Collaboration is a common goal, but it also can be a compelling strategy. In fact, collaboration may one of the few strategies with an upside of achieving success.
Strategic collaboration can take the form of alliances, partnerships and shared resources to move legislation, undertake an enterprise or stretch scarce finances. They are the quintessential win-win solutions.
As appealing as collaboration sounds, it can be enormously hard to pull off in reality. Success requires a collaborative spirit, a willingness to be partners and an openness to share – attributes that aren’t always evident or even possible.
To avoid flailing around, Arizona State University’s Center for Urban Innovation has created an assessment tool to test whether ground is fertile for collaboration. The tool is aimed chiefly for government-to-government collaboration, but could be adapted to other arrangements between public agencies, nonprofits and businesses.
One example of a government-nonprofit collaboration cited by ASU’s David Swindell is a shared investment by the Nevada Humane Society and the cities of Reno and Sparks to build a new facility near the publicly owned animal shelter. The tandem facilities enable collaboration to extend public dollars by having a partner focused on finding forever homes for rescued pets, as well as offer low-cost spay and neutering services.
“This is a good example of where a county is working in collaboration with a nonprofit agency to absorb costs and share benefits in a true partnership,” says Swindell. A clear, but hard to quantify value is reduced stress on animal shelter staff who feel they are doing everything possible to prevent euthanizing unwanted animals.
In the public affairs realm, collaboration is an effective strategy to harness collective support. Collaboration might include formation of a multi-agency advisory group, a list of diverse supporters, grassroots mobilization and group lobbying.
A show of strength through collaboration can make a strong impression on policymakers and play well in media coverage. A chorus of coordinated voices can ripple through social media. A grassroots army can march the message of a campaign to constituencies and corners of a state that otherwise would be unreachable.
Like any other strategy, collaboration is only as valuable as its contributions. To continue contributing, you need to ensure the wheels of collaboration keep rolling, which requires engagement and attention to detail. Swindell says it also demands measurement to quantify movement.
Collaboration can be a testing ground for innovation in cost reduction, service delivery or constituent satisfaction. As an alternative to going-it-alone, collaboration can be a strategy to attract public support to accomplish something that otherwise appears impossible.
Collaboration is not limited by geography. It can occur on a local or global scale. One constant is the need to define the “win” for all of the collaborative partners. Organizations, like most people, act out of self-interest. Collaboration is one way to make everyone a winner.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.