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  • How Is Collaboration Going?

    Thanks to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, you can measure for free how well collaboration is going.

     

    It is increasingly important that agencies and institutions collaborate with one another, both to stretch financial resources further and to provide the best services. Duplicative services or processes hostile toward other organizations are too costly for today’s shrinking finances and expanding human needs. Collaboration has become a watchword in human services and education. Even in the for-profit world, suppliers who formerly competed ferociously with each other, are working together in new ways.

    So although organizations are attempting to collaborate more than ever, there is still some fuzziness about what collaboration might really mean. People use the terms cooperate, coordinate, and collaborate interchangeably. The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation classic Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining and Enjoying the Journey by Michael Winer and Karen Ray (1994) distinguishes between cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. The authors describe a continuum of increasing intensity and risk-sharing that begins with cooperation, moves to coordination, and approaches collaboration.

    Cooperation is short-term and informal and involves mostly sharing of information and virtually no risk. Coordination is a more formal relationship focused on a specific aim and requires some division of roles and responsibilities and some increased risk. Collaboration is a long-term relationship with much planning and communication, new structures for making decisions, and full commitment to a common aim. Both the risks and rewards are fully shared. (Winer and Ray credit Sharon L. Kagan, Teachers College, Columbia University for this model.)

    The idea of a continuum has helped me see that while some clients need to establish true collaboration, others can provide better services simply by better coordination. But it’s always worth the discussion to intentionally decided where we need to be on the continuum.

    For organizations that need to establish or shore up collaborative relationships, the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation has created a free on-line “Collaboration Factors Inventory” at http://wilderresearch.org/tools/cfi/index.php/. The questions are research-based and the score indicates areas in need of strengthening such as communication, role clarity, communication, funding, mutual respect, community support, and the like. There are even open-ended questions for comments. The free inventory may also be taken by everyone in the collaborative if one person registers the group and sends out a link. This is a fantatastic tool for stengthening collaboration. Kudos to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation for making it available to all of us!