What is an MOU?

A memorandum of understanding or MOU is a documented agreement that sets out how a partnership arrangement  will operate. It enables all parties to the collaborative activity see that they are agreeing to the same thing, and provides a solid reference to go back to should disagreements arise. It must be remembered that MOUs are non-legally binding documents however they provide necessary structure to the collaborative process and help ensure no unreal expectations arise.

A simple MOU may be used where there is a low level of complexity associated with the collaborative arrangement. For example: where two organisations decide to work collaboratively, adhering to an agreed set of principles, to achieve a common objective such as improved, culturally appropriate service delivery.

However complex and or long term collaborations require substantial documented corroboration to clearly outline roles and responsibilities and offset risks to partnering organisations. In these circumstances it is best to support the MOU with a briefing note that outlines the history of and reasons for the collaboration and a documented partnership agreement including a risk management plan. This is of particular importance where the services agreeing to the collaboration are not the legal entities of their organisations: for example, when local services agreed to partner but must have final sign off from their parent organisation.

Use the Potential Collaboration Check List to assess the level of risk to your organisation arising from the proposed collaboration. The more categories and potential risks that apply in your circumstances the more substantial your documentation needs to be.

Elements of an MOU

Even a simple MOU should contain several basic elements. These include:

  • The names of the collaborating partners.
  • The objective of the collaboration
  • The principles that will establish the practice framework.
  • The things that the parties have reached agreement on. This can be a few dot points in the MOU itself, or a reference to a Partnership Agreement that outlines:
    • The role of each party
    • Responsibilities of each party
    • Tasks to be undertaken by each party
    • Quality and performance monitoring or performance management
    • Agreed protocols or policies and procedures
    • Risk management
    • Rights and safeguards (such as intellectual property, confidentiality, privacy)
    • Resource use arrangements
    • Reporting and accountability
  • The duration of the MOU.
  • A dispute resolution process.
  • The role of the MOU – noting that the document is non-legally binding but provides the principles that underpin the collaboration and outlines the timeframe and the areas of commitment.
  • Signatures of Collaboration partners and signatures of witnesses.


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