What is collaboration?

Collaboration generally refers to individuals or organisations ‘working together’ to address problems and deliver outcomes that are not easily or effectively achieved by working alone. Collaborative practice is now central to the way we work, deliver services and produce innovations. Collaborative relationships are attractive to organisations because the combination of effort and expertise produces benefits greater than those achieved working alone.

Three young men sit around a computer in an office setting, collaborating.

What is collaborative practice?

Collaborative practice involves community service organisations working together to achieve shared goals.

In the community services delivery system, collaboration is achieved when organisations develop mechanisms, structures, processes and skills for bridging organisational and interpersonal differences, and together arrive at outcomes that they value.

Community service organisations generally collaborate to:

  • improve the quality or scope of service to their clients, and/or
  • provide administrative or service delivery efficiencies.

A continuum of collaborative practice

Collaborative practice can be seen as a continuum of relationships. The relationships formed between organisations can vary in terms of the formality of arrangements and how activities or functions are shared or integrated. Arrangements can range from informal agreements for information sharing, such as inter-agency or other network meetings, through to amalgamations and mergers, where a formal process fully integrates two organisations into a single operation.

Relationships may also differ in terms of:

  • length of relationship (one-off activity, time limited or ongoing)
  • degree of risk and commitment
  • type of outcomes sought, and
  • level of organisational autonomy retained.

Benefits of collaboration

Although many community sector organisations compete with other organisations for access to government and private funds, collaboration between organisations can provide important benefits to organisations and their clients or constituents.

Working with other organisations, either through informal networks or more formal partnerships can provide:

  • greater efficiency and less duplicated effort. For example, a consortia approach to a competitive funding round can deliver integrated service models, achieve broader geographic coverage or reduced costs
  • access to additional resources or lower costs through sharing resources such as office space, administration or other aspects of an organisation’s operation
  • improved service coordination across agencies, with better pathways or referral systems for service users
  • a holistic approach to meeting client needs, with better and more efficient access to the range of services required, improved quality and consistency of service and greater responsiveness to needs
  • organisational knowledge and improved service system capability
  • greater innovation and flexibility to respond to changing, emerging or more complex client needs and changing operations and operational environments
  • access to up-to-date information, new ideas and strategic thinking
  • improved capacity to demonstrate best practice
  • political and lobbying strength
  • increased capacity to successfully submit tenders or expressions of interest and to deliver projects, and
  • additional expertise, support or legal protection for small, new, or struggling organisations.

Over time, the combined benefits of collaboration create new opportunities for partnering with others to build strong, safe, healthy and vital communities and a sustainable future together.

Principles of collaboration

Evidence-based assessment of successful collaboration highlights six partnership principles:

  1. Recognise and accept the need for partnership
  2. Develop clarity and realism of purpose
  3. Ensure commitment and ownership
  4. Develop and maintain trust
  5. Create clear and robust partnership arrangements, and
  6. Monitor, measure and learn.

The development of a shared vision and values between collaborating organisations, has been highlighted as crucial to successful collaboration.

A successful collaboration or partnership also needs to be approached systematically. Without clear goals and careful planning, collaborating organisations risk misunderstandings, disagreements or other problems arising.

Systematic planning for collaborative ventures involves:

  • Assessment of the likely benefits to the organisation and the venture’s impact on its services or activities, the attributes and suitability of potential partner/s, and the venture’s potential risks.
  • Alignment of goals and values. There needs to be a basic agreement about the purpose of the collaboration, what the organisations will try to achieve together, mutual expectations and the principles or values by which the partners will operate. The principles need to include agreements to operate with transparency and openness in dealings with one another.
  • Negotiation of details. The agreement between organisations needs to detail partners’ specific roles and responsibilities, practical issues such as time frames and financial arrangements, and any other terms and conditions of the agreement, such as confidentiality and intellectual property.
  • Documentation. The agreement between the partners needs to be documented, either in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or, where there are resource or legal implications, in a formal agreement or contract.
  • Collaborative practice models

  • Other resource-sharing arrangements

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