Today we’re pleased to publish A Guide to Collaboration: one of the simplest, and also the hardest, things we’ve ever written at Collaborate!

Hard because we’ve tried to distil years of learning through supporting collaborations of all kinds into a few handy, accessible pages. 

Simple because we’ve tried to strip back the jargon, cut out the minutiae and focus on what we think is necessary to know. This guide sets out what collaboration is, why it matters and what it takes to make it work.

In many ways this simple-hard dichotomy reflects people’s common experience of collaboration in practice, too. On paper, it seems easy: working together to do something you can’t do alone through a partnership or relationship of some kind. In reality, there are many reasons why effective collaboration can be very difficult, and these take time and sustained effort to address. 

From collaboration mandated in government legislation to the hundreds of different locally-established partnerships, collaboration across organisational silos to collaboration within teams, collaboration is everywhere. And yet, how often do we really stop — together — to ask ourselves: what are we really trying to achieve here? Why are we doing it? And what will we need to make it happen?

This is why the Guide sets out six core foundations for good collaboration, including both practical enablers of good collaboration (aligned visions, funding, infrastructure and so on), and the more subtle but vital: belief among collaborators that collaboration is necessary and useful; healthy relationships built on trust, collaborative behaviours, and investment in learning together. 

When Collaborate begins work with a collaboration — even one with quite advanced governance arrangements — and find that many of the people involved are there because they think they have to be, or aren’t really sure why they’re there at all, we know we need to go back to these essentials.

The Guide describes the six foundations and offers some reflection questions for anyone who wants to consider the strength of these foundations in their own collaboration. It also touches on the different roles people can play in collaborations. Finally, it links to reports and articles from Collaborate and others whose work we admire, which expand these ideas further and provide more information and inspiration. We think of it as a front door into the Collaborate library of collaboration resources.

We hope it will be useful to anyone trying to collaborate well and for social good, from senior leaders in ICSs, to partnership support officers, to VCS organisations trying to collaborate with public sector partners, and even teams within the same organisation. We really value sharing and learning together and would love to hear what resonates for you and how we could build on this guide to make it even more useful to you.

This Guide describes key elements and dynamics of collaboration, but it can often be useful to get an external perspective and dedicated support to get your collaboration working better.  This is what we do at Collaborate, including diagnostic work to understand sticking points, expert facilitation to surface differences without losing coherence, relationship building and support to take action together. Please get in touch if we can help!

On May 2nd, we hosted an online event to launch the guide which you can watch here