Collaboration is something I have been working with for a number of years, ever since I was involved in the Capacity Builders’ (remember them?) collaboration benefits project. The idea was great - a 3 year project to support collaboration managed by Bassac in collaboration with ACRE, Community Foundation Network and IVAR. It had a training programme delivered in two halves: one rural delivered by ACRE, and another by Bassac. It also included some direct support for organisations, and finally some policy and research delivered by IVAR. The idea was to train a large number of organisations in the concept of collaboration, and leave a legacy of resources for people to use. As often is the case these organisations came together to bid for the project, and they each delivered their part of it. But what actually happened? Well all the parts happened, but as somebody working inside there was very little cross over between the parts. In fact I only knew about the direct support because I applied for one of the jobs. The learning from that wasn’t fed into the training programme. The trainers working on the two halves of the delivery never had contact with each other, and when did anybody last see the amazing set of resources that had been bought together?
For me this example underlines the key issues about collaboration. So often collaborations come together as a way to access money for people to deliver things they believe need to be done, often with very little thought about how the parts link together. As long as the grant or contract outcomes are achieved nobody really cares. And at the end of the project, everybody walks away.
Yet things could be so much better. A good collaboration starts with a meeting of minds people and organisations with something in common other than a need for financial resource. In our case we have a strong informal collaboration with two organisations in other parts of the country. We support each other, swap resources, and at some time in the future no doubt we will bid for funding together. When that happens all of the wrinkles will have been worked out, and the collaboration will continue beyond the short life of funding. I suppose the point to make is that good collaboration should be the long haul and not a sprint race.