Collaboration is inherent to anti-trafficking efforts, manifested as a continuous series of partnerships between victim support advocates, law enforcement, legal services and research institutions. Common sense says partnerships to eliminate human trafficking should be helpful, but not all partnerships are equally beneficial or productive. Why do some partnerships thrive while others end up mired in red tape or ensnared in disagreements? We’ll consider the pros and cons of collaboration within three areas: resources, service provision, and research/policy.
When anti-trafficking entities share building space, staff members, funds and case information, they encounter opportunities to be more effective and efficient with resources. For example, one residential facility may have an impossible caseload or waiting period while another has open capacity. These two residential facilities may also have unique infrastructure making them best suited to serve different client populations, which would hopefully lead to case-sharing and increased appropriateness of referrals.
Collaboration can also deflate controversy created through unhealthy competition for resources by encouraging entities to explore collaborative funding options. As agencies communicate with and rely on one another, their grant applications offer more comprehensive solutions and services. The ability of nonprofits to demonstrate consistent and tangible cooperation with other agencies is known to increase chances of grant acceptance from foundations wary of resource waste and duplication.
On the other hand, competition may actually increase as anti-trafficking entities partner on similar initiatives. As more groups get involved with the same projects, it can become more difficult to stand out as ‘unique’ to prospective funders. Additionally, close partnerships risk ‘mission creep’ as organizations vie to impose their own solutions and ideologies on each project. This may lead to frustration, favoritism and lack of focus as there will likely be inadequate resources to accommodate everyone’s agenda.
There is also the argument that large groups—drowning in an ever-expanding web of committees—seldom function at maximum efficiency. Valuable ideas go unheard in isolated subcommittees and busy professionals are subjected to an endless string of meetings (which they usually attend in addition to their regular jobs) where turnover and inconsistent attendance hinder progress.
Sharing client data and service provision across multiple agencies may ensure that victim/survivors are less likely to be lost or forgotten. If multiple agencies play a part in a client’s rehabilitation or restoration, they are more likely to spot and address unmet needs. Agencies will doubtlessly hold each other accountable to the specific area of rehabilitation for which they are responsible. Utilizing formally developed protocols or memoranda of understanding decreases misinformation and clarifies exactly how and when agencies are expected to communicate unmet client needs.
One drawback to collaborative service provision is the risk that victim/survivor confidentiality and privacy may be compromised through inadequately secured inter-agency information sharing. How and when it is appropriate to share information is both a complex legal and ethical challenge. Some agencies will inevitably have more privilege and responsibility in maintaining survivor confidentiality. As in many human relationships, important details may get lost in translation and private information may accidentally be shared too liberally. Additionally, developing systems to share data in a common universal format can be expensive, requiring changes not only within the data collection systems but also with storage mechanisms.
Furthermore, if anti-trafficking entities do not take a notably proactive stance in communicating directly and clearly with one another, victim/survivors’ needs may be left unmet as their paperwork floats in limbo between agencies.
Research & Policy
Collaborative and inclusive policy creation stands a better chance of producing legislation based on research and critical problem-solving rather than political jockeying. Fostering a collection of perspectives at the table can help temper extreme opinions and lead to more productive solutions that are beneficial for all involved parties. This point is especially salient considering anti-trafficking work includes a wide spectrum of ideological stances.
As anti-trafficking entities exchange information, mutual flows of information between academics and service providers increase. This empowers first responders to more accurately understand how their interactions with traffickers and victim/survivors are connected to anti-trafficking policy and research. In turn, first responders like law enforcement and service providers are able to share their day-to-day experiences with people creating actual policies and programs.
Needless to say, perfect collaboration among diverse anti-trafficking entities may not always be realistic. Anti-trafficking organizations that are able to spend more time and resources communicating with policymakers will more likely influence legislative action. These power differentials between groups can, in turn, lead to more contention and resentment.
As an educational research institution, the Human Trafficking Center does not intend to either endorse an all-inclusive approach to collaboration nor does it mean to discourage partnerships in any way. Rather, we want to point out both strengths and potential pitfalls of collaboration so organizations in partnership can select and shape the optimal architecture of collaboration for themselves and their work.
(photo via Creative Commons)
What do you think are the areas within anti-trafficking efforts where collaboration could be most helpful? Most harmful?
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