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Advice for Collaborators

What Makes It Work

Based on a study of research literature in the field of collaboration, Mattessich and Monsey’s Collaboration: What Makes it Work cites the following as being among the factors that ensure a collaboration will be successful:

  • Collaborating partners have the same vision, with clearly agreed upon mission, objectives, and strategy.
  • Members of the collaborative group share an understanding and respect for each other and their respective organizations
  • The collaborative group includes representatives from each segment of the community who will be affected by its activities
  • Collaborating partners are able to compromise and be flexible
  • Members share a stake in both the process and outcome
  • Collaborative group members interact often, update one another, discuss issues openly
  • Channels of communication exist on paper, so that information flow occurs.

Success Factors

Creative Work Fund collaborations bring together individual artists with organizations, some of which have years of experience working with artists and some of which have never worked with artists before. Some success factors the Fund has observed:

  • Partnerships are most successful when they are among peers—even when those peers come from very different fields.
  • Artists experienced in different artistic disciplines often are surprised to learn that they have different modes of working. In interdisciplinary projects, artists need to communicate frequently and clearly about their expectations and needs.
  • Effective collaboration is possible when artists and organizations schedule sufficient time to engage with one another, experiment together, and change their minds together.
  • Collaborative projects with large numbers of individuals working together should assign someone the responsibility for scheduling meetings, work sessions, and rehearsals. Such details can frustrate even the most committed partners.

Recommendations and Cautions

In writing about collaborations among multiple organizations, consultant and author Richard Linzer adds some recommendations and cautions to the list (from the now out-of-print “A Study of WAA Equity Program Collaborations”). Linzer emphasizes, “The importance of knowing your partner and anticipating the limitations of both organizations,” and would add:

  • In all collaborations, there is the potential risk that one or the other party may not be able to completely fulfill its commitments.  It is therefore important for collaborating partners to generate an alternative plan which accounts for what will happen if one or the other is unable to meet the agreed-upon terms of the partnership.
  • Organizations should not agree to everything.  They should negotiate for what they want, need, and are capable of delivering.
  • Partners bring different capabilities and resources to a collaboration.  Equally dividing all resources and responsibilities rarely results in an effective collaborative strategy.
  • Larger organizations need to be sensitive to smaller organizations’ [or individual artists’] fear that they will lose their identity and ownership in a project.
  • The speed and initiative of many community-based organizations enables them to act with greater dispatch [than large institutions].  In contrast, large mainstream organizations, even though they have greater resources, may be bound by inflexible structures and policies.
  • Successful collaborations often involve working with many people within each organization to ensure that the indispensable individual is not indispensable after all.  As such, where possible each “point person” in the partnership should involve others in the process.
  • Issues of resource allocation, finances, and financial management are aspects of collaborations which trigger the greatest stresses among and between participants.  These issues must be negotiated in detail prior to entering a collaboration.