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Theses Doctoral

Cross-Sector Collaboration in Education: Comparative Case Studies of Organizational Death and Persistence

My dissertation is concerned with the organizational survival of cross-sector collaboration in education, a strategy that has long been present in education reform but has received renewed interest in recent years due to broader social and policy trends. In particular, my study is concerned with the environmental, organizational and individual conditions that contribute to the inability of cross-sector collaborations to sustain the “backbone”—or intermediary organizations—responsible for facilitating the collaborative work. In addition to exploring the characteristics that contribute to their organizational death, my study leverages stakeholder interviews and document analysis to build an understanding of the most important considerations for the survival prospects of future cross-sector collaborations. The framing of the study incorporates institutional, organizational and sensemaking theories to guide three tiers—the macro, meso and micro levels—of organizational analysis.

Using a qualitative, comparative case study design, I match three unsustainable or “dead” cross-sector collaborations with three surviving pairs that share a similar mission, vision and goals, but vary across a number of key conditions that interview data from the dead collaborations suggest are critical to survival. I conduct 53 new interviews with stakeholders from dead collaborations and draw on 69 interviews that either I or a collaborator conducted with stakeholders from the surviving collaborations as part of a previous study. My total sample includes 122 interviews with stakeholders across the six collaborations. I then build a case narrative for each of the collaborations, using interview data and key documents, followed by a cross-case analysis of how the collaboration pairs differed in the characteristics, conditions, events and strategies they employed during coalition building, implementation and sustainability planning phases. I conclude with an analysis of the patterns across the three dead collaborations that undermined their organizational sustainability and an examination of the promising practices learned from the surviving collaborations.

The findings from my study have implications for policymakers, practitioners, philanthropic organizations and future researchers that are discussed in detail in the final chapter. I find four major patterns across the dead collaborations that contributed to their closure, including: institutional contradictions in funder-backbone relationships; perverse incentives for collaboration due to insufficient coalition building and continuous partner engagement; a backbone structure that is either too dependent on or too detached from the school district; and an inability to control alternate narratives about the work being produced by cross-sector partners, funders and community members. I generate theoretical propositions related to these findings for suggested use by future researchers.

Additionally, I find six promising practices across the surviving collaborations that have bolstered their sustainability prospects to date: diversifying their funding portfolios to avoid reliance on short-term grants; leveraging an effective leader to communicate a clear value proposition to funders; investing in iterative, partner engagement and collaborative governance structures from coalition building through implementation; creating a common narrative about the collaboration’s identity, but tailoring communications with different stakeholders; buffering the backbone from environmental volatility by separating the roles of facilitation and programmatic service provision; and leveraging network membership to share experiences and avoid replicating mistakes.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Policy
Thesis Advisors
Riehl, Carolyn J.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 29, 2020