What does the model mean by collaboration?   

There are many different interpretations and understandings of the term ‘collaboration.’ Collaboration is understood in these tools as meaning ‘to engage with another (organization, person) to some common end.” However, there are many different degrees of collaboration, and there are different ways of making decisions. The different degrees of collaboration permit different outcomes, in terms of the combined impact of the multiple collaborators.

The visual Inter-organization Collaboration Continuum (PDF)  illustrates the various degrees of collaboration – from ‘unintentional sabotage’ and co-existing to information sharing (informal or formal) through to integration.  

Unintentional sabotage is included because it is the inevitable outcome of our habit to specialize without horizontal linkages. Being ignorant of another’s actions makes it easy to inadvertently act in a way that sabotages the other. Unfortunately we can assume the action is intentional take further actions based on that assumption.  The sabotage can be small – such as scheduling an event for the same target audience at the same time, so neither can achieve a critical mass.

Each degree of collaboration involves different implications for the collaborating organizations – moving to the right on the graphic increases the likelihood that collaborating organizations will need to change the way they make decisions and/or their operations – at one or more of the service delivery, management or governance levels. Being clear about the degree of collaboration required to make an initiative work is important because the cost in time and energy increases as the degree of collaboration moves to the right – and you don’t want to engage in more collaboration than you need to, or have the experience and capacity to take on without neutral external support.  

The challenges increase as you move to the right through more and more complex degrees of collaboration. Engaging in collaboration itself can build individual capacity. With reflective practice and experimenting with different processes, you can build skills, knowledge and awareness of self and others in your collaboration.

You also build capacity of a particular group of organizations to work together by starting with one of the easier levels and working your way through more and more challenging levels. Think of it as analogous to the stages of ‘collaboration’ that two people move through in deciding whether to be in a committed permanent relationship – getting to know more and more about each other through casual coffee or email and Skype conversations, dating, perhaps living together before making a formal commitment. While this doesn’t guarantee long term success, it can improve the chances that each individual will make a reasoned decision on whether to make that commitment.