Guidebook for Multi-Agency Collaboration for Sustainability and Resilience

Published in: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Standing Committee on Planning (February 2020)

Posted on RAND.org on March 11, 2020

by Susan A. Resetar, Liisa Ecola, Rachel Liang, David M. Adamson, Christopher Forinash, Lilly Shoup, Brynn Leopold, Zachary Zabel Nelson-Nygaard

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This guidebook provides a framework and practical advice for how to establish and sustain multi-agency collaborations that seek to address wide-ranging comprehensive policy objectives. Case studies are also presented:

  • Transit Oriented Denver,
  • Partnership for Sustainable Communities,
  • Resilient Pittsburgh – OnePGH,
  • Southeast Florida Climate Compact,
  • Massachusetts Healthy Transportation Compact,
  • Minnesota Green Step Cities Program, and
  • Puerto Rico hurricane recovery planning.

Collaborations are a form of collective action and governance that enable agencies to work across organizational boundaries to solve problems that cannot be effectively addressed unilaterally. The steps for organizing and operating a collaboration are

  • identify and gather stakeholders;
  • determine mission and create vision;
  • establish an organizational structure;
  • determine strategies and actions;
  • take collective action; and
  • monitor, adjust, and institutionalize.

Several factors that contribute to the success of collaboration are presented. Each collaboration will have unique contextual environments, motivating forces, and ultimate goals. Our research highlights the importance and value in building and sustaining organizational and personal relationships and:

  • Multi-agency collaborations are essentially seeking innovative approaches to complex problems and will need competent and committed boundary-spanning leaders and staff.
  • There are limits to the span of control any collaboration has, but by engaging others within their organizations and the public, members can extend their influence that have long-lasting effects.
  • Members must invest in the support needed to organize, manage, and sustain a collaboration. Enlisting a third part to provide operational and administrative functions worked well in several cases.
  • Effective collaborations generally engage the public, generating informal and formal communications.

Finally, we note when addressing complex social problems there can be substantial time lag before results can be seen. Showing value, providing proper resourcing, and anticipating and preparing for change both internally and externally are crucial for remaining relevant and functional. Areas for additional research are presented.

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