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The Theoretical Principles of Cross-sectorial cooperation

Cross-sectorial cooperation is often mentioned in the legislation and governmental resolutions in policy areas such as healthcare, family, education and youth policy. Furthermore, the term cross-sectorial cooperation can often be found in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs such as state border protection, documents on crime prevention policies, as well as health and social security.


What is Cross-sectorial cooperation?

While implementing certain public policy e.g. culture or education, it is no longer possible to depend on the traditional framework because decisions taken in other policy areas may include relevant implementation preconditions which would complement initial objectives. This is a core assumption of cross-sectorial cooperation. For example, it is very difficult to identify the differences between the objectives of the cultural and educational sectors. Thus it is very unlikely that one sector would be solely responsible for group gatherings whilst the other handles leisure activities. Hence the question for the reader: who is responsible for organizing the first day of a school event, the school or the Culture centre?

Various countries and sectors use rather different terminology: terms such as cross-ministerial cooperation, cross-departmental, and cross-institutional cooperation, are used as synonyms with the term cross-sectorial cooperation. Also, often terms such as collaboration, partnerships, cooperation networks, and cooperation systems are used as well. Other synonyms would be agency cooperation, inter-organizational interaction, central and local government relations.


Workshop advice:

In order to make the terms clearer and to get the attention of the participants, you could initiate a group exercise and ask participants to explain the listed terms in their small groups. Exercise duration from 15 to 20 minutes.

Objective: participants will find the linkage with the topic and will better understand the terminology.

Few possible variations: you can ask them to find the definitions online, and ask them to clarify the core differences of the terms.

After the participants prepare presentations, the workshop leader can elaborate more and clarify the differences.


Cross-sectorial cooperation is a coordinating activity of two or more institutions, which are responsible for different areas of public policy, on a specific topic or area (e.g. youth policy) with a common objective. The main characteristic of Cross-sectorial cooperation is that different and independent institutions are coordinating their activities.

The word cooperation means working together with other, whilst communication is having common affairs. Despite the simple nature of the term, the implementation of it is difficult. Successful implementation of Cross-sectorial cooperation is difficult and the evidence of that is visible in a number of countries as different institutions struggle to create a strong sense of ownership of strategy or process, especially when all institutions wants to take the coordinating role and have different working cultures, and have different exposures to competition.

Each institution has its unique features: a specific working culture, vocabulary (terminology), traditions, and typical behaviours of their specialists. Therefore, to some extent, this explains the differences in the employee behaviours from the municipalities, schools and youth centres. If the institutions lack flexibility, or a willingness to understand and adjust, it will be challenging to cooperate with them.

Cross-sectorial cooperation – a complimentary cooperation, which includes representatives from different sectors such as government, government institutions (healthcare, education, environment, culture, sports and etc.,), public, NGO, business and the media.

One of the implementation principles of youth policy is the participation principle and its claim that youth representatives have to be involved in solving their own problems. Therefore, Cross-sectorial cooperation is impossible without the involvement of representatives of other sectors. Youth workers, and youth organizations, being part of the NGO sector, are a significant part of youth voice and opinion.


Why do institutions cooperate?

It is challenging to meet all the needs and requirements of all individuals and organizations, because of numerous constraints such as time, funding, human resources, and limited state and municipal budgets. Therefore, in order to optimize the use of resources and process management, principles of Cross-sectorial cooperation can be utilized due to their special features.

Cross-sectorial cooperation helps a) to see the broader issue area (see “out of the box”); b) to avoid funding duplication; c) to minimize the number of competing or conflicting programmes and activities.


Reasons for cooperation and partnership

Common priorities (common policy or ideology): objective to optimize the use of the budget, the efforts of institutions are merged, alternatives are sought by looking into non-governmental and business sectors. Led by the theoretical assumption that NGOs and the business sector are more cost efficient than public sector and that these sectors can achieve similar results with fewer resources. The joint effort or merge actions of various institutions or sectors indicate the importance of certain public policy areas or the importance of the issue. Led by this principle, civic inclusion and participation in solving current issues is being implemented. Furthermore, with implementation of cooperation, public policies become consistent with the needs of target groups and their interest is being represented.

Financial reasons: optimizing the use of financial resources by reducing administrative costs, merging institutions with similar objectives and programmes. Their material and human resources and political connections are better utilized. An example could be initiatives by the municipalities to merge institutions which have similar objectives or engage in similar activities in order to reduce expenses.

Inevitability: institutions that operate in similar, or the same areas, sooner or later start cooperating because in the long term they identify their similarities. Both sides notice that they have common objectives and follow similar principles and in this manner the opportunity to cooperate occurs. This situation has to two aspects:

a) Common issues – which are tackled by different organizations. The most common example at the local level is protection of children’s rights. In order to tackle the issue in a timely manner forces are often united. For instance, police, educational institutions and institutions focusing on child protection cooperate in order to solve issues such as domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and school absenteeism;

b) Functional dependency – when competencies and functions of institutions coincide. In practice certain function duplicate, overlapping in a certain manner.

Actions of institution have an impact on overall system: an institution operating in adjacent areas or sectors can play a key role, which has an effect on the overall operational efficiency of the entire system. Lack of available information can be a significant obstacle in this situation. Thus cooperating with partners, consulting with them and sharing information can address the lack of information issue. For instance, one of the youth policy priorities in some countries is tackling youth unemployment. On a local level this issue is tackled by vocational training institutions, youth information centres (partners of Eurodesk), youth centres, schools, territorial job centres and youth job centres. These institutions, at a local level, organize common activities and can utilize the broad information resources of youth employment centres.

Public awareness about institution and a positive public image is another important aspect. Institutions cooperate for their own gain. Cooperation could become a public relations (PR) tool. The communication channels of the partners are better used and the information about partners and their activities is obtained. It creates a positive or repairs a damaged image of  an institution. Hence several risks are created; in particular that partners might seek cooperation only in order to gain public awareness and their contribution would be minimal. For instance, institutions sign a cooperation agreement, this is being publicly advertised, however, no common activities are implemented.


Workshop advice:

In order to introduce the cooperation causes and assumptions you can: 

Ask the participants why cooperation is important;

Method “X & Y”.

After the workshop theoretical principles, which were described in this chapter, are being introduced.


Forms of Cross-sectorial cooperation

Cross-sectorial cooperation can take various forms a) non-formal, cooperation based on personal relations and b) a contract-based cooperation. The first one (a) occurs when representatives from different institutions or sectors communicate informally: share information, opinions, insights, and together seeks solutions to the issues. The second (b) – formalized cooperation, is based on a formal agreement outlining the common objectives of different organizations and (or) departments. The second method is more efficient in a situation when there is low retention of experts, because the written agreement has outlined the cooperation conditions, objectives, areas of cooperation, communication forms and frequency. The document can also list the responsible people. This form is more effective in states with high bureaucracy levels, especially in statutory organizations such as the police. The most common Cross-sectorial cooperation forms are working groups, commissions, committees, advisory councils, Cross-sectorial groups and foundations.

Formalized commitments help to bypass the internal barriers of hierarchy, but non-formal cooperation is more dynamic and less constrained by established procedures or restrictions. Non-formal cooperation requires time to build and maintain relationships with colleagues from other institutions or organizations, yet there is a risk

that sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between personal and professional relationships. Therefore, partners can be invited to cooperate when there is a need, and assign them particular roles and responsibilities.


Questions to the reader:

Which forms are more appealing to you?

What kind of events would be more appealing to the young people? What forms of cooperation are present in your municipality?


Elements of Cross-sectorial cooperation

The key element of Cross-sectorial cooperation is the added value which is created by inviting other organizations or institution sharing similar interests. During the process of cooperation, effective coordination skills are required in order to coordinate activities of different institutions, organizations and social groups.

When we seek efficiency in using time, or human and financial resources, institutions have to coordinate their activities and plans with each other. In order to ensure effective communication, the managing partner has to designate a coordinator.

Cross-sectorial cooperation is based on commonly defined objectives, which form a systematic, coherent, and effective interaction. Cooperation is a voluntary action, that is why the main condition for cooperation to happen – is seeking common objectives without competition among the partners. Due to this reason, the results of Cross-sectorial cooperation are more effective than an independently operating agency, institution or organization.


Workshop advice:

Interests in recognition tasks: these methods intend to define the different fields of interest of different institutions, and different topics of interest for these institutions:

You can discuss this chapter material with the following tasks: „ Who bothers a young person “; „Social Map“.

The cooperation between institutions can be revealed by conducting orientation competition in the actual institutions or organizations, which provide youth work. You could tweak the task by requiring the participants to ask the employees of the institutions about their cooperation in the youth field.


After reviewing the reasons, forms and elements of Cross-sectorial cooperation it became clear that cooperation is necessary. As a matter of fact, in many cases it is inevitable, because interests of institutions and organizations can sometimes match or even oppose each other. Therefore, in order to fully understand the specifics of cooperation, it is important to review the principles of implementation.


Principles and specifics of Cross-sectorial cooperation

  1. Planning – representatives of different institutions pursuing a common objective have to create common plans, programmes and measures.
  2. Division of roles and functions – institutions contribute to Cross-sectorial cooperation within their area of expertise. In order for Cross-sectorial cooperation to be effective it is important that the roles of the institutions’ representatives would not be duplicated, and responsibilities should be aligned with the core competences and qualifications.
  3. Systematic approach – thoroughly analysing cooperation situations, from different perspectives. Looking for mutually acceptable solutions to common problems.
  4. Information – during the process of sharing relevant information, institutions learn about the work of others and their areas of expertise. This principle addresses one of the biggest obstacles of public policy implementation – lack on information.
  5. Resource optimization – coordinating activities and setting priorities, mobilization and efficient use of material and human resources.

When institutions cooperate they broaden their scope of activities; in turn, they achieve greater results because they adjust their strategies with those of other institutions, and tend to align more with the sector-wide or even state-wide strategies.

The following measures help to focus on the pursuit of change. The focus is on short-term objectives, activities or individual priorities. These measures assist in securing common actions:

  • Creation of a common vision – all partners list their priorities, expectations and needs of the partnership. This allows aligning to a common position for partners and seeks common objectives.
  • New communication channels are created and used – after linking the partners together, effective methods of communication are sought. This often includes use of new technologies. Therefore, it is important to take into account the different cultures of communication between and within the institutions;
  • Agreement to plan and cooperate – agreeing to seek common objectives, optimizing their competencies, share costs and use of common resources;
  • Risk and result sharing – institutions are willing to share the risk, yet not always willing to share the final results and recognition.


Implementation process of Cross-sectorial Cooperation

Cross-sectorial cooperation can be a complicated process. It is affected by internal processes such as organizational culture, and external factors such as Cross-sectorial plans and strategies. In order to better understand the specifics of cooperation it is important to analyse the implementation process of it. The implementation process is displayed in the following chart (Chart 1).

Chart 1 – Implementation process of Cross-sectorial Cooperation


Chart 1. Implementation process of Cross-sectorial Cooperation

Initiation – the different sides understand the need to cooperate. The initiative can emerge from one agency, which later involves other partners. While implementing youth policy, the so-called cooperation appears to be a simple task allocation or implementation of the allocated task/role.

Agenda preparation – at this stage it is important to define which organization or person has the power to propose new issues to the agenda. In practice, there are known cases that agenda is prepared by either leading partner or by all parties.

Joint decision-making – a prerequisite to agree how the decisions are made: unanimously, based on consensus or by the majority vote. We highly recommend that all parties have equal voting power.

Responsibility sharing (input and activities) –Joint decision-making is a difficult task and, as a rule, it comes with a pressure. Hence at this stage, the parties have to share the pressure as well. This helps to identify how much resources each partner can contribute to the reaching common of objectives. It could be the case that some of the partners only sit by the table, but are not willing to take action i.e. tokenism (Hart, 1992).

Implementation and monitoring– the coordinating partner, however, could involve all participants and facilitate the process of implementation. Hence, it is important to pre-define if the partners have the right to urge other participants.

Dissemination of results – the input of all partners is needed for dissemination of results. Partners have to decide who is responsible for the result dissemination.

Impact evaluation – after the work is done, it is highly recommended to allocate some time for impact evaluation. The goal of this phase is to reflect on positive experience, and learn from mistakes encountered in the process. At this phase it is advisable to design alternatives, and identify new and more effective decision making methods.

In the process of Cross-sectorial cooperation, there are two very important aspects – inputs and outputs. The inputs show how each institution contributes to the project, what resources they allocate. This assessment helps to evaluate how important a partnership is to a particular organization. On the other hand, the results show the effectiveness and success of cooperation, i.e. if the objectives were achieved, what positive changes were made.

The implementation process of Cross-sectorial cooperation can be characterized by all of the project phases above. Cooperation in specific fields has a definite start and end of the phase. Different agencies can cooperate with each other on a number of issues and to continue cooperate in the long run, yet reviewing and updating the existing agreements. The literature and practise highlights the planning, monitoring, and evaluation phases as extremely important for a successful partnership. Dedicating enough time for these phases results in efficient implementation of projects, saves time, and human and financial resources.


Cross-sectorial Cooperation: Challenges

The common vision, or lack of it, is usually the main challenge for cooperating institutions. Institutions vary in terms of their work focus area, different objectives and goals, and finally envision the end result differently. Yet these aspects may partially overlap. For example, interests of institutions focusing on youth rights and institutions focusing on children rights overlap partly, and that is a matter of definitions. Children fall under the age range from 0 to 18 year, while  young people’s age range is 13 – 30 years (depending on the country, youth age can be defined differently).

Another possible challenge for Cross-sectorial cooperation is the territory of their activities. When institutions work at the same level (municipal or national) the territory of activities often overlap, however, the priority regions for activities may differ. Thus there is often an issue that the regional partner’s involvement in national level policy-making or implementation is only symbolic.

Public sector institutions are usually obliged to cooperate with each other during the process of preparation and implementation of various state planning documents, such as  long- and medium-term strategies, and inter-institutional action plans. These joint processes may have hidden agendas as well; the idea is that institutions that cooperate, will get used to cooperation and will coordinate their activities in the future.


Cross-sectorial Cooperation Challenges:

  1. Cross-sectorial Cooperation lacks legal regulations;
  2. Inability to understand joint objectives and focusing on achievement of personal goals rather than the joint ones;
  3. Inability to understand the importance and principles of partnership or cooperation;
  4. Preconditions for manipulation remains if cooperation is not formalised;
  5. Formal cooperation is not successful if there is no room for creativity and for non-traditional tools to be used;
  6. Ignoring the principle of equality among partners;
  7. Lack of leading partner or leadership;
  8. Different organizational cultures, specific jargon, inappropriate communication channels, action processing speed and role delegation peculiarities;
  9. Being close to a political party could also impede cooperation;


Workshop advice:

If you are preparing for cooperation it is important to make an analysis of the issue that you want to address. Even if you are well prepared, you know your plans are clear, and you have the required data and information, the project might still fail if efforts, actions, and measures were not focused on the main target group. The following workshop can help you to identify who holds decision-making power on certain issues.

During this workshop you can conduct the task “Power Map”. This task will help your participants to identify who can make a decision or has influence on decision-making processes on certain issues.

If your participants enjoyed this task, you can devote more time for the topic interests of the youth.


The issue of decision-making power is particularly relevant in the public sector, it is important to have an understanding of where the power is held and who has the strongest influence. Once the organisation of the institution where the power is held is known, the most efficient way to use that power should be considered.

This publication does not aim to list all possible challenges and ways to overcome them because many things may vary depending on situation, people and other factors. However, we want to encourage reader by saying that…

Specifics of Cross-sectorial Cooperation in youth policy

According to the World Bank’s World Development Report (2007), there are three main reasons why it is so difficult to develop successful youth policy. First of all, a successful implementation of youth policy requires taking action across different public policy areas, to create a joint cross-sectorial strategy that sets clear priorities and measurements. Nowadays, youth policies are often left alone and are not integrated into the state development strategies. Secondly, youth policy fails when young people do not have opportunities to express their opinions in the development and implementation of policies that are designed for them. It is challenging to create a successful youth policy, and there are only a few success stories and examples of good practice from which to learn.

The Council of Europe’s Congress approved the European Youth Participation at local and regional level Charter in 2003. The Charter identifies 18 youth policy topics ranging from youth health to education, mobility to housing and employment. Therefore, there is no welfare policy thet would be irrelevant for young people. This strengthens the statement that youth policy is horizontal and there is a need for Cross-sectorial cooperation.

Youth policy is receiving more attention due to the ageing population and migration issues. In order to ensure quality youth policy, it is necessary to involve young people and their representatives. The young people’s representatives are involved in the process according to legislation.


An integrated approach to youth policy

Many welfare state policy issues seem to belong to different policy areas, but are connected and have a significant influence on each other; therefore relevant policies must be coordinated at cross-institutional level. For example, the quality of education and its availability have a direct impact on young people’s awareness of health issues and access to employment after graduation. This example explores / defines the links between education, healthcare, social security and employment policies.

The components of youth policy interlinked within one vertical policy boundaries. For example, the lifelong learning memorandum includes formal education, non-formal education and vocational training, all of which are relevant to youth policy. A young person who participates in the implementation process of youth policy, youth NGO activities, or volunteering, gains valuable personal, social and professional competencies. It is important to recognize these competencies for further successful participation in the educational system.

There is a need for coordination of different areas of public policies in order to achieve needed goals; one way to do so is to identify youth policy as a separate area of Cross-sectorial policy. This suggests that various policies, government actions, and activities, are coordinated into one clear strategy, such as youth policy. Different ministries or government institutions can take the responsibility for the implementation of the strategy.


Adjusting National and Local Youth Policies

Youth policy is implemented at a local level, where the young people live. The national youth policy gives directions that come from needs that exist at the municipal level. The competences and responsibility of local level institutions are crucial for successful implementation of youth policy. It is important that national level institutions provide local level institutions with tools, measures, assistance and consultation, share best practices, and coordinate their activities while cooperating, yet treat them as equal partners. If national level delegates youth policy to local level as a state function, they have to ensure that regular reporting is done, and ensure additional funding for the implementation of local youth policy.


Influence of International laws on national youth policy

In the EU countries, national youth policy of the EU member state has to be developed and implemented in an open and transparent manner with the participation of young people, youth workers and youth NGOs. Yet, youth policy is within the competence of the EU Member States and is not regulated by the international agreements or the EU. According to European youth policy expert F.Y. Denstad, it is clear that European level recommendations do affect the development of national youth policies.

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