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Collaboration – A Process Not an Event

By Dr. Wayne Brock

The recent economic conditions are requiring innovative ideas to relieve the budgetary strains for many public entities. The budgetary constraints have resulted in elimination or reduction of services, evaluation of services based upon need, and implementing a four day workweek at state and municipal levels.

Collaboration as a process

Many definitions exist in literature on collaboration and there is no unified definition that exists. Collaboration is a mutually beneficial and well-defined commitment to a relationship and goals; jointly developed structures; shared responsibility; mutual authority and accountability; and sharing of resources and rewards (Mattessich, Murray-Close, and Monsey, 2001, p. 4). Clearly when the economy is strained collaboration can offer a change in current process and service; however there is significant confusion with other episodic events and collaboration as a process.

A lack of understanding collaboration is not uncommon and literature contributes to the confusion with terms that build a foundation toward collaboration used interchangeably. As related, the process of collaboration is often progressive with linkage of events resulting in a commitment to collaboration. To bring an understanding of collaboration consider these components contained within the collaborative process:

a)      Information Sharing – Two or more entities that share information each has, yet remains independent in use, evaluation, analysis, and decision making with the information

b)      Networking – Communication between two persons to share information on a purpose or event (Gardner, 2000)

c)      Coordination – The communication of resources of a common issue or service to avoid duplication (Bergstrom et al., 1995)

d)     Cooperative – Informal relationships in the absence of a definitive structure or mutual goals (Kagan, 1992)

e)      Teamwork – Formal relationships with loosely defined structures to solve problems (Schaffer, et al., 2008)

f)       Alliance – Formal relationships with sharing of ideas, mutual goals, and yet resources remain separate and independent

g)      Coalition – Sharing ideas and willing to share resources from existing systems (Bergstrom et al., 1995)

           Collaboration contains all of the components from information sharing to coalition, has formal structures that are mutually developed and creates a common vision for service or process improvement.

Collaboration is a long term commitment and process for improvement that takes time, yet the public administrative arena typically requires results driven metrics for budget justification, needing immediate results. The trust and blending of values bringing together multiple entities is critical to build success for the collaboration. Research and practice has continually shown a successful collaboration minimizes power positions and no single entity controls the resources for the collaborative.

The components of collaborative processes include:

Collaborative Process

Collaborative Outcome

Takes Time to Evolve Joint Development
Open Communication Shared Values
Complex IssuesMutual Strategy Entity Interdependence
CommitmentLeverage Expertise Process Improvement Plan
Pooling Resources at Level Power PositionsShared Decision Making Accomplishing Process or Service Improvement Neither Could Accomplish Independently


The economic conditions have increased the information sharing and networking among various entities in the private and public sectors. Current conditions require serious consideration of collaboration with entities internal and external to the organization. Innovation is necessary and there must be thought outside the paradigm that created the current situation. The collaborative paradigm, when allowed to form for the mutual benefit of the people served, results in amazing process improvement, innovation, and change. Collaboration is meaningful as a process and not an event.



Bergstrom, A., Clark, R., Hogue, T., Iyechand, T., Miller, J., Mullen, S., Perkins, D., Rowe, E., Russel, J., Simon-Brown, V., Slinski, M., Snider, B. A., & Thurston, F. (1995). Collaboration framework: Addressing community capacity. National Network for Collaboration Framework, Cooperative Extension System Children, Youth and Family Network, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D. C.

Gardner, S. (2000). Changing the rules? County collaboratives’ role in improving outcomes for children and families. Unpublished Manuscript. Prepared for The Foundation Consortium’s Pilots to Policy Conference, Los Angeles, CA.

Kagan, S. L. (1992). Collaborating to meet the readiness agenda: Dimensions and dilemmas. In C. o. C. S. S. O. (CCSSO) (Ed.), Ensuring student success through collaboration. Washington, D. C.: Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Mattessich, P. W., Murray-Close, M., & Monsey, B. R. (2001). Collaboration: What makes it work (2nd ed.). Saint Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

Schaffer, S.P., Lei, Kimfong., and Paulino, L.R. (2008). A Framework for Cross-Disciplinary Team Learning and Performance. Performance Improvement Quarterly 21(3). Retrieved from EbscoHost database.


Wayne Brock, DM, MPA is affiliated with the University of Phoenix and Institute for Collaborative Leadership. Wayne is a researcher of collaboration and innovative practices with over 25 years experience in public and private leadership.

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