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In our work over the past several years, we have experienced first-hand the potential that the design and implementation of effective cross-sector partnerships have in creating a better system of health. These partnerships, bringing together community based organizations (CBOs) and healthcare providers and payers are resulting in better care, improved outcomes, and higher quality of life for the individuals they serve.
For decades, CBOs have been fulfilling missions that embed their organizations within the communities they serve. Because of this, CBOs are acutely aware of the opportunity, and necessity, to improve the system of health by expanding its definition beyond medical care and recognizing the social, economic and psychological needs of individuals. However, having this awareness and converting it into an effective cross-sector partnership to improve the system of health within a community is a complex process that often requires significant change and preparation for an organization. This change commands commitment and adaptability at all levels of the organization, particularly for leadership. Though there is not a universal playbook or guide to rely upon for cross-sector partnerships, we have found the process of undergoing an organizational assessment to be invaluable in preparing for and navigating these partnerships.
In partnership with the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) and the Aging and Disability Business Institute (Business Institute), we have designed an organizational readiness assessment tool for the Business Institute intended to assist in this process. Developed with feedback and insight from several stakeholders that have experienced this work from different perspectives, including CBOs, health systems/hospitals, health plans, foundations, and member associations, this online tool is ideal for CBOs of all sizes, types, and maturities in identifying their readiness for pursuing health care partners.
The organizational assessment process that we have designed and used with CBOs is intended to be a critical process that evaluates the organization’s readiness both inside and outside of their organization. For instance, many leadership, management and business development factors need to be in place within the organization. At the same time, awareness and understanding of the external factors, such as the interests of potential health care partners, also needs to be achieved. The assessment is a mechanism for identifying all these needs and evaluating the progress towards achieving them.
Another benefit of the organizational assessment is that it can be a recurring resource throughout the partnership readiness work of an organization. By retaking the assessment as an organization, new areas of improvement can be identified, achievements can be realized, and potential adjustments in strategy and approach can be acknowledged and determined. As mentioned, pursuing health care partnerships can be a strenuous process that results in new learning and experiences along the way, so it is also common that the results of the assessment change over time based on new understanding and awareness, making it even more worthwhile to revisit the tool and critically consider organizational readiness throughout the process.
The Assessment in Action
One organization that underwent the organizational assessment process at the onset of pursuing cross-sector partnerships quickly learned the extent of the work that was going to be required by the number and depth of questions asked within the assessment and their overall low scores in readiness for each domain. If it weren’t for the initial assessment, they admittedly would not have known the path forward in accelerating their work in pursuing health care partnerships, as this was a new concept for their organization and required a different approach than their organization had traditionally followed. The assessment provided a roadmap for this and allowed them to visualize the path forward, especially in leadership and operational readiness, where they scored the lowest. The organization recognized a need to make difficult but strategic decisions related to their staffing and Board leadership; realizing that partnering with the health care sector was going to require a different business-minded approach and this needed to be reflected in the individuals representing their organization. Having limited resources as a small organization, it was necessary that every individual within the organization showed commitment to the strategic direction and a willingness to work towards successful partnering. By using the framework provided in the assessment and utilizing the resources available from the process to actively understand the importance of each aspect of readiness outlined in the assessment, the organization likely would not have made the dramatic shift that they did. Fortunately, their commitment has benefited the organization as they now have several staff and Board members actively engaged in their strategic efforts, such as by participating in efforts to understand the health care landscape, implementing new operational processes for data collection and even participating in initial conversations with potential health care partners. Once achieving progress in this area, the organization underwent the assessment again, now ready to take on another area of improvement to better position their organization for additional opportunities.
Another organization, undergoing a similar assessment process, found their primary weakness was in understanding the health care landscape, one of the key domains that focuses on understanding health care environments. This domain is critical for not only better understanding the challenges facing health care providers and payers but also in identifying potential partners and beginning to put together the business case, or value proposition, for pursuing a cross-sector partnership. The assessment framework helped the organization realize that this was not a small task to achieve and would require significant commitment as the assessment outlined several more tasks than the organization would have envisioned prior to taking the assessment. While taking the assessment, and having thorough conversations as a team along the way, it became clear to the organization just how much work really needed to be conducted to reach their desired readiness. The clearest point made was the need to identify a leader to oversee that this strategic effort was critical to forward progress. The organization decided to select an individual that, from the onset, believed in the potential of partnering to lead their efforts, as they recognized through the assessment process, and the supplemental resources, that having leadership buy-in was fundamental to success. This paid off significantly for the organization, as it showed in the organization’s reevaluation of their partnership readiness through use of the organizational assessment process after a year of working hard to progress.
With the direction of their leader, the team reached a point of deeply understanding the health care landscape and having the confidence to communicate with health care providers and payers. The team gained the crucial ability to build an effective business case for health care providers as to why they should consider partnership as a strategy to better meet the needs of the community and their organizations. Ultimately, this resulted in a signed contract to implement a pilot program to provide community-based care management for high-need individuals within their community.
Examples like these can be found among several organizations that have undergone this process. If your organization is currently considering, pursuing, or engaging in cross-sector partnerships, we encourage your team to utilize this valuable tool to identify opportunities and find related resources to accelerate success in partnership efforts.
TO ACCESS THE READINESS ASSESSMENT, CLICK HERE