Designing Collaborative Networks: Lessons Learned from Public Safety
This report offers practical advice to public managers and political leaders who are addressing complex public challenges through multi-organizational networks. The use of collaborative networks of organizations has matured in the past decade. However, the developers of collaborative networks face political, organizational, and technological challenges in a world accustomed to the traditional, hierarchical approach to problem-solving and accountability.
Professors Fedorowicz and Sawyer draw on a six-year project which collected data on 266 collaborative networks of public safety organizations, such as law enforcement and first responders to emergencies. They found a great deal of diversity in these public safety networks. They also found, however, common patterns of issues. For example, most of the design issues surrounding public safety networks center on data security and access concerns of the various participants. The authors also found common principles for designing successful collaborative networks, and they believe that these design principles can be applied in policy arenas other than public safety.
One principle they present is the importance of leveraging the use of technology as a way to advance the work of a collaborative network. For example, to address the issue of data security and access, they recommend that those involved in designing a collaborative network “ensure that data custodianship remains with the data’s owners … the collaboration should be seen as providing a portal to data, not a warehouse for its storage.”
Much of their advice and recommendations come from the experience of people on the ground who have faced and solved knotty problems. As a result, we hope this report serves as a useful guide to federal managers as they develop collaborative networks to address challenges that reach across federal agency—and sometimes state, local, non-profit, and private sector—boundaries.