Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. IV. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF EXISTING USG-FOUNDATION INTERACTIONS ON INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICE INITIATIVES?


The interactions around philanthropic initiatives, which occur between the federal government and private foundations, take many forms. It is helpful, however, to attempt some broad categorizations of these interactions, and the literature offers several ways to think about them. Taken together, two such frameworks portray a kind of continuum from minor interaction to intensive collaboration, also calling attention to circumstances where the relationship between USG and foundations is nonexistent, or even adversarial. In addition to shedding light on the important dynamics in USG-foundation interactions in this review, these conceptualizations also can inform case study selection and analysis.

In a theoretical article, public affairs scholar Jodi Sandfort (2008) conceptualizes the role of foundations specifically with respect to their relationship vis-a-vis the federal government. She sees the three main categories of interaction as (1) complementary, where the two entities work together in some way; (2) supplementary, where foundations explicitly seek to act in areas where USG is not acting; and (3) adversarial, where the foundation attempts to move public policy in a particular direction through an advocacy stance (which may or may not be as conflictive as the term adversarial typically implies). Adding nuance to the complementary category of interaction, it is useful to consider former MacArthur Foundation leader Kennette Benedicts (2003b) conceptualization of the typical ways in which foundations collaborate with each other. These ways include (1) affinity groups to share information, (2) federations to align resources, and (3) consortia to pool resources and govern projects. Applied to government-foundation interactions, we reconceptualize these three types as communication, coordination, and collaboration.

The center panel of Figure IV.1 depicts this typology of USG-foundation interaction. As the arrows indicate, a single initiative may involve both supplementary and adversarial actions, or evolve from one to the other. Either of these types could also eventually develop into complementary action. In contrast, complementary action is not likely to evolve into supplementary or adversarial action. An important consideration in all types of USG-foundation interaction is the degree to which the interaction is intentional or incidental. The top panel in the figure calls attention to the life cycle of an initiative, as articulated by the State Department (2008) and discussed previously.

The bottom panel in Figure IV.1 presents four key dimensions that determine the shape of USG-foundation relationships, which arise through the combination of Sandforts and Benedicts frameworks. In very general terms, these include the respective levels of communication, resources, organizational priorities, and decision-making for the various institutional actors. At the most basic level, different models of interaction involve different amounts and types of communication between organizations from the respective sectors. Communication may, for example, be frequent or infrequent, direct or indirect, collaborative or adversarial, and it may ebb and flow over the course of an initiative. Second, it is important to consider the extent to which the parties actually contribute resources to the endeavor, as well as the relative size of their contributions, and the proportion of an initiatives total costs that are met by the various funders of interest.

Figure IV.1
Conceptual Framework for USG-Foundation Decision Making, Implementation, and Interaction around Philanthropic Initiatives

Conceptual Framework for USG-Foundation Decision Making, Implementation, and Interaction around Philanthropic Initiatives

Figure IV.1 presents the conceptual framework for USG-Foundation Decision Making, Implementation, and Interaction around Philanthropic Initiatives.

At top it has an Initiative Life Cycle comprised of: Formulation (Identify need or problem; gauge importance) leads to Planning (Select intervention approach, technology) leads to Implementation (Role of providers, advocates, government) leads to Evaluation (Define outcomes and impacts, develop or select metrics) leads to Renewal/Termination (Wind down sustain, or scale up).

Next is a three part graphic presentation of the interaction typology, with "supplemental action" and "adversarial / advocay action" to the left with a recprical interaction. Both these boxes have arrows leading to "complementary action" which has an internal breakdown of "communication" leading to "coordination" leading to "collaboration."

A third row is a list of components characterized as Characteristics of Decision Making, Implementation, and Interaction.

  • Communication
    • How much communication takes place and at what level of the organization?
    • What is the nature of communications:  direct/indirect; collegial/ adversarial; etc.
  • Resources
    • How much is each party committing?
    • What is the relative size of each organization’s contribution?
    • What proportion of total program cost are covered?
  • Priorities
    • To what degree is the initiative an organizational priority?
    • To what extent do the priorities of the different organizations match up
  • Decision Making
    • To what extent is decision making shared or not?
    • At what level and on what content are the different parties making decisions?


Related to the question of resources, another dimension of interest is the extent to which the issue or initiative is an organizational priority for the stakeholders involved. Such concerns may influence the organizations levels of involvement, their commitment to the initiative over time, and their willingness to interact with other organizations. Finally, decision-making around an initiative is perhaps the most complicated dimension in conceptualizing USG-foundation interactions. Salient questions include the level of decisions being made by the different parties (for example, determining broad goals versus making brass tacks implementation decisions); the content areas of the parties decisions (for example, drawing on programmatic expertise versus policy know-how); and the degree to which decision-making authority is shared or not.

Below we present examples of several different types of USG-foundation interactions around health and social services endeavors in the U.S. and abroad. We focus on supplementary and complementary activities, as these are more likely than adversarial interactions to provide models for deliberate partnering activities in the future. Each example calls attention to several of the conceptual issues presented in Figure IV.1.

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