Partnering and Collaborating Across Sectors During a Crisis

collaborating across sectors

collaborating across sectorsAs communities grapple with the effects of a global pandemic, organizational leaders are being called upon to think of new approaches to providing essential services, protecting vulnerable populations, and fostering community resilience. On June 30, as part of our Healthier Texas Summit Series, It’s Time Texas CEO Amy McGeady spoke with four Texas thought leaders who have been exceptionally creative and effective at collaborating across sectors to address the challenge of dramatically changing circumstances.

During the hour-long conversation, panelist Veronica Rosenbaum, Executive Director of the Brownsville Coalition, spoke about her organization’s work to launch a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to distribute food from their community garden to those in need. Nishi Viswanathan detailed the evolution of the Texas Health Catalyst Face Shield Project and working to get face masks to smaller, but still essential, service organizations and their workers. Patrick Brandt, co-founder of Shiftsmart, talked about pivoting their platform to place furloughed service workers in shifts at local food banks. Daphne McGee, Staff Attorney at Texas Legal Services Center’s Medical-Legal Partnerships discussed successfully petitioning the public utility commission to provide relief during the pandemic by working with healthcare providers to demonstrate the possible health effects of rising unemployment rates, reduced income and shelter in place restrictions.

While pivoting their organizations’ service models in response to COVID-19 was not without its challenges, our panelists made clear that collaboration was key to their efforts. Collaborating across sectors and engaging community partners built their capacity to apply new strategies and address emerging needs. Here are five key takeaways from “master problem-solvers” on how to rise to the occasion and meet a crisis head on.

  1. Build partnerships before the crisis arrives. A strong network at the ready doesn’t form overnight.  While a response happens in the moment, working to build partnerships should happen before the crisis ever begins. The more work you do with other community partners, the more trust builds through knowledge of capabilities and alignment of goals. And a successful partnership in critical moments relies on trusting each other enough to assume shared risks and venture into the unknown
  2. Sometimes you have to jump and build the plane on the way down.”  Life changed overnight as the coronavirus and its impact spread across Texas. Assembling their teams of community partners with a similar passion helped to keep momentum moving as our panelists took action to lead response efforts. Wasting no time in getting started, these problem solvers stayed agile, learned from each experience and were amenable to fixing systems of delivery as they took action.  As Shiftsmart launched, Patrick Brandt noted their first efforts weren’t perfect, but they took note of lessons and feedback from partners and participants.  By being open to refining their process and launching with the resources they had on hand, they were able to support critical food distributions while keeping furloughed shift workers employed.
  3. Be open to help from new and unexpected places.  Partnerships are crucial to meeting needs during a pandemic. While existing partnerships certainly play a part in helping to meet the moment, collaboration can also arise from branching out to new areas and sectors. To address the issues they saw arising during the pandemic quickly, our panelists sought and accepted help from others who wanted to address the same problems. They were committed to their mission, not the mode of delivery. Nishi Viswanathan and her team at Dell Medical School were approached by a volunteer who was out of work due to COVID-19 with the idea to morph their online Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) exchange website into a large scale face shield partnership with the City of Austin. With this volunteer’s expertise in event planning, they were able to create an infrastructure and network to test new face shield designs, produce a new money saving face shield in bulk, and work with the City of Austin to distribute them. Because both Nishi’s team and this volunteer wanted to help meet needs for PPE in Austin, they were able to work together to build this large scale production and distribution system.   
  4. Paradigm shift from catastrophe to opportunity. Each panelist viewed the current pandemic environment as an opportunity to serve those in their community and those affected by the coronavirus in new and exciting ways.  Instead of seeing gaps in services as blockers, these problem solvers leapt at the chance to take up entirely new projects that addressed a broad spectrum of issues ranging from heightened food insecurity, to the increased threat of utility shut-offs, to rising unemployment.
  5. Get the word out.  Panelists each had different means of leveraging their networks, but all stressed the importance of engaging partners and the public in formulating a successful response. Constant communication served both organizational stakeholders and the community at large. From having dedicated points of contact to manage response coordination to creating an online message board for community members to post questions and share resources, efforts to centralize data and information led to meaningful solutions and provided new avenues to meet evolving needs. 
Join the Conversation
From June 29 through October 29, 2020, the Healthier Texas Summit Series will convene hundreds of Texas’ thought leaders and health champions to continue critical conversations on health and wellbeing. Culminating with a keynote address by Dr. Sandro Galea, topics will span social determinants of health, community health, cross-sector partnerships, health disparities and equity, and health communication. Content for the series will also focus on community-level responses to COVID-19, including successful collaborations and novel approaches to addressing the social factors that influence health during a crisis. This free digital experience is a collaboration between It’s Time Texas and the University of Texas System, presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. Registration is now open at healthiertexassummit.com.