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Levels of Collaboration

If a partnership is the relationship between groups, collaboration is the extent to which they work together. In general, groups that decide to enter into a partnership will have some history. 

The Collaboration Spectrum

The Tamarack Institute, a group with 15 years of experience in improving collective impact and collaboration, has developed a spectrum that highlights different levels of collaboration. The spectrum describes where a partnership is at a single point in time, which can help grantees understand where their partnerships stand. The spectrum can also help grantees and partners set goals for collaboration levels.  At the low end of the spectrum, groups often try to maintain control and trust is low. The opposite end of the spectrum reflects when groups have enough trust that they can cede a fair amount of their own organization’s control in favor of the group as a whole.

Figure 1. Tamarack Collaboration Spectrum

Collaboration Spectrum

How Partnerships Move Through the Collaboration Spectrum

Often, partnerships will not go through these levels in order. They can try to skip levels. They also may go backwards. 

Partnerships may also stall at certain levels or decide to limit their level of collaboration. For example, some of the goals that the groups hope to accomplish might not require a partnership or would be hindered by extensive collaboration. This rationale is true in cases where goals are not complicated, or if they need a strong hierarchy and a linear process to get finished. In other cases, groups may not be ready to join a partnership, particularly if a group is not ready to cede some control and/or if a group’s funders cannot handle the demands of investing time or resources in a collaboration. 

Trust is an essential piece to forming sustained partnerships, and it comes from a consistency between intention and actions. Being candidly realistic about what organizations are capable of offering and using that to set the level of collaboration from the onset can prevent frustration among partners. Overpromising and under delivering in partnership activities can damage trust, which will then need to be rebuilt to move forward on the collaboration spectrum.  

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on October 9, 2017