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Towards better collaboration

In 2003, I was working on a project in a large government organisation. Towards the end of the project I discovered that someone else in another business unit was working on essentially the same piece of work. Neither of us knew about the other. As I began to investigate I found that, despite the best efforts of individuals, duplication of effort was a reasonably common occurrence. This raised a question: If collaborating within an organisation was so problematic, how difficult must it be to work across organisations?

That question became the focus of a five-year research project that will, this year, culminate in a lengthy and hopefully useful PhD thesis that presents a five-dimensional, scalable framework to guide collaboration within and between government organisations. The important aspect of the framework is its scalability.

Over recent years, New Zealand has developed six key development goals to transform its state services. Of these, the aim of the ‘Co-ordinated State Services’ goal is that by 2010, agencies will respond to government priorities by working together towards jointly-defined outcomes and will increasingly achieve measurable results by sharing capabilities and using effective networks. While there is progress towards this goal, the focus is essentially at a single end of the collaboration spectrum. In reality, the collaboration spectrum includes projects that are recognised as formal collaboration projects and are resourced accordingly; others that are recognised but are not assigned specific resources; and even more that are regarded as ‘operational’, ad-hoc projects with no formal mandate or resourcing. While the work of the development goal will do much to address high-level, formally recognised projects, it is likely it will do little to benefit the projects on the more informal end of the spectrum. The success of these projects relies strongly on the commitment of talented and tenacious individuals to make them happen.

My research focussed on four collaborative projects at varying points of the collaboration spectrum. It found that regardless of factors such as project size, duration or purpose, there were a number of recurring inter-related issues ranging from overall governance through to individual engagement factors that were common to all projects. The framework organises these factors into five key dimensions that can be scaled to guide projects across the collaboration spectrum.

There are still a couple of chapters of the thesis to write... but for anyone who is interested I’ll be blogging about the framework dimensions in separate postings. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Posted by: Sally Jansen van Vuuren, Principal Management Consultant | 21 July 2009

Tags: Collaboration

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