Collaboration Toolkit

« Back to the Main Stages of Collaboration

Identify Options for Structuring Your Collaborative

Depending on your organizing members, you can choose from various options to structure your collaborative. Mapping member roles is an important exercise in creating a smooth and efficient division of labor.

When crafting your own group’s structure, consider roles like:


Your group may be led by either a single organization or “Co-Chairs” of a Steering Committee.


Workgroups can help develop and implement protection activities, proposing actions to the larger group for input and endorsement.

Members volunteer based on their interest and expertise to help develop resources, tools, and activities that advance protections in certain issue areas. For example:

  • Agriculture impacts and nutrient reduction.
  • Storm water management.
  • NPDES permit violations and/or releases from combined or separate sewer systems.
  • Hydraulic fracturing.
  • Emergency response.

In addition to direct protection, workgroups may be devoted to:

  • Collaborative Planning: One workgroup may develop an overall action plan in consultation with leadership, organize workshops, coordinate web services, and manage communications within the collaborative.
  • Outreach and education: One workgroup may design outreach materials (for example, newsletters), and organize public events.
  • Financial management: Funding sources can be difficult to track and pursue. Consider devoting a small group of members to financial accounting and grant applications.

Don’t have enough members or resources for all desired workgroups?
Don’t worry! As your collaborative matures, you may form additional workgroups or redefine existing ones.

Here’s an experienced perspective from a leader of one successful collaborative:

“To me, the nature of a collaborative is that participants are free to take action independently or in ad hoc subgroups. Participation in a collaborative means that one’s actions are informed by, but not necessarily driven by, the shared agenda of the collaborative.”

Paul Susca,
Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative

Types of members

Some collaboratives distinguish members from supporters.

  • Members typically sign group statements (Statement of Purpose, Action Plan, etc.) and can vote on collaborative decisions.
  • Supporters pitch in during meetings, but usually cannot vote or represent the collaborative. Supporters often assist workgroups with protection activities.

Example 1: Division of labor in the “forming” stage

The following diagram shows how a collaborative in the early stages of formation may organize duties. Members and Supporters play different roles in the collaborative, and can take part in Project Teams, which may expand or diversify as the group develops. Click here for the North Carolina SWC website.

Example 2: The working structure of a mature collaborative

The diagram below illustrates the structure of a well-funded, highly developed collaborative. This group has over 100 members, thus has a sophisticated division of labor. Click here for the Schuylkill Action Network website.

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