Creating developmental services, opportunities, and supports for all young people in a community requires a community-wide effort to educate and activate all sectors, from government to business, from not-for-profit human services to voluntary groups. Partnerships and community collaborations are at the heart of youth development.
What Do We Mean by Collaboration?
Collaboration is the process that makes it possible to reach a goal that cannot be achieved by one person or agency alone. This implies a need for negotiation and agreement about the goal and strategies. Partners work together by sharing expertise, resources, and responsibility for achieving the goal.
Collaboration is not an easy process. Success or failure is determined by the interaction of three dynamic forces:
- Time: It takes time and effort to develop a working partnership. Sometimes it might be faster to complete a task without relying on partners to participate and contribute, but in the long run, collaboration will result in better, longer-lasting outcomes.
- Turf: Collaboration works only when all partners both contribute to and benefit from the effort. When partners perceive an imbalance, imagined or real, tied to the benefits of the collaboration, the process of working together might stall, or the partner who feels disadvantaged might leave the collaborative.
- Trust: Effective collaborations require trust among partners. Trust in others enables partners to share benefits and resources and to take on challenges.
The ability of partners or collaborators to manage the 3 Ts (Time, Turf, Trust) results in collaborations of different complexity and commitment. Higher levels of complexity require increasing trust and diffusing turf.
- Networking: At this level, collaborators are willing to share information about their activities and services. Networking requires low levels of trust and limited time, and does not require collaborators to resolve any turf issues. For many collaborative efforts, networking might be sufficient to reach a particular goal.
- Coordinating: Collaborators exchange information and are willing to alter their services or program activities to achieve the common goal. For example, several service providers might coordinate their service delivery schedules to avoid overlap and increase access for families in the community.
- Cooperating: In addition to sharing information and altering service delivery, collaborators share resources to reach the common goal. Resources include labor, space and equipment, and financial contributions. For example, partner agencies might contribute staffing, a meeting space, financial support, and educational materials to offer a new after-school activity for youth in their community.
- Collaborating: At this level, collaborators enhance each other's capacity by fully sharing their respective expertise. They are willing to learn from each other, share risks, and take on challenges. This requires very high commitment, trust, and effective handling of turf and territorial issues.
- Integrating: When collaborative partners or agencies work this closely and effectively together, merging operational and administrative structures would be a logical next step.
Any level might be sufficient to achieve the desired goal. Thinking about collaboration as a continuum helps to avoid or resolve a common challenge to collaborations: if partners have different definitions of collaboration, they will have conflicting expectations leading to mistrust and frustration; for example, if one partner thinks about networking and the other one about cooperating, their expectations about their work together will be very mismatched and hinder goal achievement.
Key Strategies for Effective Collaborations
- Recognize the power of Time - Turf - Trust
- Clarify purpose and goals
- Establish a common ground/framework
- Identify roles and responsibilities
- Establish clear communication paths
- Use an open structure and processes (e.g., decision making, conflict resolution)
- Encourage participatory leadership
- Reflect, recognize, and celebrate