Four Trends to Consider as Cross-Sector Partnerships Begin a New Year

Four useful trends emerged from our Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment tool results, based on our analysis of over 750 responses from partnerships in the field.

Four Trends to Consider as Cross-Sector Partnerships Begin a New Year

This is the first post in a two part series. Read part two: “Form, Storm, Norm, Perform: How to Consider the Stage of Your Cross-Sector Partnership in a New Year.”


About a year ago, Living Cities launched the Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment, a tool to help cross-sector partnerships around the country think through the development and progress of their partnerships and receive immediate, tailored feedback, tools and resources to help partners get better results, faster. Not only did the Assessment provide insights to users, it allowed us to collect data on the state of cross-sector partnerships across issue areas, geographies and sizes.

Now, over 750 partnerships across the country have taken the assessment. So as we entered the new year, we decided to analyze that data to see what insights we could find. Four trends stood out that are particularly interesting and applicable to cross-sector partnerships now:

  1. Formalized partnerships are more likely to have agreed-upon shared results.
  2. Partnerships that aren’t sure of their goals are more likely to be structured informally.
  3. If a partnership has a specific shared result, it is more likely to do both programs–and systems-level work.
  4. Regardless of the formality of a partnership, it will go through all stages of the form/storm/norm/perform cycle.

Living Cities defines formal partnerships as those that have established procedures, roles and commitments that are codified through operating documents. Meanwhile, informal partnerships also have procedures, roles and commitments, but they are implicit and not established or documented. We use the term shared result to describe the specific purpose of a cross-sector partnership, (e.g. a decrease in regional unemployment rate). In most cases, “shared result” can be synonymous with “goal” or “outcome.”

A specific shared result includes a metric, time frame and location

(e.g. “a 5 percentage point decrease in the unemployment rate in Detroit by 2030”).

These insights come directly from the work of the over 750 partnerships who have completed the Assessment, and represent a kind of “state of the field” on cross-sector partnerships. We hope that these learnings from your peers can help you set up your partnership to achieve results. If you want more tailored, specific feedback, complete the Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment for yourself.

Our observations are based on correlation; that is, we can’t say that the traits we’ve observed in cross-sector partnerships across the field cause certain results to come about, but we can confidently share that the traits that we have seen go hand-in-hand when it comes to the success of a cross-sector partnership in achieving results.

1. Formalized partnerships are more likely to have agreed-upon shared results.

We have seen that formalizing a partnership leads to clearer goals and outcomes. This is important because:

Hope SF, a member of our Integration Initiative has a formalized leadership board with representatives from the Mayor’s Office, philanthropy, city agencies and local non-profits. Each of these representatives has a specified role at the cross-sector table or one of HOPE SF’s sub-tables (such as the Economic Mobility Workgroup or the Data & Evaluation Workgroup). The structure allowed the partnership to develop alignment, leading to a specific and measurable shared result, and one that provides a time frame within which the city aims to effect its intended outcome. For HOPE SF, that shared result is also ambitious: “By 2020, we quadruple the number of (formerly) public housing households of color that are thriving in the City.” The specificity of the result allows members of the partnership to own a shared vision of the objectives of the partnership.


The Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment data confirmed our anecdotal experiences with the Integration Initiative. Formal partnerships are significantly more likely to have clearly articulated a shared result than informal partnerships. Whether their shared result is specific—as in the case of HOPE SF—or more general,

Formal partnerships are more likely to have built consensus and established alignment about their partnership’s main objective.

Furthermore, we’ve found that formal partnerships are also more likely to have taken the additional steps to articulate a specific shared result that includes a metric, timeframe and location.

Formalizing a partnership around procedures, roles and commitments can also add more specificity to the objective of a partnership, so that it is clearly apparent to all partners what the vision of a partnership is. For further resources on creating a specific shared result, see our blog on Four Components of a Shared Result that Creates Enduring Change.

2. Partnerships that aren’t sure of their goals are more likely to be structured informally.

We also found that partnerships that are unsure of their shared result are more likely to be informally organized. Based on our data, of the partnerships that were unsure of their shared result, 77% were structured in an informal way. This finding confirms the observation above, and again suggests that formalizing a partnership can lead to a clearer shared vision of the partnership’s objective. This relationship also suggests that identifying a shared result may lead to a more formal partnership structure. This makes sense, as a shared result can serve as one of the codified commitments that kick off a partnership’s work together. In fact, identifying a shared result is the first step we take when working directly with cross-sector partnerships.

3. If a partnership has a specific shared result, it is more likely to do both programs- and systems-level work.

Individual programs are incredibly important to receive results for low-income people, but they aren’t enough to achieve and sustain change.

We believe that work at the systems level is needed to create change that is sustainable and long-lasting.

(It’s not enough to give hungry people food, but you also have to try and fix underlying issues that are leading to people go hungry.)

The Assessment data revealed that partnerships with a specific, measurable and time-bound shared result were more likely to work on both programs and systems change than partnerships with a general shared result or those that were unsure of their shared result. Additionally, partnerships with a general or unsure shared result were more likely to work only at the programs level than partnerships with a specific shared result.

Based on these results, we believe that a specific shared result can help a partnership identify and work toward common objectives at multiple scales. Clearly delineating a metric, time frame and location for a partnership’s objective should serve to identify strategies needed at various levels and to accelerate the process of aligning resources in service of these strategies.

The Network for Economic Opportunity, another member of our Integration Initiative, is a great example of this practice at play—their shared result is dramatically increasing the number of working African-American males earning family-sustaining wages in New Orleans by 2025. They use initiatives at the program and policy levels to work toward this vision; their focused shared result allows them to work toward change through a local hiring policy as well as small business training programs. The shared result has a specified population and timeline, and New Orleans is working to figure out an exact percentage by which they aim to increase employment as they continue their work. They recently launched BuildNOLA Mobilization Fund is providing capital to disadvantaged small businesses, which provides a programmatic solution while also changing the long-standing funding systems for small businesses.

4. Regardless of the formality of a partnership, it will go through all stages of the form/storm/norm/perform cycle.

What we found as we looked for relationships between certain performance indicators and stage of a partnership’s development is that no clear patterns emerge as to which types of partnerships have greater capability to advance to later stages of group development. In other words, regardless of how you structure your partnership, at some point it will go through each of the stages. Our next blog post will be devoted to exploring this fourth trend in more detail.

Thank you for reading our takeaways from our analysis of the results from the Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment! We’ll be sharing more insights in a subsequent post, so be sure to check back in.

To share comments, questions or experiences from your own cross-sector partnership, please leave us a note in the comments section. Or, read part two of the series now.

Take the Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment


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