Cross-Sector Collaboration: New Research and Recommendations

March 20, 2024 · Andy Reynolds

New recommendations help health care organizations (HCOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) build and sustain partnerships that solve challenges each organization can’t tackle alone.

The Problem to Solve

Many people face health challenges due to unmet social needs, such as food insecurity, unstable housing or lack of transportation.

These social factors can reduce a person’s well-being, making it difficult to manage chronic conditions, recover from illness or maintain overall health.

Why Partnerships Matter

Alone, HCOs and CBOs cannot address all the factors that influence health.

By partnering, HCOs and CBOs can:

  • Connect people to critical resources. CBOs often provide food, housing, transportation and other safety-net services that can help people in the care of HCOs address the social needs that impact their health.
  • Reduce health care costs. Addressing social needs can reduce reliance on emergency room visits and hospitalizations—saving scarce resources.
  • Strengthen communities. By working together, HCOs and CBOs can create a more holistic, person-centered paths to health, benefitting entire communities.

What We Did

To understand what makes successful partnerships work, NCQA:

  • Interviewed representatives from HCOs (like health plans and health systems).
  • Conducted focus groups with CBOs (like food banks and housing shelters) to gain deeper insights and perspectives on motivations for and potential benefits of partnering with HCOs.

Based on our findings, we compiled two valuable resources:

  • A reference guide for CBOs: This guide equips CBOs with the knowledge and strategies needed to build and maintain effective partnerships with HCOs. It explores best practices for:
    • Building equitable partnerships: Ensuring power dynamics are fair and accountability is shared.
    • Developing mutually beneficial agreements: Creating collaboration that leverages strengths of each organization.
    • Sustaining partnerships: Using continuous learning and adaptation to build long-term alliances.
  • A toolkit for HCOs. This detailed resource gives HCOs practical tips on:
    • Factors for successful partnerships: Establishing alliances with CBOs based on shared goals, clear communication and joint decision-making.
    • Launching and enhancing existing partnerships: This includes best practices for authentic community engagement and fostering respect.
    • Evaluating partnerships: Monitoring progress, measuring outcomes and using feedback to continuously improve collaboration.

Here’s What’s Different

What we put in and what we got out of this project distinguish it from other work.

  • Inputs: Use of equity-related information only NCQA has. To augment insight from interviews and focus groups, we did a systematic blind review of documents organizations submitted when they applied for our highest designation for organizations focused on enhancing health equity, Health Equity Accreditation Plus. Applying this information grounds our recommendations in the real-life practices of the most advanced, equity-enhancing organizations we’ve assessed.
  • Outputs: Best-practice recommendations for both sides of a partnership. This project is the first time NCQA has issued research-backed recommendations for both sides HCO-CBO alliances. Besides being complementary (matching or working together), the resources are complimentary (free).

What You Can Do

This project’s success relies on its reach and impact. Here’s how you can help.

  • Health care organizations: Use the HCO toolkit to leverage best practices for building strong CBO partnerships and improve your ability to connect people to resources they need.
  • Community-based organizations: Use the CBO reference guide as your handbook of strategies for establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial partnerships with HCOs.
  • Quality advocates everywhere: Share these resources with colleagues, networks and people who might benefit from this information. By increasing awareness and fostering collaboration, we can work to build a world where everyone can be healthy and thrive.

NCQA thanks Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. for sponsoring this integrated, instructive work.

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