Intersectoral Collaboration Amongst Local Networks in Canada: Exploring Avenues for Social Innovation in the Face of Institutional Instability

Research Team

Andrée-Anne Parent, PhD., Université de Montréal

Joshua Evans, PhD., University of Alberta

Jeff Masuda, PhD., The Centre for Environmental Health Equity, Queen’s University

Sophie Lachapelle, Research Assistant, The Centre for Environmental Health Equity, Queen’s University


SSHRC Insight Grant, 2019-2023

The Project

Local intersectoral networks are more or less formally structured instances of inter-organizational collaboration, involving public, private, and third sector organizations. These networks are often at the centre of local governance structures and social services as societies struggle to deal with complex social problems. In the last thirty years, local intersectoral networks have experienced increasing instability as institutional environments are constantly restructured to adhere to the dominant neoliberal ideology and principles of individual responsibility, fiscal restraint, and minimal government intervention.

In this study, we wish to explore how local intersectoral networks adapt and innovate when facing changes in their institutional environments. This study also aims to identify the needs and gaps in our society’s ability to act on complex social problems in a world that is constantly changing. This pan-Canadian study will examine three case studies in three provinces, with each case experiencing collaborative challenges in unique intersectoral and institutional environments:

  1. Crime prevention in Edmonton, Alberta;
  2. Supporting local youth and their families in Montreal, Quebec; and
  3. Community reintegration of formerly incarcerated persons in Kingston, Ontario.


Positioning ourselves within the domain of social policy, planning and prevention, and in the current context of relatively unstable institutions, the general goal of this study is to advance both knowledge and practice with respect to local intersectoral networks for addressing complex problems. Therefore, our objectives are as follows:

  1. To document the structure and dynamics of three local intersectoral networks operating within different institutional environments and unique, complex problems;
  2. To explore and tell the stories of intersectoral network actors regarding their experiences and perceptions of the nature and effects of institutional disruptions, as well as their responses to these changes;
  3. To identify and analyze the paths and the mechanisms by which those institutional transformations impinge on local networks and their effects, both structural and cognitive;
  4. To analyze the conditions, capacities and strategies that contribute to an explanation of how local networks make their way through institutional transformations; and
  5. To produce a variety of practice tools that will support intersectoral collaboration and social innovation in local networks under conditions of institutional instability.


To meet our objectives, we plan to: conduct an institutional scan of each case in order to contextualize any institutional changes that network actors describe; carry out participant observation of meetings and other intersectoral activities between network actors; conduct individual interviews with local network actors in each case; and engage in a documentary analysis of the principle institutional reforms perceived by network actors to disrupt the local networks in each case.

Local Context and CEHE’s Role

In collaboration with our research partners, Dr. Parent in Montreal and Dr. Evans in Edmonton, CEHE will facilitate the Kingston case study with the help of our community partners and reintegration service providers.

The City of Kingston is Canada’s largest prison hub, surrounded by four federal institutions and two provincial penitentiaries, housing approximately 17% of all federal incarcerated people in the country. These prisons do not exist in isolation from the surrounding community as they are significant generators of direct and indirect economic opportunity for thousands in the region either through direct employment or in support services. Communities are also directly affected by prisons in many ways as families of prisoners, many who move to Kingston, contribute to the community while also requiring support during and after periods of incarceration.

Kingston boasts a diverse network of community organizations whose services aid formerly incarcerated people and their families during the reintegration process. These networks of supporthave developed over many decades and have withstood many challenges associated with economic, ideological, and demographic change within Canada’s carceral system. It is within this context that community organizations, particularly in the non-profit sector, have become a vital sector in facilitating the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated persons and in meeting the basic needs of their families and wider communities.

Our previous research has found that service providers in Kingston’s intersectoral system of community reintegration face a number of barriers to facilitating successful community reintegration. These barriers include restriction of catchment areas, organizational politics, insufficient numbers of staff members, and operating under constant financial uncertainty. Clarifying the contextual circumstances of community reintegration can inform intersectoral practices by ensuring that formerly incarcerated people and their families are recognized as constituent parts of the wider community and thus deserving of prioritization in regional health and social policies and practices.

The purpose of this case study is to establish a comprehensive understanding of the intersectoral community reintegration system in Kingston, Ontario. Specifically, we want to determine exactly what constraints (i.e. funding, bureaucracy, geographic barriers, etc.) are being placed on these organizations that prohibit them from facilitating successful reintegration, how they continue to perform their work of community reintegration under these constraints, and whether intersectoralcollaboration may considered to be an alleviant or aggravator to such constraints.


Each case will be analyzed individually, followed by a cross-case analysis to examine the experiences of these diverse social networks both cumulatively and comparatively. The results will lead to conclusions in the form of new hypotheses regarding the paths and mechanisms of institutional change, they ways they impinge on local networks, and how these networks can navigate through these disruptions and continue to provide their services to those who need them.


For more information about this project, contact our general email ( or our Research Assistant, Sophie (