Forming and Managing Collaborations
Do not duplicate the work of another collaboration. If there is already an appropriate one, then you should join and explore ways in which your organization could add value to the work of current members. But if there is none currently existing, then you could bring together a number of key allies to propose a new collaboration (of the appropriate type) covering the region/issue.
There are (at least) two approaches to developing a collaboration:
- You create a structure, formalize it and have organizations join.
- You start cooperation and exchange between groups and together form a collaboration that you subsequently formalize.
Option 1 is short and clear, but the founders have to be able to assess the needs and adapt as necessary.
Option 2 is more engaging and more likely to fill the needs, but is a longer process.
Most animal protection organizations choose option 1. However, a participatory process is recommended (see ‘Key Principles of Partnership Advocacy’). This would usefully include a joint steering group and joint strategic planning.
The main elements needed in the formation of a collaboration are:
- A clear mission and purpose
- The involvement of committed individuals and organizations that share this mission
- Realistic objectives and tasks
- Agreed participatory management, or decision-making structure.
A steering group may be useful from an early stage. This could be a joint steering group - including your organization and other leading organizations carrying out work in the region/on the issue. Consider the relevant skills and experiences of individuals when selected steering group members.
Mission and Purpose
The first meeting should work towards achieving a common sense of mission and purpose. The mission and purpose of the collaboration must be clearly stated, so that organizations that join will fully comprehend the nature of their commitment. Collaboration members should openly acknowledge any differing self-interest, so as to recognize differences but promote trust and respect among the members.
A name will also have to be agreed upon, and a common advocacy goal which each member agrees to collaborate and focus upon.
The strategy should allow each group to contribute its unique approach, with different groups taking different angles and approaches. But it is important that groups work together on agreed priorities, rather than all functioning independently. Also, core messages – including the advocacy ‘ask’ – must remain consistent. It is vital that groups do not work against each other.
Member Skills and Resources Inventory
The steering group should ensure that the relevant strengths of each partner in the collaboration are used. This can be achieved by a skills and resources inventory, asking each potential member to assess their skills and resources, and to determine what they would be willing to contribute to the collaboration
Members will have different skills and approaches, and be able to achieve things in different ways. They will also have various resources (money, premises, vehicles, meeting facilities, equipment etc.). Different groups will also have different contacts. The comparative advantages of each group can be assessed, so these can be exploited, and duplication avoided.
The strategy should also allow each group to express and contribute its unique approach, with different groups taking different angles, perspectives and approaches (e.g. a NGO that works closely with government, such as a service delivery provider, can be responsible for documenting and highlighting ‘best practice’ examples; whereas a combative advocacy group can document and highlight failures – in a hard-hitting campaign). But it is important that groups work together on agreed priorities, rather than all functioning independently.
This process should lead to the identification of skill and resource gaps, and thus the need to mobilize funds and/or carry out capacity-building.
Establishing Roles and Responsibilities
Collaboration tasks and responsibilities should be clearly defined and assignments equitably distributed on the basis of the members’ areas of expertise and resources. At the heart of every successful collaboration, there should be a small group of leaders who are deeply committed to both the issue, and to ensuring that the overall goals of the collaboration take precedence over the narrow interest of individual member organizations. Regular meetings should allow opportunities for members to report on their progress.
Decision-Making and Communication Channels
The collaboration’s structure and decision-making processes should also be agreed upon, since issues such as the level of contributions, involvement in decision-making, and leadership can sometimes cause dissent. More democratic methods, such as rotating leadership, can help although they may slow down decision-making and management.
Regular communication should be established. Make sure that all collaboration members are updated regularly on what other members are doing, what needs to be done, and what progress has been made.
If the collaboration is well organized in its early stages, unnecessary problems can be avoided. Everyone involved must understand and sign up to the collaboration’s mission, structure, operating procedures, and tasks – as a bare minimum. A collaboration’s power lies in its ability to present a united front.