objectives with a high degree of immediacy.  They have focused on virtual communications, organizational building, and campaign execution skillfully leveraging new low cost information technologies and high media credibility. 

Beyond a common understanding of the strengths and capabilities of each sector, and the desire for collaboration reflected in a willingness to mutually plan, to align goals and objectives and to share risk, there remains the issue of environmental readiness. What are the factors that must be in place to ensure success?

First, if it is true that all politics are local, so too are all successful cross-sector partnerships in so far as they acknowledge in their planning, design and management the realities of time, place, people and institutions in the target geography.

Second, in any cross-sector initiative in health, there should be some level of representation from each of the four sectors.  The partners must have a well-defined common need or public purpose that unites them.  What is that common passion?

Third, the proposed project or solution must be right sized to the problem or challenge at hand.  Too small and the effort will lack resources to ensure measurability and sustainability.  Too large and the effort will create structure without solution.

Fourth, human conditions must be right.  This includes identifiable optimistic leaders with the time and willingness to commit and a reservoir of good will among the players to support both innovation and implementation of the common vision, the structural integration, the joint governance and ongoing civic engagement.

Fifth, there needs to be accurate information and baseline data that clearly defines the challenges and serves as a grounding for future reasonable outcomes.  It is not enough to marshal human resources.  There must be an established organizational capacity, processes, and oversight to ensure that the human effort translates into a highly coordinate and effective service result.

The social, economic and political challenges accompanying our rapidly changing and fundamentally transforming global environments have created unique social challenges that demand cross sector solutions.  These new models of collaboration are uniquely evolving and being shaped by the transformational forces at work in our modern society which demands both competency and equity.

In pursuit of these new partnerships in the health sector, there should be a bias toward action, early organization and prevention, health consumerism and relationship based care, elimination of health disparities, and an integrated vision of health as the leading edge of development with an emphasis on sustainability.

Government, business, academics and non-governmental organizations are increasingly overlapping in the areas of social purpose.  The ability to organize their varied and often complimentary skills and resources will significantly benefit society. Such collaboration will be increasingly necessary to address the health care needs of an increasingly interconnected global society.


2 Responses to “Cross-Sector Partnerships and Public Health”

  1. Yvonne Bronner
    June 13th, 2019 @ 11:34 am

    This is excellent. One of the increasing places where there is clear recognition that PH has been stuck in the “sick care system” and that change has to occur in the direction of the social determinants of health if we are to see substantive changes in the health and well being of US citizens in the future.

  2. Mike Magee
    June 13th, 2019 @ 11:54 am

    Thanks, Yvonne. This is an underlying message in my new book, CODE BLUE. See News and Events surrounding its release @ Best, Mike

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