Preliminary Decisions: Why Collaborate?

Through effective collaboration, partnerships can create a greater impact than individual organizations on their own. In fact, multifaceted social problems can only be addressed if partners work towards common solutions. When a problem is beyond the capacity of one organization alone to solve, collaboration between organizations is necessary for the achievement of complex objectives; this is known as collective impact.

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Knowing the Best Way Forward: The passionate people who are drawn to health promotion and disease prevention bring experiences, knowledge, and a thirst for a more just and healthier world. Like people living on one side of a raging river, they want a safe way to get across, and what they see may not be visible but it’s vital. They see the need for a bridge.

Is Collaboration the Right Approach?

Some problems and their solutions are well defined and can be easily addressed by one organization, whereas reaching an effective solution for more complex problems requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders. Without doubt, collaboration takes more time to guide a project from concept to completion, because partners build trust and familiarity over time. In fact, lack of time was one of the most common challenges reported in the systematic review of factors that impact the success of inter-agency health promotion collaborations. Deciding whether a collaborative approach is appropriate or necessary is a key first step for partners. If something is urgent and needs a quick response, collaboration is not always the way to go.

It may be helpful to distinguish between different ways of working together when determining what is best suited for a particular project. The Collaboration Continuum below is a frequently used framework for distinguishing different types of multi-organizational relationships:

The Collaboration Continuum

John Oliffe, UBC Vancouver, is sharing his research expertise with the team at a harmonization meeting.

Weighing the benefits and risks

Some of the common benefits and risks of collaboration are illustrated here. Weighing the benefits and risks helps guide decision making and assists in strengthening the case for collaboration. Keeping these factors in mind is essential during the phases of collaboration.

The Benefits
  • Enhanced impact/influence
  • Acquisition of additional resources
  • Information sharing and alignment of skills
  • Enhanced innovation and collective expertise
  • Leveraging connections / relationships
  • Increased legitimacy / heightened profile
  • Reduced duplication
The Risks
  • Investment of time/resources may not be justified
  • Power imbalance and loss of control or autonomy
  • Conflict and strained relationships
  • Complexity in decision making
  • Frustration in navigating partner agencies
  • Damage to credibility if unsuccessful
  • Insufficient credit for accomplishments

Key Collaborative Questions

Before beginning, have you assessed whether collaboration is the right approach for this project? Click on the tabs to work through the steps….

Do you have a well-articulated and mutually agreed upon shared vision, leadership structure, and team?
If YES proceed to Step 2
If NO then go to “Getting Started”
Have you investigated the environmental factors that may impact success?
If YES proceed to Step 3
If NO then go to “Know the Context”
Have you mapped and evaluated the collective resources and assessed your readiness to proceed?
If YES proceed to Step 4
If NO then go to “Deciding to Proceed”
Have you decided on a concrete and realistically achievable goal and committed to a mutually agreeable project timeline?
If YES proceed to Step 5
If NO then go to “Planning”
Have you created an implementation plan with room for flexibility and change?
If YES proceed to Step 6
If NO then go to Implementation”
Have you decided on an evaluation process and selected a method for evaluation?
If YES proceed to Step 7
If NO then go to “Evaluation”
Have you assessed the value of sustaining the program or project and do you have the necessary resources in place for sustainability?
If NO then go to “Sustainability”
If YES then Congratulations! Once one project is nearing completion or has achieved sustainability partners may want to consider undertaking another collaborative endeavor. If so, go to the “getting started” section to begin again.

Key Collaborative Questions

Before beginning, have you assessed whether collaboration is the right approach for this project? Click on the tabs to work through the steps….

Question 1

Do you have a well-articulated and mutually agreed upon shared vision, leadership structure, and team?

If YES proceed to Step 2
If NO then go to “Getting Started”
Question 2

Have you investigated the environmental factors that may impact success?

If YES proceed to Step 3
If NO then go to “Know the Context”
Question 3

Have you mapped and evaluated the collective resources and assessed your readiness to proceed?

If YES proceed to Step 4
If NO then go to “Deciding to Proceed”
Question 4

Have you decided on a concrete and realistically achievable goal and committed to a mutually agreeable project timeline?

If YES proceed to Step 5
If NO then go to “Planning”
Question 5

Have you created an implementation plan with room for flexibility and change?

If YES proceed to Step 6
If NO then go to Implementation”
Question 6

Have you decided on an evaluation process and selected a method for evaluation?

If YES proceed to Step 7
If NO then go to “Evaluation”
Question 7

Have you assessed the value of sustaining the program or project and do you have the necessary resources in place for sustainability?

If NO then go to “Sustainability”
If YES then Congratulations! Once one project is nearing completion or has achieved sustainability partners may want to consider undertaking another collaborative endeavor. If so, go to the “getting started” section to begin again.

The Phases of Collaboration

This primer outlines 7 phases of collaboration. For each phase, the important and unique factors are detailed, along with strategies for promoting effective collaboration. These phases may or may not occur in a particular order, and some may occur simultaneously. Furthermore, there is no discrete ending to each phase. Communication is key to connecting with partners and collaborating throughout all the phases.

Stories and Sharing

Collaboration really highlighted the immense pool of talent available to us.