How to establish a collaboration

Sometimes collaborations are almost taken for granted, other times they take a bit of work. They generally start with pre-existing relationships and build from there around the relevant issues.

If you've found a group that you think would make a good collaboration partner, but you have no prior relationship with them, then it's generally a good idea to call the campaign coordinator of that group and arrange a meeting to outline your proposal.

However, whoever's involved in the collaboration, it's important to establish from the outset the following things:

  • who does what,
  • who's responsible for what parts of the project, and ( importantly)
  • who's responsible for paying for which part of the project.

Generally speaking these things are discussed during the formation of the alliance and will be understood by all parties by the time the collaboration begins formally.

However, even the most cooperative partners can have different views about who they believe is responsible for different stages. The best advice for any community group is to produce a written agreement (or memorandum of understanding, or project plan) that sets out who will be responsible for each element of the project.

Prepare a formal written agreement that spells out all the essential information, including:

  • The agreed project objectives and outcomes
  • Assignment of responsibility for all the particular project areas
  • Default procedures to align the actions of both parties
  • Dispute resolution procedures in case things get out of synch.

Set out the broad duties of each partner, addressing the areas of:

  • Financial control, including a draft budget with specified estimates as well as details of the system for sign-off on any spending
  • Ownership or control of any product at the end of the project
  • Confidentiality of information gathered during the project - which groups "own" and are responsible for the personal details?
  • Media relations - who is to be the spokesperson for the project, and what is the approval system for any publicity?
  • Termination of the agreement and the project
  • Get final agreement between all partners to the collaborative effort before the project begins so that everyone is certain of their responsibilities and obligations.

In the vast majority of community collaborations communication is good and there's little need for any formal agreement. Where projects do go a bit awry, however, a basic formal agreement can act as a dispute settler, ensuring that everyone's energy is poured into improving the community rather than arguing over who forgot to do what.

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