Principles of Collaboration

We all know collaboration is at the heart of making positive change in society. We know this because the range and depth of change needed to improve conditions for people and communities will only be accomplished through working together within and beyond each of our sectors. We know that social improvements are tied to ecomomic improvements and vice versa. No one entity can go it alone. Life’s issues and challenges are too complex and vast to assume otherwise.

To go off topic for a moment, the call of collaborative  and action raises questions about how we view outcomes and their measurement. The placement of responsibility and accountability outcomes is often, if not nearly always, misplaced  when for example a funder holds an organization accountable for a result or set of outcomes that no one can effect alone. I would suggest that our thirst for outcomes and outcome measurement is itself a rally cry for the mutual accountability that sits at the heart of collaboration.

The following Principles of Collaboration are borrowed from the Michigan State University Museum who developed the first 12 principles below for its Carriers of Culture project.

1) Reciprocity: At the heart of successful collaborations there needs to be direct benefit to participating stakeholders. Ideally, these reciprocal rewards, while not often the same, will enrich each partner in expected or unexpected ways.

2) Representation: The most successful collaborations bring all relevant stakeholders to the table to launch and implement the collaboration. This requires thinking broadly to identify potential participants….This includes consideration of … gender, age, geographic distribution…traditions… and I would add culture, knowledge, experience, and connectivity to other networks and resources.

3) Reach: The best collaborations usually have an impact beyond the individual project–they build new collaborative opportunities.

4) Skill and Human Development: Whatever the product of the collaborative project, it should result in the empowerment of those involved, the transformation of their organizations, and building new individual and organizational capacity.

5) Establishing the Framework: There should be a clearly defined leadership structure, a shared understanding of the leadership structure, and a mechanism to regularly communicate.

6) Belief in Collaboration: Those involved must believe that more can be achieved by working together than working alone, and bring this perspective to the dialogue.

7) Institutional Relationships Rather Than Individual Relationships: Individual participants are often also institutional representatives; when this occurs there is a commitment to build institutional capacity by enriching the knowledge and skills of individuals within the organization.

8)Transparency: There is a real need for open and honest expression of aspirations, expectations, and a process to ensure ongoing review and evaluation. Real transparency takes time, energy and a desire to build a sense of trust and respect.

9) Continuity and Regularity: Regular communication is critical as is the establishment of and adherence to timelines.

10) Acknowledgement of Contributions: A willingness to acknowledge contributions and share credit is a goal.

11) Continual Consultation: New relationships demand investments of time, energy and good will.

          — Marsha MacDowell and C. Kurt Dewhurst, Michigan State University Museum, August 2004

There are other principles that have a fit in this list. They are:

12) Equitable Participation: Those at the collaborative table not only have an obligation to participate fully, they have a responsibility to ensure that opportunities for participation are extended to one another.

13) Trust: The foundation of collaboration must include trust in one another and a commitment to behaviours that deepen and widen the trust – behaviours like transparency, follow through, honesty, and proven ability to not only influence others but be influenced by our partners as well.

14) Dialog: Dialog is more than communication. It includes helping others get their ideas out before judging them in order to ensure the full expression of ideas. It calls for individuals to be facilitative of mutual exchange much more so than using communication as tool of persuasion.

-Mark Holmgren

One thought on “Principles of Collaboration

  1. Mark, my name is Ken. I have 27 years + of managerial experience in operation management, training and Supply Chain Managment. I focused my skills on the total support system for delivery of products or services. Due to no fault of my own, I and 25 others increased the unemployment numbers when or division was sold last month. Since I am preparing to search for another opportunity I appreciated your site, and wanted all to know, that collaboration is the heart of making positive change. My first step has always been knowing who I wanted to associate with.


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