Organizing for Social Partnership: Higher Education in Cross-Sector Collaboration

reviewed by Gaele Goastellec - January 26, 2011

coverTitle: Organizing for Social Partnership: Higher Education in Cross-Sector Collaboration
Author(s): David Siegel
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415994993, Pages: 224, Year: 2010
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A lot has been written on access to higher education. This book does not only add a further stone to a now classic analysis; it provides the reader with an original, innovative questioning of how to address the issue of inequalities in higher education through cross-sector collaboration, and, more broadly, how to conceptualize organizations in an increasingly boundaryless world in order to improve social justice. As expressed in the book’s introduction, the complexity of social problems makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a single actor to address them. Cross-sector collaboration or partnerships are thus presented as a solution to address social problems efficiently by creating new spaces, new organizations and thus, new possibilities.  

To confirm this hypothesis, the book is structured in three parts. The first part sets up the context through a literature review and proposes to frame the social challenges confronting organizations such as universities through three chapters. The first chapter, entitled “Social Issues in a Boundaryless World,” examines the societal context in which higher education institutions operate and define social issues, their characteristics and behavior. This chapter not only advocates the necessity to look closely at social issues and their organization but links social issues to the question of social justice: “when the empirical evidence of injustice… is accompanied by a collective sense of outrage or moral revulsion, then the issue becomes a problem” (p. 15). In the second chapter “the engagement imperative in American higher education” is discussed through a historical perspective. It points out that although social engagement has always been intrinsic to American higher education institutions, demands are always greater, in particular with regards to diversity and inclusion. The third chapter questions the “promise of intersectoral collaboration” and the distinctive contribution it can make toward the solution of complex social problems. As a mode of organization, it distinguishes itself from other forms of partnership or collaboration by engaging the different sectors in new configurations of people and by articulating three elements: the opposition to contemporary conditions of injustice, a tendency toward association, and a refusal of specialism to solve problems or, to put it in other words, a preference for a holistic perspective in problems solving.

The second part of the book is the core of the demonstration. It develops “a model for addressing the social problem of underrepresentation” through a case study of a multi-sector initiative focused on the problem of diversity representation in American higher education and professional sectors. The Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Program in Business is a cross-sector partnership that involves a dozen top universities, about 40 corporations, a federal government agency, and a nonprofit organization.

As revealed in the fourth chapter, the initiative of the LEAD Program comes from a group of corporate executives of a pharmaceutical company, confronted at the end of the 70s with the difficulty of hiring minority students who had earned MBAs. To address this practical problem, they developed, along with top-notch universities’ business schools, a program for high school minority students that would “serve as the foundation for a lifelong partnership amongst outstanding diverse students, the nation’s leading corporations, and the top business schools” “by “influencing students from diverse backgrounds with outstanding academic performance and demonstrated leadership skills to pursue careers in business and fields of economic growth” (p. 81). The originality of this program is that it focuses on excellent secondary students to provide them with training, role models, and the required self-confidence to engage in business studies and, later on, activities. It is thus aimed at influencing students’ college major or career choices. The LEAD program is of interest to students, business schools, and companies because it articulates their possible interests: obtaining the best (students, schools, employees) and creating social environments representative of social diversity.

The following chapters dissect the ins and outs of this program in an organizational perspective. The fifth chapter interrogates the building up of the network. It reveals that several theoretical perspectives, such as microeconomic theories, resource dependence theories, institutional perspective, and leverage theories, provide information on the rationales motivating or provided for explaining inter-organizational collaboration in the LEAD context. Articulating theoretical perspectives and the results of his case study, the author points out the following elements as constitutive of an issue orientation: having the different protagonists share a conception of the problem and its importance, its consistency within the various organizations’ priorities, and the acknowledgement that the association of the different organizations is needed to solve the problem.

A sixth chapter describes the experiences of the members of the networks within the framework of a collaboration that requires members to articulate individual interests, and organizations to express their collective interests. This negotiation takes on several phases: negotiating the terms of the contract and clarifying the expectations of each actor involved; establishing governance and management structures; and, last but not least, building trust. Because each organization comes into the partnership with its own history and cultural specificity, conflict management and the building up of a common identity that transcends the differences also represent essential tasks. The qualitative research points out that different informants have different visions of the partnerships, as revealed by the use of three different metaphors to characterize the LEAD. It represents a plurality of things at once for different actors. The challenge consists in making the multiple individual agendas compatible with the program’s collective agenda in order to guarantee the program sustainability.

The last chapter of this section provides information on the difference a Cross-Sector Social Partnership (CSSP) is perceived to make with respect to the social issue addressed. As far as the students are concerned, the LEAD program is perceived as a “life-changing experience,” impacting their choice of studies and further careers. Regarding the organizations involved, the collaboration has a direct impact on the initial social problem experience (providing access to the desired student body), provides students with a relationship enhancement (partners become closer) and with organizational learning. It also comes with a large number of indirect benefits (such as challenging stereotypes and assumptions about minority students). At the system level, the differences aggregate the individual and organizational changes produced by the LEAD program (for example, providing the marketplace with professionals from minorities).

Finally, the third part questions the future of social partnership through two chapters. The first analyzes the role of organizations as activists, underlining the interest of conceptualizing CSSPs as “social movement organizations” to actualize them as improved instruments of social changes, and thus suggests that cross-sector collaboration could be an accelerator for problem solving.

The final chapter discusses the “implications for organizations and society” of such a model of partnership. This model stimulates the framing ability, the collective identification, and thus the engineering of social partnerships for socially responsible activism.

Adopting a societal approach, succeeding in articulating concrete information on how cross-sector organizations work and how to analyze them at a theoretical level, this book pleads for rethinking organizations and their social roles in order not only to solve the major current social issues but also to limit their (re)production by organizations. It thus calls for a radical social change with the reconfiguration of our organizations through collective actions such as cross-sector collaboration. It provides the reader with a stimulating framework to rethink organizations for a fairer world. As such, it is of huge interest both for faculties and practitioners working on diversity and social justice as well as for researchers interested in organizational studies.   

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 26, 2011 ID Number: 16312, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 8:38:14 AM

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