Collaboration Handbook

Oct 19, 2016 | Research

Effective collaboration can result in enduring, positive community change, yet it remains elusive for many. In October 2016, the Fund for Our Economic Future — with support from its community foundation members — published a resource guide for civic leaders grappling with collaboration in their communities.

Collaboration: A Handbook from the Fund for Our Economic Future encapsulates the Fund’s lessons from its experiences operating within multiple collaborative environments over the last decade-plus and offers concrete guidance on how to move from “coblaboration” to true, effective collaboration.


A collaboration must have the capacity to perform vital functions that enable it to survive and thrive.


A collaboration must establish a clear process for how the partners interact with one another over the life of the collaboration.


The collaboration must be supported by a strong, collaborative leader, which demands a different set of skills from that of an organizational leader.Guiding a diverse set of partners through the collaboration cycle and its inherent traps requires the exercise of collaborative leadership. Effective collaborative leaders encourage partners within a collaboration to assume more shared responsibility for achieving the common goal. To do this, these leaders develop an understanding of the priorities and motivations of different partners, identify opportunities for mutual benefit, and bring valued resources (ranging from data to dollars) to the collaboration.

Within organizations there are well-established rules and procedures that guide how things get done. Nothing is as clear within a collaboration. To help organizational leaders adapt to the challenges of working within a collaboration, our Fund worked closely with Leadership Akron and the Cleveland Leadership Center to identify specific skills that leaders could develop to better exercise collaborative leadership: (1) assessing context; (2) inquiry; and (3) building trust. Evaluation of the collaboration process and its outcomes is essential for partners, including funders, to make the changes that are necessary to journey through the collaboration cycle and achieve shared goals. Evaluating the performance and outcomes of a collaboration is different from evaluating a program or organization. Evaluators of collaborations should be well-versed and experienced in the collaboration process and the critical success factors.
How the evaluation is conducted and what gets evaluated depends on the stage of the collaboration cycle. But within each stage there are common elements that can be evaluated:

  • Interactions: How well do independent stakeholders interact with one another?
  • Health: How healthy is the collaboration, in terms of resources (time and money); shared vision; pace of progress; and number, stability and level of engagement of partners?
  • Results: Is the collaboration demonstrating effective execution of critical functions, as well as interim and long-term progress toward its goals?

AUTHOR CHRIS THOMPSON, formerly the Fund’s director of regional engagement who now advances this work through Civic Collaboration Consultants, distills how to know if the conditions are right for a collaboration to be possible, what is needed to make it successful, how to get back on track if it steers off course, and how to evaluate if it’s working.

Click here to download the handbook.