Exploring conditions for successful crosssector partnerships: lessons from The Ocean Project and its partner Aquariums
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The following research is an exploration into the ability of cross-sector partnerships which have been able to achieve a collaborative advantage. The partnerships under investigation are between The Ocean Project, a charitable organization dedicated to inspiring ocean conservation action through the aquarium community, and three of its partner aquariums. Using the theory of collaborative advantage as the theoretical underpinning, this exploration begins with a literature review on each of the key concepts which are relevant to this study, including collaborative advantage, social innovation, and cross-sector partnerships. The literature review was conducted to gain insight into which conditions are commonly present in cross-sector partnerships and to provide a knowledge base with which to reflect upon after the subsequent phases of research, which include a case study with interviews and my direct observation as an intern at The Ocean Project. The results of this research provide interesting insight into cross-sector partnerships which have been able to achieve a collaborative advantage within the context of social innovation. The conditions which were found to have an influence on achieving a collaborative advantage are (1) mutual benefit, (2) common aim, (3) organizational fit, (4) commitment, (5) resources, (6) risk, and (7) trust. Given the growing academic interest in both cross sector partnerships and social innovation, the results are relevant to practitioners who are in similar situations or wish to begin their own partnerships. The key theme which has been identified within this context is risk; more specifically, the aquarium industry’s perception of risk when experimenting with innovative approaches to engaging their visitors to take conservation action. The aquarium industry is dominated by the industry “educator” paradigm, which follows the philosophy we conserve what we understand. In other words, individuals must be educated and understand ocean issues in order to care enough to take conservation action. The Ocean Project offers a different approach to conservation, supported by their research, which indicates that individuals who are interested in conservation don’t need to be educated on the issue; they need to be shown how to take action. The Ocean Project has begun to implement this approach with the three partner aquariums under investigation in this study. While it remains to be seen if these approaches are successful, the results found here are relevant to all cross-sector partnerships which are interested in social innovation.