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What does it mean to collaborate?

Strategies to improve population health and reduce inequities require integrated, comprehensive strategies at all levels – from neighborhood and community, service and program to policy and planning – all of which involve some form of collaboration.

Collaborative community efforts are constructive responses to creating healthy communities -  to systematically solve existing and emerging problems that could not be solved by one group alone (National Network for Collaboration, 1995)

Chip and Larson (1994) define collaboration as a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties who work toward common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results.

Collaboration means working together:

  • in partnership
  • in all stages of program or service development
  • joint planning,  implementation and evaluation
  • cooperative investment of resources (time, money, material)
  • joint risk-taking, sharing of authority and benefits

To collaborate successfully, we need a shared vision, mission and goals that reflect the reason for the collaboration and an action plan to achieve them. 

Collaboration includes contextual factors and process factors:

Contextual factors are conditions either existing or lacking within the environment which may enhance or inhibit collaborative efforts. Examples include: connectedness, history of working together, political climate, policies/laws/regulations, resources, catalysts.

Process factors include specific tools to build effective working relationships and focus on the “how”. Examples are: understanding community, communication, decision-making processes, leadership, community development, research and evaluation, sustainability.

(Source: National Network for Collaboration)

Once contextual and process factors have been identified, the next step is to determine how the group will function.  Agreeing on expectations, open dialogue, clear roles and ongoing communication are important.  Establishing a process for decision-making, regular evaluation and review is also important.

8 tips for effective collaboration

  1. Share a common vision.
  2. Build consensus.
  3. Develop outcomes.
  4. Communicate openly and frequently.
  5. Determine roles and responsibilities.
  6. Be aware of group dynamics.
  7. Use resources wisely.
  8. Have fun and celebrate successes!

Where can you go for more information?

Health Nexus resources

Cover of the Strategic Planning booklet

Strategic Planning- From Mundane to Meaningful.
Toronto, Health Nexus, 2016

Cover page of the "Connect the dots" booklet

Connecting the Dots: A Handbook for Chronic Disease Prevention through Community Engagement. 
Toronto: Health Nexus. 2009.

Other resources