Contemplating Collaboration

Source: David Swindell and Cheryl Hilvert, PM Magazine, Vol. 96 no. 7, August 2014

To address today’s challenges of decreased budgets and increased workloads, both local government managers and elected officials are embracing the concept of collaboration in new and innovative ways. Collaboration has proven to be an effective tool for jurisdictions to join with others—including other local governments, private sector organizations, and nonprofits—to achieve goals and deliver services that they may not have been able to accomplish on their own.

While there has been a general push by residents, elected officials, consultants, and academics toward the use of collaboration as a key solution to governments’ problems, these proponents sometimes fail to recognize that collaborations do not always achieve the goals for which they were established.
While collaboration is appropriately viewed as an option for local governments, the real issue surrounding collaboration is that often the costs and benefits associated with it are not fully realized, nor are strategies effectively evaluated that will motivate the collaborative effort.
The concepts to do so can be complex and confusing, and there have been few tools that give managers the ability to fully “talk through” a collaboration concept and ask such fundamental questions as: Should we engage in a collaboration? If so, what form of collaboration will have the highest likelihood of success?