Collaborate for Success

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 Why collaborate | Key elements of collaboration | Where to start

"Two heads are often better than one". That's what collaboration is - two or more groups working together to achieve common goals that would otherwise be difficult to do alone. A separate structure is set up and a purpose identified that is different from that of the organizations involved in the collaboration. It often involves longer term projects and resources committed to the new structure.

Organizations are recognizing that some type of co-operation is important for their future. If this seems too formal for your organization's plans, you may be interested in partnerships of less structure which include: networking, cooperation or coordination. It all depends on: the project, who has the authority and how resources are distributed. On a line labelled structure, you would see networking on one end, being a less formal structure and collaborating on the other end, representing more structure.

To illustrate the different levels of partnering, review the following example. If two groups keep in touch to let each other know what's happening in the field of canola, that is networking. If they both have test plots and decide they will plant different varieties, this is cooperation. If they decide to plant a test plot together and share the costs, this is coordination. Collaboration is if the two groups decide to form a canola organization and develop their mandate separate from their original organizations.

Why Collaborate?

  • assistance from many can lighten the task
  • many ideas can be generated in larger groups
  • the message has strength in numbers
  • can't wait for someone else to do the job
  • avoids duplication
  • pooling of limited resources
Key Elements of Collaboration
  • Vision
    The vision should be clear so members understand their involvement in the new structure and feel committed to work towards that vision. Specific deadlines and identified resources will help to clarify the goals, member's roles and responsibilities. Review the vision regularly and revise if appropriate. Remember that the mission and goals of the collaborative group differs from the mission and goals of the member organizations.

  • Communication
    Set up a system of communication at the beginning of a collaborative effort both internally and externally. Internally, the collaborators expect open and honest communication. It is important to spend some time at each meeting learning about others in the partnership. Conflict may arise because of a lack of understanding about the other partners in the group but is part of a natural process of working together. Communication between the collaborators is essential so everyone knows and understands what is happening which gives them a sense of commitment toward the success of the project.

    Externally, keeping the community informed is good public relations. Often the community benefits somehow from your work in the collaboration so it's a good idea to let them know what your group is doing and how they can get more involved.

  • Strong Leadership
    A facilitator or coordinator is helpful to organize meetings, coordinate dates, ensure everyone has the correct information, etc. This person also helps to facilitate movement towards the outcomes and the vision set forth by the group. Facilitation requires thorough planning, a good handle on the vision and the ability to listen, making sure everyone else gets heard.
Where to Start

Often a few people start talking, possibly networking, about an existing problem or crisis. Start by deciding what you would like the outcome to be. What will the end look like? Follow Stephen Covey's advice: "Begin with the end in mind." As a group, work through the following questions:

What rural concerns or issues you would like to see some joint programs or efforts?

What is your organization doing now to address these concerns?

What would you like your group to accomplish?

Identify who might also be interested or concerned with these rural issues.

How might you work together on these issues?

Have your groups worked cooperatively or competitively in the past?

As a collaborated group, what would you like to see happen? What would success look like?

What resources do you have available to you?

Develop a vision that will best describe your future focus in the group.

List the activities your collaboration has identified that you will be working on, clarify deadlines and responsibilities.

This is simply meant to get you started with collaborating with other groups. Remember, "there are no "best ways", only alternatives" - Hugh Prather.

Collaboration: What Makes it Work: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Collaboration Framework... Addressing Community Capacity, National Network for Collaboration
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Shauna Johnston.
This document is maintained by Stacey Tames.
This information published to the web on July 4, 2006.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 24, 2009.