Collaboration Toolkit

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Engage Partners and Drive Action

Find detailed tips about how to assess your members’ engagement and the effectiveness of your collaboration.

One of the most frequently asked questions about collaboration is how to keep members active and engaged over time. It’s important to anticipate and plan for a natural ebb and flow in engagement. Here are some tips:

Assess Your Collaborative Needs

You may notice opportunities to improve engagement, but be sure to identify needs from various perspectives. Depending on the size of your group, you might collect information by:

  • Scheduling one-on-one conversations with members to discuss their interest in the collaborative, any barriers to interaction, and their priorities for collaborative activities.
  • Sending a questionnaire via email. You might use a simple online website such as or if technology is a barrier, send a few questions via email, or distribute paper copies at your next in-person meeting.

Be honest about barriers to success. Some areas to assess:

Effective & Consistent Communication
  • It’s important to evaluate channels of communication as membership and activities change and shift.
  • Is someone responsible for maintaining regular communication and strategic planning?
  • Do communication tools and methods make it easy to provide feedback?
  • Keep in mind that some members are more responsive to phone calls vs. emails (or vice versa); others may need repeated reminders.
  • Does the group agree on the frequency and options for meetings?
Culture Trust is a key foundation for collaboratives and often takes time to develop.

  • Is it easy for people to share their knowledge and concerns?
  • Are there established norms or standards for the group’s intra-communication, decision-making and meeting protocol?
  • Are disputes/concerns aired and handled with respect and diplomacy without taking over agendas?
Shared Vision
  • Has a shared vision been established?
  • Did it seem everyone was on board in the beginning, but energy faded over time? Consider whether the shared vision should be re-visited to renew focus on areas of common interest, rather than agendas of individuals. Establishing annual goals based on shared vision can also motivate and focus action. Including annual goals on each collaborative meeting agenda can encourage continued support and commitment. Some collaboratives find they need to modify their vision as the work gets underway. Don’t hesitate to reexamine what the group can achieve and set realistic goals.
Shared Responsibilities
  • Are members delivering on their responsibilities?
  • Ensure the work assignments are distributed and member duties are matched to their abilities and interests.
  • Developing workgroups (or sub-groups) and sharing meeting hosting can be effective ways to share responsibilities.
  • Are you ensuring follow-through on the actions your group intends to do?
  • Determine what might be impeding progress:
    • Is it lack of clear next steps and assignments?
    • Were realistic time parameters set?
    • Is someone assigned to monitor progress, encourage action and provide support where needed?
  • It sounds simple, but pay attention to what keeps your members’ interest.
    • Is it specific topics?
    • Are members more engaged in person vs. phone meetings?
    • Planning events vs. developing written materials?
  • It can take some time to identify where your group wants to invest energy and can be most effective.
  • Are the right people participating? Sometimes asking for a different staff person to serve on the collaborative or bringing on an additional member organization can bring new energy and focus.
  • Understand the work environments and abilities for member participation. Some members may not be able to participate in every meeting, but could contribute on key discussions or decisions.
  • The group may wish to consider the maximum effective number of members.
  • Are you measuring success? Energy can fade if members feel the group is not effectively moving forward toward tangible results.
  • Discuss and apply lessons learned.
Leadership While this is listed as the last tip, it is often the most important area to assess. Effective leadership can impact all of the above issues. It can be particularly helpful to delegate some responsibilities to members’ strengths, so that the collaborative leadership is effectively supporting priority actions, while managing their own workload.

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