Collaborative initiatives can be easy to begin and hard to sustain.
Effective inter-agency relationships are a critical element of sustainable collaborative initiatives. They need to be set up and supported by systematic and early planning, clear documentation and ongoing review processes.
For effective relationships to be developed, there needs to be alignment of organisations' goals and values, and a basic agreement about:
- the purpose of the collaboration and what the organisations will try to achieve together
- mutual expectations about outcomes and processes
- the principles or values by which the partners will operate. These principles need to include agreements to operate with transparency and openness in dealings with one another.
Lessons from formal collaborative initiatives indicate that the following are needed to sustain effective collaborative relationships:
- a strong commitment to shared strategic goals and a truly shared, achievable purpose
- leadership at relevant levels to set the vision, direction, principles and a culture of collaboration
- a strong commitment from partner agencies to developing effective and sustainable working relationships based on transparency, openness, a commitment to problem solving and building trust
- clear parameters for the collaboration and identified roles and responsibilities of the collaborating partners
- an investment of time and resources in relevant management and governance processes
- regular and meaningful communication and timely and appropriate access to information for partner agencies
- agreed processes for problem solving, non-adversarial dispute resolution and partnership termination
- flexibility to respond to change and to be innovative, while maintaining focus on the initiative's main objective
- recognition of the commitment and capacity of those involved
- requirement to develop as a bottom-up as well as a top-down process
- feedback from relevant stakeholders, including clients where relevant
- regular review as goals and partnership arrangements may need to change over time.
Investment in the collaborative relationship is essential to avoid the common problems of collaboration failure, which can include:
- uneven workload distribution
- inadequate planning
- lack of enthusiasm
- conflict due to differing values
- unrealistic expectations.