ERIC Identifier: ED347405
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Interagency Collaboration: Its Role in Welfare Reform. ERIC
Digest No. 126.
The Family Support Act (FSA) of 1988 provides opportunities for educators to
form linkages with other agencies to strengthen families and help them move
toward self-sufficiency. The FSA clearly recognizes education as a central
element in helping families avoid long-term dependence on public assistance and
requires states to make educational services available to participants under the
Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) Training Program. Adult and vocational
educators and employment and training personnel have an opportunity to be
involved with human services staff in providing education and training programs
to JOBS clients. Implementation of the FSA requires a commitment to provide
access to regular and alternative schools for welfare recipients who do not have
a high school diploma or its equivalent and to provide appropriate programs and
services so that these students graduate from high school, earn their general
equivalency diploma, or enter postsecondary education or training programs.
The FSA affords professionals chances to forge critical interagency
connections and expand the range and capacity of programs for learners at risk.
If adult and vocational educators, human service and employment and training
personnel, and other professionals are to take advantage of these opportunities,
they must begin forming linkages with each other in their local areas. This ERIC
DIGEST describes a strategy for forming effective linkages across agencies,
particularly at the local level.
FOR THE COMMON GOOD: DEVELOPING INTERAGENCY LINKAGE
Developing or strengthening interagency linkages is a systematic
process consisting of a series of steps. Like most planning activities, it may
not be feasible or desirable to follow the steps in a linear fashion but each
step needs to be considered in the process of interagency linkage development.
ONE: ASSESSING THE NEED AND CLIMATEFOR
Sometimes interagency linkages emerge spontaneously
as a result of local conditions, but generally someone needs to take the lead in
developing them. There are some problems that are best handled by a single
agency, but there are many problems that an agency acting singly cannot solve
(or cannot solve as effectively) (Bruner 1991). A favorable environment exists
for the development of interagency linkages whenever there are problems or
issues that require the attention of multiple agencies.
Unless a perceived need exists for interagency partnerships, they are
unlikely to materialize. There may be circumstances in which a problem is not
clearly recognized or in which potential partners are distracted by other
concerns or have preexisting negative relationships. The time is right for
collaborative efforts when the factors of human needs, public sentiment,
legislative priorities, and institutional readiness converge (Melaville and
In the absence of an optimal environment for linkages, the time may be used
to begin or improve communication with potential partners as well as to work
with other agencies on achieving internal objectives, waiting for a more
opportune time to tackle broad-based joint problems (ibid.).
TWO: GETTING STARTED
Once it is determined that the environment will support
the development of interagency partnerships, it is time to get started by
formulating a tentative rationale, identifying existing linkages, and developing
internal administrative support.
Formulating a tentative rationale begins by answering the question, "Why is
there a need for a linkage team?" This information will be needed to help ensure
internal agency support as well as market the team idea in the community. The
assessment of the situation in Step One can form the basis for the answer to
this question since it should include a statement of key problems and issues
that are better addressed by multiple agencies as well as a list of who the key
players might be.
Frequently, developing a team may simply be a matter of formalizing already
existing linkages by creating a structure to approach problem solutions in a
more systematic way. Even if existing linkages and networks will not form the
nucleus of a team, they may still be a good way to get started.
In order to generate internal administrative support for an interagency
linkage team, the tentative rationale should clearly enumerate the
organizational benefits of interagency linkages. For example, what could an
interagency team accomplish that could not be realized by an organization on its
own and how would these achievements contribute to the organization's mission or
goals? Ensuring internal support should be a continuous process that includes
keeping administrators informed of progress and reporting on successes that have
a positive effect on the organization and its clients.
THREE: FORMING THE TEAM
The work in formulating a tentative rationale and
identifying existing linkages will provide the foundation for the step of
forming the team. Activities in this step include identifying and selecting key
players and issuing the invitations.
A crucial aspect of selecting which organizations should be represented on
the team is identifying those that will have a stake in solving the problems or
issues described in the tentative rationale. These are the groups most likely to
have an interest in working toward joint solutions, especially if preestablished
working relationships exist. Considering who should actually represent the
organization on the team is also important. Experience has demonstrated that
team members should be in decision-making positions within their agencies. To a
great extent, individual members' power and position will determine whether the
team will have the necessary authority to modify how things are done or
negotiate policy changes (Melaville and Blank 1991).
Ideally, whoever is taking the initiative to organize the linkage team should
issue the invitation to join, and it is probably best to direct it to the heads
of the agencies identified for the team. Stressing the benefits to the
organization of being involved in this type of activity can help offset fears
agencies may have about extending already stretched resources. Beginning with
the agency head will help ensure internal support for the team and its
activities and may also secure the type of representation needed, i.e., an
individual in a decision-making position.
FOUR: ESTABLISHING A COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIP
Although described as a
separate step, establishing and maintaining a collaborative relationship is an
ongoing process. Collaboration implies a willingness on the part of
organizations to change the way services are delivered by--
developing and agreeing to a set of common goals and directions;
responsibility for obtaining those goals; and
together to achieve those goals, using the expertise of each collaborator
(Bruner 1991, p. 6)
Initially, partners may not be ready for a collaborative relationship.
Instead, they may work together cooperatively to help each other meet their
respective organizational goals. However, unless these cooperative relationships
become increasingly collaborative in nature, no changes will occur in the
service delivery system (Melaville and Blank 1991).
A number of factors contribute to collaborative linkages: regular contact
through meetings, frequent communication through telephone calls and mail, a
client-centered focus, leadership that helps develop and maintain a shared
vision, a plan that delineates shared goals and objectives, and appropriate
agency representation on the team to execute the plan (Imel and Sandoval 1990).
FIVE: DEVELOPING A PLAN
A plan that establishes joint goals and objectives
as well as steps for achieving them is at the heart of a successful interagency
linkage team. Time spent on developing a plan will pay dividends later because
it will provide a framework for guiding the efforts of the team. Developing a
plan involves creating an effective planning environment, formulating the plan,
and developing administrative support for the plan.
The communication and problem-solving process used to establish goals and
objectives, agree on roles, make decisions, and resolve conflicts is a crucial
variable in creating and sustaining interagency linkages (Melaville and Blank
1991). An effective planning environment is one in which team members can
communicate honestly and in which they are freed from the distractions of their
A plan for the team's work should contain goals and objectives, specific
activities to achieve them, designated responsibilities (who will do what), and
timelines for completion of activities. It is important that those involved
reach consensus on the plan's content. Otherwise it many not receive full
support from all team members (and hence all agencies represented). After the
plan is developed and finalized, it needs to be shared with the respective
agencies involved in the team, and team members should be prepared to point out
how the plan will help their agency achieve its mission more effectively and
efficiently. It may be beneficial to share the plan with the wider community in
order to generate broad-based community support for the team's work.
SIX: FOLLOW UP AND FOLLOW THROUGH
Achieving interagency consensus on a
written action plan is an important accomplishment, but the plan must also be
implemented and the team's continuing work must be maintained. Actions that can
ensure the plan is accomplished include holding regular meetings, requesting
progress reports, using task forces or committees to carry out the team's work,
using the plan timelines as a guide, and creating an advisory committee of
Even though members may have a shared vision for their work as a team, they
may have trouble maintaining the initial energy that mobilized the team. Some
strategies for sustaining the team's momentum include rotating the leadership
role, sharing success stories, updating the action plan on a regular basis, and
expanding or changing the membership on the team. Some common pitfalls to avoid
include the following (Guthrie and Guthrie 1991):
or No action, talk only. Use the plan to keep meetings on track, ensuring that
the work of the team proceeds.
information with knowledge. Take time to absorb information before taking
of excessive jargon. In the spirit of collaboration, speak in terms that all
partners can understand.
In Ohio, the process described in this DIGEST
has been used to develop local interagency linkage teams. Examples of team
activities include the following: (1) development of a computerized common
intake system used throughout the county by human services, adult basic and
vocational education, and JTPA--developed with funding from a number of grant
sources, this system eliminates the need for clients to complete intake forms at
each agency; (2) development and implementation of a new long-term medical
assistant program in which 12 of the 23 participants are human services clients;
and (3) stimulation of the development of a bill in the Ohio Legislature calling
for a change in age restrictions of current state school bus regulations.
It takes time and effort to develop and foster interagency linkages. In
addition, it requires commitment on the part of those organizations involved to
devote resources to the effort. Authentic collaborative efforts evolve over a
period of time, frequently after a period in which those involved get to know
one another and develop the level of trust needed to engage in joint planning.
This DIGEST is based on Imel, S. FOR THE COMMON
GOOD: A GUIDE FOR DEVELOPING LOCAL INTERAGENCY LINKAGE TEAMS. Columbus: Center
on Education and Training for Employment, The Ohio State University, 1992.
Bruner, C. THINKING COLLABORATIVELY: TEN QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS TO HELP POLICY MAKERS IMPROVE CHILDREN'S SERVICES. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership, 1991.
Guthrie, G. P., and Guthrie, L. F. "Streamlining Interagency Collaboration
for Youth at Risk. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 49, no. 1 (September 1991): 17-22.
Imel, S., and Sandoval, G. T. OHIO AT-RISK LINKAGE TEAM PROJECT: A REPORT ON
THREE STATE TEAM PROJECTS. Columbus: Center on Education and Training for
Employment, The Ohio State University, September 1990. (ED 324 514).
Melaville, A., with Blank, M. WHAT IT TAKES: STRUCTURING INTERAGENCY PARTNERSHIPS TO CONNECT CHILDREN AND FAMILIES WITH COMPREHENSIVE SERVICES. Services Consortium, Institute for Educational Leadership, 1991. (ED 330