Getting Together: Ideas for Effective Collaborations Developed by Department of Health and Human Services SAMSA- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Characteristics of Effective Collaboration A STUDY OF MORE THAN 30 COALITIONS FOUND 19 FACTORS PRESENT IN EFFECTIVE COLLABORATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL a history of collaboration or cooperation in the community favorable political/social climate MEMBERSHIP mutual respect, understanding and trust among the partners appropriate partnership (no key stakeholder is missing) ability to see collaboration as in their self-interest and to take an interest in the success of other members ability to compromise PROCESS/STRUCTURE shared stake in the process and outcome not limited to one level of decision-making flexibility clear roles and policy guidelines adaptability COMMUNICATION open and frequent communication established informal and formal communication links PURPOSE concrete, attainable goals and objectives shared vision unique purpose RESOURCES sufficient funds a skilled convener Steps for Building Successful Collaborations STEP ONE: DEFINE THE PROBLEM AND ITS IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY Some collaborations don’t get off the ground because of a gap between community perception of a problem and the actual situation. It is hard to coalesce around a vague issue, one that does not seem to affect people in a tangible way. Use survey data to demonstrate specific needs, identify areas for improvement, and approach funding sources. It has been said that “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably never get there.” The same is true for collaborations. If you and your partners do not know why you have convened, what you want to do, and how you want to do it, it is unlikely that your collaboration will amount to much. In addition, articulating the mission and developing goals and objectives must be a joint effort. One successful collaborator reports that in their collaboration, the principle of “no dominant voice” guides the group. Everyone’s input is important; everyone’s voice carries equal weight. STEP TWO: INVOLVE ALL THE RELEVANT INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANIZATIONS Practitioners advise that you should identify and involve key stakeholders. Though a collaboration may focus on a single school community, it is important to bring to the table key leaders—from business, local and State government, or social service agencies, for example. They recognize the problem and want to prevent it from escalating, but they don’t know how because they may be more accustomed to responding to events rather than implementing prevention strategies. However, they may be very interested in investing time, money, expertise, and energy in a science-based prevention approach. If you are working with the school system, encourage the school superintendent and principals to take a leadership role in your coalition (even if that role is only one example of publicly stated support for your efforts). Successful collaborators believe strongly that the people on the front line must be intimately involved in the collaboration from the beginning. ALWAYS include parents (and other primary caregivers) and youth in your collaborations. They are key, and their perspectives are critically important. At the same time, involving parents and youth and then keeping them involved isn’t easy. Practitioners who have worked with both groups offer these suggestions. To Involve Youth HAVE A YOUTH SUBCOMMITTEE that meets at times convenient for youth and does helpful tasks and activities; be consistent in operating it and in reporting about it. VALUE YOUTH INVOLVEMENT If they feel valued and believe that you will follow through on their suggestions, youth will stay involved. MAKE IT FUN Think about your activities in “youthful” terms. Always check in by asking, “Is this fun?” and “How do you want to do it?” ACT ON YOUR SUGGESTIONS If they see no action on their suggestions, they’ll stop talking. HAVE YOUTH CO-CHAIR MAKE YOUTH RESPONSIBLE for the activities they say they want to do. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX and take risks; youth will respond. One practitioner used e-polling to get information from youth regarding what actions to take to prevent copycat San Diego school shootings. RESPOND TO WHAT PARENTS AND YOUTH TELL YOU Families want to know what you’re going to do “tomorrow,” not next year, so it is important, said one practitioner, to “do something to get off the dime.” Their collaboration held a youth summit last year, featuring two youth—one whose brother had been killed, the other who was the brother of the offending youth. To Involve Parents APPLY THE MAGIC FORMULA food, child care, performances by their children, and interesting and relevant topics and activities. ENLIST THE MEDIA AS PARTNERS Media will do things free for families, and they’re very interested in youth activities. One practitioner said her collaboration asked all the local media to be part of the stakeholders group, and now there is a countywide TV show produced by youth. USE INDEPENDENT FACILITATORS not connected with any particular organization, to be sure families are heard. FREE YOURSELF FROM THE NOTION that everyone has to sit together; smaller subgroups might be a better venue for parents and youth to speak up (at least initially). PROVIDE MONEY and other tangible support so that community people—youth and families—can afford to be involved. Avoid scheduling meetings at times that conflict with families’ other obligations. Adapted from: T. N. Thornton, C. A. Craft, L. L. Dahlberg, B. S. Lynch, & K. Baer. (2000). Best Practices of Youth Violence Prevention: A Sourcebook for Community Action (pp. 1–19). Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control MANY POTENTIAL COLLABORATORS are known in their community for their history of collaboration. They build on their strong reputation and their ability to make themselves available for collaborative efforts. They demonstrate a willingness to take on the initiative, and they are characterized by a collaborative organizational style. They do not zealously hold on to their “turf,” nor do they fear that involvement in a collaboration will somehow diminish their organization’s role or place in the community. They bring experience and knowledge of the issue or problem to the effort. STEP THREE: CONVENE A MEETING After you've identified your potential coalition partners, schedule the first meeting for them to share their ideas about the perceived need and what to do about it. Keep meetings short, schedule them at convenient times and places, and serve food, even if it’s only cookies and juice. STEP FOUR: SHARE PERSPECTIVES Successful collaborations have clear and open communication, in order to establish trust among partners. Being clear about the nature and purpose of your collaboration is one of the best ways to maintain trust. Make sure that all voices are heard, even if you have to solicit comments from quiet members. Provide feedback and follow-up through minutes and other communications, as well as through your actions in response to issues and concerns raised. This helps partners know that their involvement is not just “window dressing” and that their opinions are valued. External communications are important as well. An effective collaboration will convey its goals to the community at large. For example, one collaboration developed a logo that succinctly illustrated its purpose and disseminated individual members’ vision statements on their image of the community 10 years in the future. Key to establishing a collaboration in your community is the notion that you are building relationships with other individuals, other organizations and agencies, and the community. These relationships—like any connections—require attention. It is important to be tuned in to the issues and concerns of potential and current partners so that problems can be addressed before they become crises and so that each partner feels he/she is a valued member of the team. Successful collaborators report that they often hold one-on-one meetings with potential (as well as current) partners, rather than meeting with them only in group settings. This individual attention helps to build trust and provides opportunities to identify and resolve issues that might not be comfortably shared in a large group. STEP FIVE: WORK TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES It is important to acknowledge the other issues that divide groups, such as cultural differences between agencies and organizations, and work to help all stakeholders understand how their participation in the collaboration will help them achieve the outcomes for which they are statutorily responsible. Remember that although you may share a common vision for a community in which families are healthy and functional, the partners in the coalition may vary in their views of exactly what that means. You and your partners are likely to have different definitions of your “clients;” you may (and probably will) operate in different legal and policy environments; and you may not share a perspective on the desired positive outcomes. For example, three potential collaborators (the school system, the child welfare system, and the substance abuse/mental health system) have different perspectives on how to define successful outcomes for the same youth identified as at-risk or engaged in problem behavior: For the school system, the positive outcomes include school retention, advancement to the next grade, improvement in grades and test scores, and increased participation in school events. For the child welfare system, the outcomes include safety and a permanent family situation. For the mental health and substance abuse system, the outcomes include decreased alcohol and drug use, improved social and home life, and decreased need for and utilization of behavorial health care services. Although organizational differences could lead to cultural clashes, the problems are not insurmountable. Experienced collaborators who have overcome the challenges give the following advice: Be alert to the ways gender makes a difference. Acknowledge cultural differences among members. Maintain close and constant contact with partners through on-site and face-to-face interactions as well as through e-mail and phone contacts. Take the time to allow trust to develop naturally. Build a sense of “mutuality” and a feeling that all members are benefiting from the contribution. Be flexible and persistent. STEP SIX: GET THE WHOLE COMMUNITY INVOVLED Rally the community through a kick-off event that brings people together, provides an opportunity for family and community fun, and helps get your issue on the “front page.” A community near New York City wanted to transform its poor image, which was created by high crime, housing problems, and too many school suspensions and dropouts. The school district superintendent knew that the schools needed to partner with the community. He helped assemble key leaders from his students and staff along with elected officials, police, probation officers, human service organizations, and business people. This collaboration gathered information through brainstorming, focus groups, and extant data, and applied for and won a School and Community Action Grant from SAMHSA. To unite the community, the collaboration arranged a fun family night with the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Businesses donated tickets, and 3,500 community members attended the game. A school band and a school chorus performed, and the school superintendent threw out the first pitch. The event created an amazing amount of positive publicity for the community, raised students’ morale, and improved parents’ views of the school system. It also provided an opportunity for wholesome fun for many who had never gone out as a family. Nurturing the collaboration is a high priority and an ongoing focus for this community. They have developed a logo, a formal shared vision statement of what the community will look like in 10 years, by-laws, and subcommittees. A formal communication system has been established; subcommittees meet regularly, and the summit council and executive council meet monthly. The Families and Schools Together (FAST) program has been implemented. Brochures, a web site, and attendance logs (among other items) document the history of the project. Activities include community service days, a variety of surveys to take the pulse of the community, school system retreats, and teacher institutes. Leaders say they have created a “movement,” not a “program.” Over the past 2 years, the collaboration has secured $2.5 million for its work, and the results are amazing. They and the community have found that transformation is possible. STEP SEVEN: DETERMINE THE NEXT STEPS Often collaborations are initiated through a grant award process, and partners find themselves in a good financial position, at least initially. Funds are available for staff and other infrastructure elements (such as travel expenses, reimbursements for volunteer participation, and the like). Grant funds stimulate contributions from other sources as well. But, as we all know, grants end. Practitioners report that successful collaborations plan from the start to be self-sustaining. If you anticipate that your collaboration can and should be instrumental in the years to come in addressing youth violence and related problems, start from Day One to establish the contacts and mechanisms you will need to ensure an ongoing base of support in terms of both dollars and in-kind contributions. In this effort, it is important to keep your eye on the goal— to remain true to your vision and values and to the problems around which you coalesced.