Photo Courtesy: California Department of Transportation

5 tips to kick off your collaborative government movement

We don’t live in a tupperware. But sometimes it seems that way when we insist on doing and buying everything ourselves. The thing about these self-contained tupperwares? They aren’t always the most efficient.  More and more local governments are learning that working together can solve a lot of problems. We call it collaborative government.

What is it?

At its most basic, collaborative government is about recognizing the neighboring communities around you. For those who work at it and advance the idea, it means borrowing the resources you lack (assets and personnel) and sharing the resources that you hold an expert advantage on. In many cases, it allows organizations to partner and achieve things they could not have done on their own.

For example, sharing labor (such as emergency services) with a nearby community can be a great opportunity to collaborate. Likewise, many communities have found savings and efficiency in sharing equipment, forming bulk-purchasing partnerships, investing in infrastructure, and sharing facilities and labor.

Collaborative government can improve efficiencies, save money, and provide the best services possible.

Tips to get started

Here are a few tips on collaborative government:

Communication: Communication plays a huge role in the ultimate success of any partnership. Be sure to start by clearly discussing what service or project you want to collaborate on. Clarity now will save you from misunderstandings later on.

Contracts: Use a contract or agreement to specify which costs and services will be shared and who is responsible for each activity. Again, this helps with communication.

Costs: Each entity should be careful to consider the other’s financial position. A successful collaboration means that each partner contributes something meaningful to the effort. Entities that are in sound financial standing tend to be more successful in these collaboration efforts.

Know your strengths (and weaknesses): The Alliance for Innovations stresses that managerial expertise is one of the key success factors in collaborations. Make sure the necessary knowledge is on board to make the project work. As well, a stable team that doesn’t have a high turnover rate also helps.

Consider the opposition: Change is hard. So is letting go of control. Be sure to consider and address the concerns that may arise from public employees, residents, politicians, and your partners. These are your stakeholders and you’ll need to listen to them and provide good information. Building trust and relationships is a key part of the process.

Dig in

Collaboration is as much about process as it is about the things you share. Want to start on the right foot? Try reading the article, “Contemplating Collaboration” by David Swindell and Cheryl Hilvert.  Want to see how it works? Municipalities in Scott County, Minnesota, are at the forefront of collaborative government. They share everything from broadband, to backhoes and emergency services. Learn more about their story in “Saving Millions with Collaborative Government.”