What is collaboration?

Farming Together | Southern Cross University - Dr Robyn Keast

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Knowledge level: Introductory

How does your farm business work? Do you collaborate, co-ordinate or co-operate? What is the difference? And why should you know?

Collaboration* is about individuals and groups working together to address complex problems and get results that are not easily achieved alone. Collaboration is not ‘business as usual’.

It demands new ways of dealing with each other. When individuals and groups combine effort and expertise, they produce greater benefits. This is the ‘collaborative advantage’. Understanding different types of working relationships can help groups decide if, and when, collaboration could be used. Different relationships produce different outcomes.

Carnarvon’s Sweeter Banana Co-op developed a regional brand and loyal customers. When Cyclone Olwyn flattened the WA region’s crop in 2015, the 20 growers, their families and staff worked against the elements, and the clock, to rescue the harvest. They used grade-2 bananas for banana bread, sourced local additional ingredients and reduced crop waste from 60% to 4%.


Collaboration can help  if your aim is to:

  • reduce duplication and overlap
  • access limited resources
  • expand opportunities
  • increase efficiency and effectiveness
  • improve organisational legitimacy
  • resolve complex social problems 
  • complete complex projects.

Collaborative relationships:

  • are intense and involved
  • have regular communication flows
  • share power between participants
  • last usually three or more years
  • share risks and rewards.

Co-operative endeavours share information and expertise. Participants  are loosely connected and independent, with low demands to contribute and minor changes to how they work. The advantage is in learning from others. This approach, of low-risk and limited rewards, targets specific actions – not holistic operational change.

Co-ordination needs some interdependence. The parties realise the need to work together to align efforts and resources. Each organisation retains control over its operations. Co-ordination requires a higher level of commitment and good relationships, often based on prior exchanges. Collaboration involves highly interdependent, strong relationships. Participants must radically alter the way they think, behave and operate. This is not about making adjustments at the edges; it is about changing systems.

Collaboration is a high-risk, high-stakes environment that can produce unexpected results and directions. This uncertainty requires high levels of trust and extensive dialogue, and can be rewarding.  Each of these relationships has merit. The challenge is to match working style with project purpose. If the goal is sharing information or expertise, co-operation may be sufficient. If alignment of resources and activities is needed, then co-ordination is appropriate. Co-operation and co-ordination means operating normally, but more efficiently. If the project requires major innovation, collaboration can help individuals and organisations work together more effectively.

Australia - Farming Together | Southern Cross University - Dr Robyn Keast
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