Social Partnerships for Educational and Community Change
The challenges facing our communities are complex, interconnected, and urgent (Kania & Kramer, 2011). Recognizing these challenges, policy makers, funders, and practitioners are turning to social partnerships as a promising strategy for community and educational change (Bess, 2015; Henig et al., 2015). Social partnerships involve the joining together of organizations from across sectors of society to tackle social problems (Crane & Seitanidi, 2014). The underlying premise of the Promise Neighborhoods program, one such social partnership, is that providing access to resources, services, and supports in a comprehensive manner will have the greatest effect on educational and community outcomes (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). This study seeks to shed light on the process of initiating and implementing a social partnership. In this study the author employed a two-phased, mixed methods design using social network analysis and interviews with organizational representatives to examine the network structures of communication and collaboration within one Promise Neighborhoods initiative: the Boston Promise Initiative. The sample for the social network analysis consisted of 33 individuals from 27 partner organizations. Further, follow-up interviews with 11 individuals were held to understand how network structures and processes might impact educational and community change. Findings from the social network analysis and qualitative interviews reveal networks of communication and collaboration rooted in a deep history of place-based change efforts, facilitating access to network resources and social capital among partner organizations. The findings highlight the importance of recognizing both challenges and opportunities of partnering with schools. Further, the findings highlight the importance of a lead organization’s ability to attend to both technical processes, such as facilitating communication among partners, and cultural processes, such as negotiating organizational identity. Taken together, the findings from this study point to the complex nature of cross-sector collaboration and identify structural factors and network processes that may impact the success of the efforts. By better understanding the structure and processes inherent in social partnerships, organizations can be better supported as they develop and implement cross-sector initiatives aimed at making meaningful change in their communities.