Taking a Closer Look at Collaboration
Some of the team behind Collaboration NI in September 2014, including Trust Director of Operations Nigel McKinney (right).

Taking a Closer Look at Collaboration

01 April 2016

At the Trust we think collaboration amongst Northern Ireland’s community and voluntary sector organisations, and with others in other sectors, is essential if the on-going needs of service users are to be met.

But, what do we mean by collaboration? Is it just mergers, smaller organisations being enveloped by larger ones?

Not at all, let’s have a look at what we mean by collaboration and how it can help your organisation.

First of all, there is no single agreed definition of 'collaboration' - Organisations can work together in a range of ways.

This reflects the fact collaboration ranges from the very informal such as information sharing, right through to collaborations and mergers that are much more codified, structured and formalised.

Groups may engage with other organisations as informal contract partners, work collaboratively to deliver a service within the framework of a formal agreement, or move towards a full merger.

Essentially, collaboration can be seen as any form of working relationship between two or more organisations, no matter how formal the arrangement may be.

Through collaborative and cooperative arrangements and networks organisations may work with one or two others or may belong to a wider consortium. This can last for an unspecified length of time, for a specific period, or may develop into a permanent relationship.

Organisations can work collaboratively in order to meet a wide range of aims and for a variety of purposes, but what all these options have in common are that they involve an exchange that is of mutual advantage to the organisations involved and, most crucially, their beneficiaries.

The levels of Collaboration are neatly explained below:

Level of Collaboration


Informal Alliance

Essentially based on good relationships, understandings but non-contractual.

Contract Based Alliance

Like the above but underpinned by a contract outlining roles, responsibilities and financial arrangements.

Joint Venture

Parties working together and established as a legal entity, taking on specified tasks and functions.

Group Structure

One example being when parties agree to become controlled by a holding entity but retain their individual identity.


The parties merge on whatever basis is agreed.


We believe working together will lead to better impact, meaning beneficiaries will ultimately be better off but what are the key things for groups and organisations to consider when undertaking any sort of collaboration.

Firstly, our experience tells us a key feature of successful collaboration is ensuring that the basics are right at the earliest stages.

As well as this, there is no single ‘transferable model’ or quick fix which guarantee success. Rather, specific local conditions and local factors will have a huge impact on the overall success of any collaboration.

That being said, there are a number of key factors we’d advise you consider:

  • Working collaboratively must help the organisations involved to achieve something that they couldn't do, couldn't do as efficiently, or couldn't achieve as quickly if they were to do it alone.
  • Parties have a shared purpose or vision for the work.
  • Strong leadership to drive the process forward.
  • It is smart to have a contingency plan if key individuals leave.
  • Invest time to ensure the right people are involved sound policies and procedures in place in each of the organisations.
  • Commitment to collaboration is essential.
  • Healthy relationships are critical to collaborative working.

This is just a brief introduction into the idea of collaboration and what some of the key issues are to consider when thinking about working with another group or organisation.

Luckily, the Trust set up Collaboration NI to help guide organisations through the process and this has been a huge success.

If you’d like to read more about the basic, practical considerations around working collaboratively, you can read their in-depth guide here.

Still think collaboration is for you? Get in touch with the CollaborationNI team on Twitter or by email.

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