We the Partnership

Three ways government can create cross-sector engagements that better serve the public

By Lindsay Laferriere, Federal Innovation Council
September 3, 2021

The federal government needs to operate at full capacity to respond successfully to the biggest challenges of our time—from climate change and racial inequity to global health and more.

To meet this goal, government must collaborate with other sectors. Many agencies are already doing so, working with private, academic, philanthropic and nonprofit organizations and across levels of government to strengthen community resilience in disaster preparedness, enhance diplomacy and development outcomes, and improve transportation capabilities to and from the International Space Station.

However, government as a whole still needs to change how it approaches cross-sector engagement, and agencies continue to encounter several barriers to building cross-sector collaborations that deliver results for the general public.

Here are three ways government can help make the most of cross-sector engagements to achieve better outcomes.

Agency officials may be hesitant to work across sectors because the legal and ethical complexities seem too daunting or risky. In addition, many legal ethics offices—often consulted when agencies work outside the public sector—are unaware of existing government-wide guidance and communities of practice.

A wealth of expertise and resources can help agencies address these concerns, including the “White House Building Partnerships Best Practices Guide,” the “Guide to Legal Issues Involved in Federal Public-Private Partnerships” and the Administrative Conference of the United States’ “Recommendation 2018-8 on Public-Private Partnerships.”  

The White House, the Office of Management and Budget, and other high-level federal offices should create a strategy to share these resources to reach a wider audience.

Use best practices for developing cross-sector collaborations.

Cross-sector engagements can take many forms and should be designed based on the outcomes an agency hopes to achieve. Engagements—ranging from tech sprints, which bring together technologists and cross-sector stakeholders for focused, short-term problem-solving sessions, to public-private partnerships—require different considerations, levels of effort and execution strategies. Existing communities of practice, particularly in Open Innovation and public-private partnerships, can help agency employees and leaders access resources, understand best practices and lessons learned, and work through models relating to cross-sector engagement.

Agencies can also build upon these efforts by identifying points of contact to serve as conduits between the communities of practice and internal staff. These contacts can be members of an agency partnership, an external engagement team, or assigned from another office with relevant duties.

Establish an office and agency-specific policies to guide partnerships and other cross-sector engagements.

Offices that focus on cross-sector engagements act as central resources that help agencies work more effectively with private, academic, philanthropic and nonprofit stakeholders, and increase opportunities for identifying potential collaborations.

In addition to administering and providing technical assistance to develop cross-sector engagements, these offices also create agency-specific policies that guide employees in their work with organizations operating outside government. While guidance from the White House or OMB can also be useful, agencies have unique concerns and mission priorities to consider. As such, establishing agency-specific policies can help address the distinct concerns or risks that emerge when different agencies work with non-government stakeholders.

Federal leaders and employees are capable of working across sectors to improve government outcomes—as demonstrated by the recent development of COVID-19 vaccines in record time. By following the steps above, agencies can continue to initiate cross-sector engagements that provide the public with the services it needs.

This post is part of our blog series on a new innovation agenda for government, developed in coordination with Partnership’s Federal Innovation Council. For more information, read our first post.


Lindsay Laferriere

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