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Good buildings come from good people, and all problems are solved by good design. —Stephen Gardiner

Individuals and organizations that come together to work toward a shared agenda may call themselves a collaborative, coalition, council, or a network. While there is no “right way” to structure this group, it’s essential to create a basic framework so that members have clear guidelines for working together. The organizational structure will likely evolve over time, but these essential elements should be in place from the outset:

Governance: Who has a voice? How are decisions made? What does accountability look like? Learn more about considerations and resources to guide the development of a governance structure here.

Rules for working together: In a collaborative that values diverse perspectives, it’s critical to develop guiding principles, group norms, or simple rules for how members of the collaboration will work together. Those expectations can be formalized through partnership or linkage agreements, a charter, or bylaws. Using meeting time effectively, building trust, and working through conflict are critical for the smooth operation of collaborative work.

Distribution of work: What does it mean to be a member of a collaborative? It’s more than showing up at a meeting or just drafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). It’s about committing to action on behalf of the collaborative, as well the community. Membership also suggests active leadership to achieve shared goals identified through collaboration. Clarity around roles and responsibilities of all members should be a priority, especially during any change cycle (such as if your group has new leadership or develops a new vision).

Partnership agreements: MOUs, or partnership agreements, can help provide a framework for how you work together and what work you’ll do as a collaborative. They outline expectations between agencies, for example, about agreements to share data, or to participate in joint meetings monthly. They are clear and specific to set clear expectations for membership:

  • How does each organization and each individual support the relationship?
  • What are the specific ways that each organization and individual contributes to the work of the collaborative?
  • What is expected in terms of time, participation in meetings, and work groups?

Learn more about governance and the role of leadership within successful collaborative efforts.

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