Appendix 3: Characteristics of successful collaborative initiatives

Department of Conservation: Prioritising and partnering to manage biodiversity.

Although there is no "one size fits all" solution, lessons from New Zealand and abroad suggest that there are factors common to successful collaboration. We have described these characteristics below. The list is not intended to set out absolute requirements but rather to be a checklist to assess what could be put in place for various types of cross-agency collaborative initiatives or partnerships. We also list published reports that might be useful for readers.

Good practice criteria Details
Common understanding of risks and problems Is there a shared understanding among participants of risks, and the problems that need to be addressed to reduce those risks?
Shared outcome/result Is there clarity about the purpose of collaboration (that is, a shared outcome or result is defined and agreed to)? Without some common view of what is being sought, it may be difficult for participants to orient their work in support of the shared outcome.
Working agreement or memorandum of understanding Has some form of working agreement been prepared? The agreement can be as formal as a memorandum of understanding or as informal as an exchange of letters. Either way, it needs to reinforce the principle of collaboration by choice, not chance.
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities Are the working relationships between the parties underpinned by clearly defined and understood roles and responsibilities of all the agencies – including who will contribute what and when? This is particularly important when responsibilities are not immediately clear because, for example, there are overlapping responsibilities or different goals for individual agencies.
Agreed strategy/action plan Is there a clearly described strategy or action plan to achieve results? It should include:
  • goals to work towards;
  • actions and outputs that will work towards achieving each goal;
  • time lines for achieving milestones (outputs);
  • accountabilities (who is leading, supporting, advising) to achieve specified outputs;
  • reporting time frames and processes (such as monthly reporting to the group and an annual external report); and
  • links to any supporting management plans or programmes.
Measures to identify progress Is the effectiveness of the collaborative initiative able to be measured? Measured progress towards the common goals should include:
  • outputs (items produced, such as publications of supporting information or tools); and
  • outcomes (actual changes).
Operating plans and procedures Are there explicit links to any operating procedures, policies, and risk management plans that need to be integrated into the group's activities?
Report, celebrate, and market achievements Is there a plan for reporting results and celebrating/marketing achievements externally? This is useful for gathering more support and maintaining the initiative's momentum.
Review, adapt, improve Is there a planned time to review and adjust the collaborative plan and working agreement? Providing for adaptive management over time enables an initiative to improve and grow. This review process can be used to seek feedback and input from major stakeholders.
Other factors considered to be important Is there awareness of the importance of:
  • establishing and maintaining positive and supportive working relationships;
  • following through on commitments and championing the initiative outside the group;
  • flexibility and willingness to balance individual organisational interests with the broader collaborative interests to achieve common outcomes;
  • strong chief executive and/or senior management commitment and sponsorship of the initiative, and
  • an organisational culture that supports collaboration?

Published reports on successful cross-agency collaboration

State Services Commission (2008), Factors for Successful Coordination – A Framework to Help State Agencies Coordinate Effectively, Wellington.

Controller and Auditor-General (2007), Sustainable Development: Implementing the Programme of Action, Wellington.

State Services Commission (2004), Getting Better at Managing for Shared Outcomes: A Resource for Agency Leaders, Wellington.

Controller and Auditor-General (2003), Key Success Factors for Effective Co-ordination and Collaboration Between Public Sector Agencies, Wellington.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2002), Companion Guide: The Development of Results-based Management and Accountability Frameworks for Horizontal Initiatives, Canada.

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