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How to evaluate a collaboration

By Betsy Olson

Chalk board drawing of team members helping one another climb stairsWe collaborate with many different stakeholders and in many different ways. We partner with community organizations. We work with government entities to meet the needs of local youth. We work with our colleagues and, most importantly, we collaborate with young people.

How do we know if our partnerships are working?

One way to evaluate collaboration is to consider the elements that inspire stakeholders to collaborate with us. Research has identified six elements.

Let’s look at these elements and how we can use them to plan an evaluation

Recognition: Recognize partners for their contributions

  • Questions to ask: What is the contribution that each partner is most proud of? How have they been recognized for their contribution? How has the recognition demonstrated an appreciation for their work? 

Respect: Partners are respected for the value and importance of the resources, perspectives and knowledge that they bring

  • Questions to ask: In what way do we demonstrate respect for each partner? How does each one perceive the level of respect they receive from the others?

Role: Partners have a distinct role and understand their contribution

  • Questions to ask: How would each partner describe their role and the roles of the others? In what ways does the description match the work?

Relationship: Collaborations are built from effective interpersonal relationships

  • Questions to ask: In what ways is the collaboration fostering interpersonal relationships? How do we give each partner opportunities to connect person-to-person? 

Reward: Partners are rewarded when the outcome that is critical to them is reached

  • Questions to ask: What outcome is each member of the collaboration looking to accomplish? In what ways have we aligned our work with the achievement of that outcome?

Results: Partners can see success

  • Questions to ask: What are the short-term and long-term impacts of our collaboration? What communication methods are effective for making each partner aware of these impacts? 

I hope isolating these six elements helps break down the sometimes fuzzy concept of collaboration. Complex topics can be a challenge for program evaluators. By naming six factors that engage people in collaborations, we can narrow in on the components of this complex topic and start to see how it can be evaluated.

Impactful youth development programs are often built on effective collaborations. Impactful evaluations can help us understand and improve them.

-- Betsy Olson, Extension educator

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