Partners for a Competitive Workforce in Cincinnati is a fascinating and ambitious cross-sector partnership focused on meeting employer demand by growing the skills of the current and future workforce.

At Living Cities, we believe in the power of cross-sector partnerships to address some of the toughest challenges our country faces today. But, as these initiatives and others have continued to evolve, it’s become clear that practitioners, participants, and funders need a systematic way and shared language to reflect on whether their partnerships are set up “right” to achieve their intended results.

Last month Living Cities shared What Barriers? Insights from Solving Problems through Cross-Sector Partnerships, a strategic framework for cross-sector partnerships which describes and defines a set of traits that make up a strong foundation, factors that accelerate or limit success, and behaviors that are necessary for high-impact partnerships.

The framework was developed over the course of two years, during which I and other members of the Living Cities team had the chance to learn from and with leaders about what it takes to set up and run a cross-sector partnership so that it can have real and measurable impact.

One of the cross-sector partnerships we had a chance to learn from extensively is Greater Cincinnati’s Partners for a Competitive Workforce. Partners is a fascinating and ambitious cross-sector partnership focused on meeting employer demand by growing the skills of the current and future workforce. Their bold goal is for 90% of Greater Cincinnati’s labor force to be gainfully employed by 2020.

In our first of four Insights from Solving Problems through Cross-Sector Partnerships Case Studies, we will look at Partners for a Competitive Workforce through the lens of the cross-sector partnership framework. The case of Partners is chock full of insights about building the “right” cross-sector partnership to “fix” workforce, but three ideas stood out in particular and are explored in-depth in the case study:

  1. Aligning structure and representatives. Having the right structure and the right people in place are keys for any organization to succeed. However, cross-sector partnerships often have flat structures that are supposed to be a one-stop shop for everyone involved. They seek to do all activities from vision-setting to accountability to strategy development to implementation. In addition, cross-sector partnerships often try to do big things with people who lack power, and little things with people who have a lot of power.
  2. Intervening in a way that can plausibly achieve your goals . In order for any entity to succeed, it needs clarity about what it is trying to accomplish as well as a strategy that can plausibly yield that result. However, many cross-sector partnerships struggle to identify a specific result. Even those that are able to name one often struggle to intervene in a way that can plausibly yield it.
  3. The importance of building trust. Trust is an important and underestimated ingredient to making a cross-sector partnership work. If members of a cross-sector partnership do not believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of their partners as well as the partnership itself, it is very difficult to achieve the partnership’s intended goals.

Our hope is that this work is just the beginning of the conversation, and the learning that needs to happen to advance cross-sector partnerships to address the toughest challenges we face today. If this case study and the framing paper have piqued your interest, you’re invited to be part of the conversation, provide feedback, and share your insights, ideas and experiences. You can do so on Twitter @Living_Cities using hashtag #xsector, or by reaching out to me directly at or @AKGold11.