Stop or Go?
With solid foundations and firm understanding in place it is time to assess commitment and feasibility. Successful project managers for construction of a bridge always double-check that everything they need is in order and ready: the design, the labour, the funding, etc.
A collaborative must reach a full understanding of what each partner can – and cannot – bring and whether the team is ready to proceed or not.
Evaluating and Mapping Resources
Collaborative efforts require a commitment of both time and resources. Funding, along with technical and administrative support and appropriate training have an impact on health promotion collaborations. Resource requirements vary from project to project. A resource-mapping tool can assist with this determination. Once there is a clear understanding of project resources, there will need to be a transparent understanding about decision making regarding resource allocation.
Organizational structures and processes employed in a collaborative effort impact the effectiveness of the project. Considerations worthy of discussion include:
Congruence between the project vision and partner mandates
The match between the objectives of the project and the partners influences organizational commitment and involvement in the project.
Partners and stakeholders should be suitably aligned in terms of respective missions, values, goals, mandates, and objectives.
Dedicated or core staff
It can be useful to have individuals who are specifically employed for the purposes of aiding and supporting the collaboration. In fact, this may be a deal breaker for some organizations with limited funding for additional projects. Depending on the level of organizational commitment or funds available, dedicated staff may or may not be possible.
Stories and Sharing
To succeed, partner organizations need to act within their respective missions/goals and these are not always exactly aligned with each other.
From this project I learned that commitment to working together is a critical piece to enable the collaborative work.
Collaboration takes more time, but it is worth the extra effort. The benefits can far outweigh the challenges.
Consider social or cultural factors which can influence positive collaborative interactions, align vision, and mitigate conflict. Cultivating mutual trust, respect, and cultural sensitivity among collaborative partners goes a long way in facilitating discussion and overcoming conflict. This is particularly meaningful if collaboration has the potential to extend beyond the life of a project. Some important considerations to keep in mind:
Determining equity in relationships
Sometimes individual partners may feel they are contributing more than others. Discuss workload distributions to find equitable solutions, improve efficiency, and enhance satisfaction with levels of contribution. Partnership agreements can be integral to minimize perceptions of workload inequity.
Managing power differentials
Real or perceived power disparities can increase feelings of inequality in a partnership. Find mutually agreeable ways for all partners to have a role in guiding the collaboration.
Ensuring meaningful participation
Providing opportunities for all team members to contribute in meaningful ways helps foster commitment and ownership. Find ways to acknowledge group successes and partner contributions.
Conflict management and resolution
Establishing how conflicts will be resolved before they occur will help keep project work moving forward in the event of conflict. Mechanisms to help manage conflict include returning to the shared vision, clarifying assumptions of all partners, and adjusting timelines if needed.
Final Readiness Assessment
At this point, the collaborative team should have agreement on goals and strategy. Before committing time and resources to a long-term project, it is important to assess partner capacity and readiness to proceed.
Stories and Sharing
Stop Smoking Before Surgery was an ideal project to work on together, as it allowed for avoiding some previous duplication and was in alignment with the goals of all three partners. As we developed the project we realized each partner had different strengths and roles to play.
- The USAID Collaboration Mapping Tool is an interactive tool for visually mapping relationships between stakeholders. To access this tool and the guide, go to:
- The Assessing Community Needs and Resources section of the University of Kansas Community Toolbox offers guidance for conducting an assessment of community resources. Access this Community Toolbox here:
- The Partnerships Analysis Tool and Checklist is an online resource available from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The interactive checklist allows users to generate aggregate scores on 7 subscales (e.g., determining the need for the partnership) by responding to a series of questions. Access the tool online here:
- The Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory is a free online tool that includes 42 questions. Responses to these questions are used to calculate scores on 20 factors (such as leadership) that research has indicated are important for collaborative success. Access the online inventory here:
Living Lab: Sharing Our Experience
Getting a collaborative project off the ground can be challenging, especially in the context of resource limitations or environmental constraints. One of our partners reflected about the history leading up to the decision to proceed with the Harmonization Project:
We had an interest in collaborating for many years prior to the start of the Harmonization Project. In fact, a working group comprised of members from each of the organizations was initially established approximately a year before the Harmonization Project planning started. This group was tasked with reviewing possibilities for collaborative prevention projects, and developed terms of reference and a strategic action plan for a potential collaborative tobacco reduction project. Following member turnover, the collaboration lost traction with no projects being approved or implemented. When the grant for multi-sectoral partnerships was identified, it provided the perfect partnership.