COLLABORATION SUCCESS

 

 

A. DEFINING SUCCESS[1]

 

There are many ways of defining success for a collaboration or coalition.  Multiple factors are used by leaders and members to assess coalition effectiveness.   Most measures of success relate to four definitions:                 1) Achieving Goals;   2) Attaining Longevity;   3) Gaining Recognition from social change targets, or a specific constituency or the public at large; and,                4) Meeting the Needs of Collaboration/Coalition Members.   A variety of factors have been found to contribute to coalition success.  If these factors are present, the coalition will be more likely to succeed.  Both the definitions and their related factors are listed below. [2] 

 

DEFINITIONS

FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO SUCCESS

1.  Achieving Goals

·              Developed a project with tangible results

·              Integrated services, yielding improved access and more comprehensive services for clients

·              Accomplished a social change purpose

·              Empowered a constituency

 

 

·             Visionary mission that united the membership around a common purpose

·             Appropriate target and realistic goal

·             Goal was member-driven

·             Shared vision

·             Goal sustained commitment of participants

·             Knowledgeable leadership

·             Informed membership / constituency

·             Achieved interim victories

·             Adequate resources -- funds, staff, connections --  to achieve goal

·             Leadership expertise on issues and political process

2.  Longevity

·              Lasted a long time and weathered changes in goal, membership or external variables

·              Created lasting networks that could be resurrected

 

 

 

·         Membership remained committed to the work of the coalition

·         Members remained committed to dealing with diversity of interests, ideology, experiences, culture

·         Adequate resources to sustain participation and endure as a coalition

·         Allowed for multiple levels of involvement

·         Structured broad participation in decision-making

·         Negotiated equivalent rewards for different types of contributions made to the coalition

 

·         Leadership was skilled in coalition management and facilitation (e.g. balancing of dynamic tensions)

·         Adapted to changes within and outside the collaboration over time

·         Provided a mechanism for leadership development and succession

·         Developed and used a mechanism for conflict resolution.

 

3.  Gaining Recognition

       Gained community support and mobilization

       Gained legitimacy from target of change

 

 

·         Developed a broad-based constituency

·         Provided useful information to public or target

·         Fairly represented a constituency / community

·         Provided protection for members in assuming a shared stance on controversial issues

·         Understood and cultivated collective power

·         Connected well to power structure / target

 

4.  Meeting the Needs of Collaboration/Coalition Members

·              Members gained tangible rewards for their participation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

·        Members became informed and involved on an issue

·        Members gained new skills, competencies, connections and information

·        Collaboration cultivated resources and benefits that were important for members (e.g. Technical Assistance, funding, publicity)

·        Members had an opportunity for creative/innovative work

·        Services provided by members were coordinated

·        Division of labor was comfortable for members

 

 

B. ADAPTABILITY AND FLEXIBILITY

 

Because so many different elements interact to affect collaboration development, flexibility in approaching the work is essential.  At each stage it is important to reassess past decisions, evaluate effectiveness and make adjustments if necessary.  Collaboration change may be needed in any or all of the following eight areas: 1) Goal and strategy reassessment, 2) resources, 3) structure, 4) participation benefits, 5) processes for collaboration, 6) getting the work done, 7) visibility and credibility, and 8) adapting to changing conditions.

 

1.   Goal and strategy re-assessment

 

More than anything else, commitment to the issue or goal appears to be the critical factor in sustaining involvement in a coalition.  Therefore, a coalition needs to find ways to make the goal salient to its leadership and membership.  If the coalition has not achieved its goal, it may want to assess the reasons.. It may be that the goal is:

       too vague

       too limited

       not directly relevant to the members

       not viable for the majority of members

       not consistent with coalition philosophy

       too difficult to attain, given the resources of the coalition

 

Should a goal change be necessary, the coalition may need to make other adjustments in membership, resources, outside support, or structure.

 

Sometimes the goal remains appropriate,  but the strategies for reaching it need to change. Strategies need to be practical, attractive and effective.  Some coalitions/collaborations excel at certain strategies, and renew them each year; others try new things according to changes in target, climate, membership skills or interests.  If a strategy works, it may force the collaboration to take on a new project  -- for example if a needs assessment is successfully conducted, its findings may point to new initiatives to be undertaken.  In this way, changes in goals and strategies are interactive and need to be addressed as such.

 

2.     Resources, Including Membership

 

A variety of resources -- vision, membership commitment, power, funding -- are needed to sustain collaborations over time.  With changes in external variables (such as political climate or funding opportunities), membership loss or decisions to approach new goals, it is necessary to take stock of the collaboration's resources and make relevant adjustments.  Also, decisions about what to do, how to respond to new opportunities, and what to include in future plans will be affected by the actual resources available.  Existing workload or strategies may need to be reduced if key resources are lost;  new plans need to be realistic, given the resources likely to be obtained and sustained.  Key resources include:

 

Membership: A collaboration needs to include all relevant participants - key opinion leaders and sectors, cultural diversity.  The strength of any collaboration comes from its active membership and the base that they represent. Therefore, membership selection and cultivation needs to be strategic and ongoing. [3]

 

Funding -  Although not a top priority, some amount of funding is needed for the collaboration to sustain the effort. Over time, collaborations need to budget for the costs of managing the collaboration, itself.  This includes paying staff and covering other costs for space, communication, meeting time, equipment such as modems and fax machines, and postage. As the collaboration or some subcomponent of it takes on new projects and brings in project- or performance-driven grants, the collaboration needs to find ways of managing and maintaining collective accountability for these new financial resources.  Sometimes a finance committee, accountable to the whole collaboration, needs to be developed.

 

In-kind contributions from members:  Members should be encouraged to continue to contribute whatever they can to the collaboration  -- such as expertise, contacts, meeting or office space, mailing lists, volunteers, organizing skills, access to significant constituencies.  Understandably, these contributions will change over time, according to the current focus and resources of each member. In some cases, their contributions will be expected through a formal contracting process - which needs to be renegotiated periodically.  In others, the leaders need to skillfully draw out and utilize whatever the members can be expected to share.

 

Leadership and membership skills:  Both collaboration leaders and members need to acquire and share skills for their collective work.  Such skills include organizing and delegating a fair division of labor, bargaining, collective decision-making, negotiating, conflict resolution and shared leadership. Over time, collaborations will require the use of such skills.  People who have them must be given an opportunity to share them and to lead. People who want to learn them need to be given the opportunity to be trained or otherwise exposed to these techniques.  The group may want to highlight and value those skills that help to advance collaborative functioning, providing training or shadowing as needed, in order to increase them.

  

Expertise:   Regardless of the purpose or type of the collaboration, expertise is needed in order to get the job done.  Political, social, and program knowledge is vital, as is information on the changing environment in which the group's work occurs. Knowledge of relevant trends - i.e. legislation, policy, community priorities, competition  -- needs to be acquired and applied. Tasks such as needs assessments, joint programming or case management, advocacy and lobbying - all require specific expertise.  When a collaboration decides to undertake a new venture, it should take steps to ensure that the required expertise is available.

 

Outside allies and supports: Collaborations function in a complex environment, where people outside the group can be a great help or a terrible hindrance.  Over time, there is the need to identify key targets and allies who can be cultivated to support the work of the collaboration.  New players in important positions should be approached and brought up to date on the collaboration's work and plans.  Because their cooperation will probably require some sort of "trade-off", outsiders should be asked for their own perspective and concerns.  Clear negotiations may be necessary.

 

3.     Structure

 

Collaboration structure needs to reflect shared leadership and power, multiple levels for participation, mechanisms for expansion to accommodate new members, tasks or components, and mechanisms for leadership succession or rotation.  Over time, there is a danger that a certain group of people may become entrenched as leaders or "do-ers" -- this is when the core group seems to take on a life of its own.  This is dangerous because the structure needs to remain open and inclusive.  Changes in structure are sure to be needed if :

        new players are involved

        new opportunities or challenges arise

        the collaboration matures and deepens

        new leaders emerge

        the collaboration takes on new activities or completes certain commitments

 

4.     Participation benefits 

 

It is important to recognize that collaboration members will not continue to participate unless they feel that they are benefiting from their involvement.   Generally, the most significant factor decreasing membership involvement/commitment is diversion of an organization's resources (time, funding, leadership, etc.). Therefore, collaborations need to offer alternative, comparable or compensatory resources to participants.  Over the long run, the benefits of involvement must outweigh the costs. 

 

Membership needs change over time.  Initially, the intrigue of working with others or getting involved in a new project may be enough.  Opportunities for socialization, sharing information and engaging in mutual support should be provided.  Over time, if members are willing to make a longer-term commitment to the collaboration, more substantial or tangible benefits may need to be cultivated.  As members get to know each other better and recognize each other's skills and assets, new opportunities for joint programming or fundraising, exchange of staff or skills, and countless other connections may be arise.  The collaboration itself can encourage or structure these opportunities for mutual gain.  Alternatively, the collaboration itself can provide things such as funding, training, publicity or cost discounts, that benefit all members by virtue of their involvement in the larger effort. 

 

One constant need, often overlooked, is that all members -- new and established -- require recognition and respect.  They need to be heard, valued, involved and rewarded.  If you are not sure what your members expect to get out of your collaboration, ask them, and then problem-solve together to see how those needs can be met.

   

5.     Processes for Collaboration

 

In collaborations, attention to PROCESS is as important as attention to PRODUCTS and OUTCOMES.  It is important to identify and try to evolve operating procedures that "level the playing field" and manage diversity.  Because people and organizations are generally unaccustomed to sharing power and responsibilities, collaborations need to create new norms and cultures that provide a context for doing this work together.  At different stages of development, collaborations may require processes for:

     shared decision-making

     fulfilling the responsibilities of representation

     inclusive communication and outreach

     conflict resolution

     bargaining and negotiating within the collaboration and between the collaboration and others

     orienting new members

     obtaining and valuing input of  new and existing members

     collective responsibility

     mutual accountability

 

6.  Doing the Work

 

Doing collaborative work requires different approaches than those used in single  organizations.  Much more can be accomplished if members and staff share responsibilities and fulfill new roles.  The challenge is to :

     identify areas of individual and group responsibility

     arrive at a mutually acceptable division of labor

     find ways to maximize and integrate the diverse contributions of members

     help staff to act as coordinators and mediators, as well as directors and implementers

     develop systems for shared responsibility - including clear directions for task rotation, delegation and fulfillment of joint duties

     systematically involve volunteers in meaningful activities

     pace projects -- making realistic demands on members and staff

     take time to build skills and learn together

     sustain direction and focus amid changing external and internal conditions and priorities

 

7.     Visibility and Credibility

 

Coalitions engaged in social change work, or collaborations producing specific projects, both need to attain visibility with the public and credibility with participants, funders and supporters.  These needs increase with time.

 

The group needs to achieve "name value"  and recognition in the community Initially, when the group has no track record, efforts to build one and to document successes are vital.  Later, when things have been accomplished, the challenge is to continue to build the reputation of the collaboration/coalition, while crediting its individual members and their organizations for whatever has been achieved.  Concomitantly, members need to credit the coalition for its accomplishments rather than using it just to advance their own reputation.  This is a particular risk if the group has a grant through a lead agency who could claim credit for the work of the larger body. 

 

Over time, there is danger that decisions or plans may be  made only by a privileged few, leaving out the broader base. This invites disaffection, discrediting,  or competition from those who feel excluded from the process. Credibility in the collaboration/coalition will increase if the membership base is fully informed and approving of coalition work, and if the coalition/collaboration is accountable to its members.  Growth entails finding new ways to keep the larger membership and community apprised and involved.

 

            8. Responding to Changes in Conditions 

 

External conditions are constantly changing, and demand that collaborations respond or adapt.  Over time, collaborations need to be alert to and accommodate changes in :

     political or economic climate

     windows of opportunity for achieving collaboration goals or acquiring more resources

     relationships within the collaboration, and between the collaboration and outside targets or allies,

     the emergence of new issues or perspectives

     changes in the target people or agencies that the collaboration is attempting to influence -- they may be altered by personnel or political changes, gain or loss in power, or the impact of the collaboration's past relationship with them

     existence of opposing coalitions

 

C.  CONCLUSION

 

There are a variety of things that collaborations have done to enhance their effectiveness and increase their success.  As we learn more about working collaboratively, it is likely that certain intrinsic approaches or values can be said  to ensure a positive impact.  Collaboration leaders have identified numerous factors that they believe contributed to their own group’s success -- these have been listed in this chapter, as well as described throughout this work book in other sections which offer prescriptions for collaboration development in different areas.  The critical point is that collaboration entails interaction and constant change; the more skills we develop to manage this dynamic fluidity, the more equipped we will be for collaborative work.

 

 



[1]  The information on Collaboration Success is consolidated from a combination of a literature review,  suggestions  from participants in our  collaboration workshops, and findings from our original study of 40 social change coalitions.

 

[2] The factors may reflect a number of categories; to avoid duplication, they are grouped near the definition most frequently related to them.

[3]  Also see Chapter 5: Membership Recruitment and Cultivation.