Critical elements for successful collaboration

For collaborations to be successful, organisations need to leave their logos and egos at the door and get ready for a bumpy but rewarding ride.

At the second SVA Quarterly breakfast held in Perth, Juan Larrañaga, WA state manager for Save the Children and Jo Ferrie, Manager of Social Investment at Woodside, shared insights from the collaboration projects they are leading. These projects aim to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of funding and service delivery, to improve outcomes for disadvantaged young people.

Jo leads the Woodside Development Fund, a $20 million fund established in 2014 to support initiatives that aim to improve early childhood outcomes. The primary selection criteria for the fund is that initiatives must be collaborative, recognising that no single organisation can address issues as complex as early childhood development in isolation.

Juan manages two major collaboration projects in WA. The first is the South East Corridor Youth Partnership Project (YPP), an innovative Collective Impact initiative focused on supporting at-risk young people by improving collaboration between state and federal agencies, NGO’s, local governments and the community, to deliver localised responses. The second is a project on the Dampier Peninsular (known as ‘Not in Our Town’ or NIOT) focused on holistic community responses to early childhood development. Juan also discussed the recent amalgamation of Save the Children Australia and Good Beginnings.

Our host for the event, Liz Tylich from Jackson McDonald, opened with an observation that all too often collaboration is borne out of frustration with the status quo, or worse, desperation. As the collaborations mentioned above and other innovative collaborations start to demonstrate better outcomes, and stronger community buy-in, we hope to see collaboration becoming a proactive, strategic decision, rather than driven by necessity.

What are the critical elements for successful collaboration?

Establishing and implementing collaborative initiatives is rarely straightforward. Both speakers shared valuable lessons on the ingredients for effective collaborations:

  1. An appetite for change and cooperation – you can’t force collaboration; the appetite must be present within the community or sector for a collaboration initiative to take shape and stick
  2. A willingness to take risks – organisations involved in collaborations need to take a risk by doing something different and must share everything, including their data and IP
  3. Involving the community in co-design – Communities and sectors have the answers and know what is required, they just need to be supported to articulate this. This emphasis on co-design has been reinforced by the WACOSS pre-budget submission this week, with its recommendation to develop a co-design toolkit containing principles, guidelines and frameworks
  4. Focussing on what works – often there is a tendency to focus on what isn’t working, rather than to acknowledge and build on what is working within communities and sectors
  5. Being patient and flexible and listening – Jo shared her collaboration mantra: “channel your inner turtle”.  Collaboration takes time as it is vital to bring different parties together to agree on shared goals and roles and responsibilities. This requires constant communication and high energy levels.  The road will be bumpy so prepare to be flexible and adapt along the way!
  6. Strong governance with a focus on outcomes – robust governance and measurement, evaluation and learning is vital to ensure that the continued focus is on outcomes and making a real difference for people and communities
  7. Influential champions & leaders – it takes a unique person to drive collaborations and they must be able to build trust in communities as well ad develop strong relationships with potential partners and funders
  8. Future proofing your collaboration – collaborations are often born out of many years of building trust with partners and communities. It is essential to future proof your collaboration by ensuring that it doesn’t hinge upon a few key individuals.

What role should Government, non-profits, the private sector and philanthropists play to encourage collaboration?

Service providers have the most significant role to play as they are best placed to understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to service delivery, as well as a view of current gaps and overlaps. We need sector leaders to step up and engage potential partners in the tough conversations that ensure that collaborations not only form but are maintained for years to come. As Sonia Nolan from Collective Impact WA said, “Collaboration isn’t a wedding, it’s a marriage.”

The private sector and philanthropists can play a significant role by taking risks, funding new initiatives and investing in measurement and evaluation so that effective interventions can be replicated. Funders should focus on outcomes, and if collaboration or consolidation is the best route to achieve outcomes, funders can play a role as enablers. As other funders often shy away from funding overheads, this group has an opportunity to fund the “glue” that is critical to effective collaboration.

Governments can also play a significant role by ensuring that funds are allocated based on outcomes, and by rewarding collaborative efforts rather than fuelling competitive tendering processes. Governments can also support the sector to build the evidence base of ‘what works’ by making more outcomes data available.


It has long been recognised that society’s most pressing issues cannot be solved by individual organisations alone. What’s new is that the conversation surrounding collaboration seems to have become both more sophisticated, and also more humble.  There is a genuine willingness to acknowledge that knowledge, answers and strengths lie in the communities themselves, and in the deep experience of the non-profit sector. Within this new frame, funders can provide the resources and enabling environment to empower communities to access the support they need to flourish.