What does it mean to collaborate effectively?

By Jill Iman, Director of Evaluation, Research and Implementation Science at Joining Vision and Action

Every day we’re being confronted with more news that might/could (does?) feel disheartening to ourselves and to many in our world. As I find myself riding my own waves of optimism and frustration (currently in an optimistic phase, thank you very much), I’ve only strengthened my belief in the importance and the power of collective impact[1] work, which at its core, promotes the development of:

  1. Common agenda
  2. Shared measurement systems
  3. Mutually reinforcing activities
  4. Continuous communication
  5. Backbone support organization

Assessing Current Level of Commitment

But how can you assess the strength of individual and collective commitment to the shared agenda, a fairly complex concept, without triggering socially desirable responses? In other words, if you ask me if I’m committed to a project that I’ve previously agreed to, I’m inclined to maintain consistency and also to not disappoint you, responding in a way ensuring those two things are preserved… with a wholehearted “yes, of course”.

Through the combination of some strategic planning work and our implementation science approach, our team created a research-informed tool designed to assess current level of commitment to a collective impact endeavor. Drawing from research on community collaboration[2], persistence in interpersonal relationships[3] and employee engagement[4] we developed a tool to assess concepts shown to be critical to collaborative success, including feelings of:

  • Inclusion
  • Being valued
  • Satisfaction
  • Investment size
  • Perceived fit
  • Pride

Reduce Socially Desirable Responses

To reduce socially desirable responses, the tool was included as part of a longer, confidential one-on-one interview conversation and the individual items were asked in rapid succession. The results of the data gathered revealed key areas for the partnership to focus on strengthening; ultimately, providing a more informed approach to moving forward and hopefully, increasing the impact of their work together.

This is just one example of how this could have been assessed and certainly the tool itself would need more research to claim it as a reliable and valid scale, but it did provide the partnership with greater confidence moving forward as it better understood its strengths and areas for improvement.

We Want to Know

So tell us… What does is mean to you to effectively collaborate? How do you know when you are doing so?


[1] Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (Winter 2011). Colelctive impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/collective_impact.

[2] Hicks, D., Larson, C., Nelson, Olds, D.L., & Johnston, E. (2008). The influence of collaboration on program outcomes: The Colorado Nurse Family Partnership. Evaluation Review, 32, 453-477.

[3] Rusbult, C.E., Agnew, C., Arriaga, X. (2011). The investment model of commitment processes. Department of Psychological Science Faculty Publications. Paper 26.

[4] Cataldo, P. (2011). Focusing on employee engagement: How to measure it and improve it. UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, UNC Executive Development. White paper retrieved from: https://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/about/~/media/E93A57C2D74F4E578A8B1012E70A56FD.ashx.

Source: startupstockphotos.com

Leave A Comment

/* Omit closing PHP tag to avoid "Headers already sent" issues. */