Building Collaboration

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  Mathematical equation of collaboration:
Add to each other's knowledge;
Subtract major differences;
Divide the compliments;
Multiply major benefits to our children.
  —Florence Poyadue


Genuine collaboration may require changes in policies, governance, and operating procedures at both administrative and direct service levels. Such changes do not come easily. Whether creating a new program from the bottom up or modifying existing programs, collaboration and system coordination are essential to a successful single-point-of-access system.

A number of barriers to collaboration have been identified in the literature and by practitioners in the field. One of the most challenging is the issue of control—who "owns" the program. Additional barriers include: competitiveness; lack of compelling mutual interest; parochial interests; lack of skill in coordinating; difficulty communicating across disciplines; preoccupation with administrative rather than functional structures; concerns about client confidentiality; resistance to change; external pressures; lack of accountability; lack of monitoring and evaluation procedures; inadequate knowledge of other agencies; negative attitudes; and little consideration of political bases.

However, research indicates that most of these barriers can be addressed, at least in part, through attention to the process of collaboration. Our suggestions for such a process are outlined below.

A. Identifying Your Partners
Develop a short list of potential partners; having too long of a list risks encountering detours and time constraints. Remember: you are providing enhancements and support to existing programs.

The following list includes broad categories for possible partners:

B. Recruiting and Maintaining Partnerships
Once you identify potential partners, ask yourself "What's in it for them?" How would they benefit from having one or more of the following in their community: a single-point-of-access system; a program that connects children "at-risk" to services; and providers trained in developmental screening? Strategies for approaching partners will vary depending on who is being approached and their potential roles. The following guidance is offered in recruiting, retaining and recognizing partners.

  1. Is there a strong advocate who is well connected and respected who could become your champion? If so, that person should be recruited first as that support will add leverage and credibility.
  2. Document current gaps/barriers in the systems that serve at-risk children from the perspective of families, health care providers, child care programs, other direct service providers, policymakers, funders, and other stakeholders. Be able to discuss these barriers from all perspectives.
  3. Develop a draft of core principles to share with potential partners. Be open to reviewing and revising them; new partners will want their issues and needs reflected in the document.
  4. Clarify the roles and responsibilities of each partner and how they will be supported.
  5. Know what is needed from a systems and fiscal perspective and how your proposal will:
  • be cost-effective,
  • coordinate systems,
  • offer "one-stop shopping," and
  • be family focused.

      6.    Obtain consensus on the design and implementation of a formal system for communication among all partners.                             

             Once implemented, be prepared to revise it, if needed. (See section on continuous quality improvement for more information.)

      7.    Build in a method for ongoing tracking and monitoring of the system and share this information regularly with all partners.

      8.    Address issues/concerns as they occur in an environment that is open, direct, and non-threatening.

      9.    Remember to celebrate successes and acknowledge those involved with them.

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