By Ricardo Ramirez and Galin Kora, 2020
Collaboration and partnerships are strategies used by many organizations. There are plenty of variations in the level of integration of activities and strategies. On the surface, the notion of collaboration appears attractive; yet one also hears about challenges faced by partners when the differences emerge in the process. Assumptions about what each party is expected to do may not be expressed, and when things don’t happen as expected or on time, the partnership may enter choppy waters. In this blog, we explore a collaboration rubric that may help organization plan and evaluate collaboration.
The collaboration rubric that is described below was developed -by the authors of this blog- three years ago; however, it has yet to be tested. At the time it served as the framework for an evaluation of a couple of projects that collaborated with multiple partners. In this blog, we first explain the findings we gathered from the literature. We then discuss possible lessons to put the rubric to use as a planning and as an evaluation tool.
Finding 1. Collaboration has many synonyms. The terminology is confusing as often terms that may at first appear to be synonymous, such as cooperation, coordination, collaboration, are used interchangeably. When we dug into the literature, it became evident that there was a gradient of collaboration arrangements, and while not all authors agreed on the continuum, the one in Table 1 below was the most common. The most basic partnership arrangement was referred to as co-location, where two individuals or organizations work in the same physical space, but they are otherwise fully independent. When they begin sharing some resources, such as a coffee machine or a photocopiers, they may be cooperating by sharing expenses; this relationship may lead to some form of exchange and networking (such as sharing details on the names of tax accountants or coffee brands). The next two columns in Table 1 constitute the space where many partnerships exist, with coordination as the more basic level and collaboration as the more advanced one. The last column refers to integration, where planning and resource decisions are done jointly. The collaborative continuum is representative of a growing level of trust, and experience. It confirms the value of moving along the continuum gradually and learning from the process as the value added of collective work becomes more and more evident.
Table 1: A continuum collaboration arrangements
Finding 2. There are several features of collaboration that merit attention. Each of the five arrangements has a number of features. We gleaned five main categories from the literature that address basic dimensions of planning:
- Purpose, vision and agenda;
- Strategies & tasks, mutually reinforcing activities;
- Leadership & decision-making;
- Shared measurement; and,
Readers familiar with the concept of Collective Impact will find some similarities (see Table 2).
Table 2: Features of collaboration
- The middle two categories in the literature are sometimes interchanged (coordination and collaboration).
- The variables (yellow column) are drawn from several sources: Woodland and Hutton (2012); The Collaboration Primer (2003, HRET, Chicago); the Co-location to Collaboration presentation (2011, Portland Public Schools).
- The 5 conditions for success for Collective Impact include: 1. Common agenda; 2. Shared measurement systems; 3. Mutually reinforcing activities; 4. Continuous communication; and 5. Backbone support organizations.
Finding 3. There is no lack of indicators for each feature. Much of the literature reviewed included toolkits and manuals, so there was no lack of indicators to choose from. The following tables provide our collection of commonly shared indicators or dimensions. We perceive them to have two contributions: to assist in developing collaboration agreements, as well as to monitor and evaluate how well a partnership is performing. (We did not collect indicators for the co-location arrangement, as it appears to be of limited interest considering the focus on partnerships.)
Table 3: Indicators for Purpose, vision and agenda
Table 4: Indicators for Strategies & tasks, mutually reinforcing activities
Possible lessons to put the rubric to use: The potential value of the above tool is to help design more transparent partnership agreements, and/or to evaluate existing ones. Depending on each situation, the five features that are summarized may need to be adapted. There may also be a need to review ‘readiness’ requirements to move from one arrangement to a more trusted one in the continuum. To date, we have shared the tool for the first purpose (i.e. colocation?) and have yet to test is as a monitoring and evaluation tool. We would welcome hearing from readers who may have similar tools or examples where the tools could be adapted and tested.
Lesson 1. Make sure that all the parties involved in the discussions and / or planning and / or evaluation have a clear understanding of where along the collaboration continuum they are or inspire to be.
Lesson 2. The features of collaboration need to be adapted to fit the specific context under consideration, and to provide a complete picture of where an existing collaboration arrangement may be along the collaboration continuum, and where it aspire to arrive at.
Lesson 3. Select and adapt the indicators that best fit the specific context under consideration.
Health West Partnership. (2013). Progressing towards an Active Service Model: Examples of co-location from HACC services. East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Home and Community Care (HACC) Program.
Kania, J. & Kramer, M. (2011). Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovations Review: Winter: 36-41
Minoo, D. (n.d.). Co-location to collaboration. Portland Public Schools. (PowerPoint Presentation).
State of Victoria. (2015). Co-location and other integration activities: Evaluation framework. East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Department of Education and Training, State of Vitoria.
VicHealth. (2011). The partnerships analysis tool. Melbourne: Australia: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.
Williams Torres, G. & Margolin, F.S. (2003). The collaboration primer: Proven strategies, considerations, and tools to get you started. Chicago, ILL: Health Research & Educational Trust.
Woodland, R.H. & Hutton, M.S. (2012). Evaluating organizational collaborations: Suggested entry points and strategies. American Journal of Evaluation 33(3): 366-383.