Abstract: Challenges of Interorganizational Collaboration and Collaborative Engagement Among Human Services Organizations (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Challenges of Interorganizational Collaboration and Collaborative Engagement Among Human Services Organizations

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Valley of the Sun B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hyun-Seok (Edward) Cheon, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Over the past three decades, interorganizational collaboration (IOC) among human services organizations has dramatically increased as a response to duplication and fragmentation of services and ever-growing complexity of social issues. IOCs have been credited as having powerful and lasting impacts on individuals and communities by generating effective and innovative solutions and shaping new civic cultures through collective action. Despite this acclaim, however, IOCs have been underutilized. This suggests human services organizations might not fully reap partnership benefits. To better understand reasons for underutilization, this study aimed to address two main questions: 1) To what extent are commonly perceived collaborative challenges impeding use of IOCs? 2) Are there organizational competencies that moderate the impact of these challenges?

Methods: This secondary data study used wave two (2016) data from the Chicago Community Networks Study (N=222). Level of collaborative interaction was the primary independent variable categorized as communication (or no interaction); coordination; and collaboration. These were assessed across the issue areas of education, community wellbeing, and public policy/organizing. The primary dependent variables were three commonly perceived challenges for IOCs: 1) loss of control over decisions; 2) time consuming; and 3) frustration/aggravation dealing with partners. Each challenge was categorized as occurring rarely or never, sometimes, and often. We used multiply imputed ordinal logistic regression models to examine levels of collaborative interaction by issue areas and perceived occurrence of common challenges of IOC, adjusting for organizational characteristics and self-assessed general organizational competencies and controlling for clustered data.

Results: There were no significant associations between collaboration levels across issue areas and IOC challenges. However, human services organizations that coordinate in the issue area of education were less likely (aOR=0.58, p<.05) to experience greater “loss of control over decisions.” General organizational competencies did not moderate this association. Additionally, organizations that collaborate, the highest interaction level, in public policy/organizing (aOR=0.54, p<.05) were less likely to perceive “time consuming” as impediment to IOC. Organizations reporting a high level of flexibility were also less likely to perceive that IOCs require too much time for public policy/organizing at the coordination (aOR=0.12, p<.05) or collaboration (aOR=0.09, p<.01) level.

Conclusions and Implications: We found there is a significant association between how frequently an IOC challenge occurs and how much interaction there is within a partnership within distinct issue areas. The findings align with the hypothesis that if a particular IOC challenge is occurring frequently, organizations in a partnership are less likely to actively collaborate and vice versa. This underscores the need for social workers who are managing partnerships in their organizations to identify IOC challenges experienced, assess how they are affecting the collaborative engagement, and deliberate ways to mitigate them. Given also the findings that some organizational competencies moderate the above association, notably flexibility, there is an important implication for the same social workers, particularly those involved in public policy/organizing, to review mechanisms that allow for organizational flexibility (or other competencies) and find new and innovative ways to strengthen them, so that their organizations can actively collaborate with their partners.