Learning from intersectoral action beyond health: a meta-narrative review

Shinjini Mondal, Sara Van Belle, Antonia Maioni

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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Intersectoral action (ISA) is considered pivotal for achieving health and societal goals but remains difficult to achieve as it requires complex efforts, resources and coordinated responses from multiple sectors and organizations. While ISA in health is often desired, its potential can be better informed by the advanced theory-building and empirical application in real-world contexts from political science, public administration and environmental sciences. Considering the importance and the associated challenges in achieving ISA, we have conducted a meta-narrative review, in the research domains of political science, public administration, environmental and health. The review aims to identify theory, theoretical concepts and empirical applications of ISA in these identified research traditions and draw learning for health. Using the multidisciplinary database of SCOPUS from 1996 to 2017, 5535 records were identified, 155 full-text articles were reviewed and 57 papers met our final inclusion criteria. In our findings, we trace the theoretical roots of ISA across all research domains, describing the main focus and motivation to pursue collaborative work. The literature synthesis is organized around the following: implementation instruments, formal mechanisms and informal networks, enabling institutional environments involving the interplay of hardware (i.e. resources, management systems, structures) and software (more specifically the realms of ideas, values, power); and the important role of leaders who can work across boundaries in promoting ISA, political mobilization and the essential role of hybrid accountability mechanisms. Overall, our review reaffirms affirms that ISA has both technical and political dimensions. In addition to technical concerns for strengthening capacities and providing support instruments and mechanisms, future research must carefully consider power and inter-organizational dynamics in order to develop a more fulsome understanding and improve the implementation of intersectoral initiatives, as well as to ensure their sustainability. This also shows the need for continued attention to emergent knowledge bases across different research domains including health.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)552-571
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Humans
  • Organizations
  • Politics
  • Social Responsibility


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