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The Collaboration Continuum:

The Developmental Process of Effectively Working Together

In practice, the word “collaboration” has been used to refer to many different types of relationships. The result tends to be confusion between people who use the same language but mean different things. MSU Outreach Partnerships’ staff developed this chart to clarify the language they use to define these relationships. The chart shows how various types of relationships (networking, coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating) are stages of increased movement toward collaboration, both within organizations and among organizations, in a community session or an interagency group. This chart is based on work by Arthur Himmelman (1994).

A central point of this chart is that collaboration is not a light bulb that can be turned on or off, it is more analogous to a dimmer switch where different stages of communication and connection can be intentionally applied.

This chart is a tool to support participants’ understanding that moving toward collaboration should be a conscious journey, through nested stages, as identified by Himmelman. Moving on this journey requires an understanding of the path, as well as commitment and effort, and can be used to support periodic reviews of the group’s progress.

This chart is also used to note that increasing collaboration requires increasing time, effort, and resources. Full, active collaboration among organizations is very time consuming and should only be used if warranted by the desired outcomes.

While full collaboration may be needed to achieve certain outcomes, that level of effort is not needed on all issues. In many circumstances, simply exchanging information (networking) may be all that is needed.

View Chart