Liz Zadnik on Valuing the Variety of Interorganizational Relationships

I’m Liz Zadnik, Evaluation Enthusiast and lover of all things relationship-building. Although you’d typically hear from me on Saturdays, I’ve been doing some research lately on interorganizational dynamics and partnerships and wanted to share some of my reflections.

I have often heard “collaboration” used to describe the pinnacle or ideal state of interorganizational partnerships.  Whether it’s communication styles, how a resource is being created, or the end-goal of a funded project, “collaboration” seems to be the finish line.  But how are we understanding this?  Are we all sharing a single vision or set of expectations?   

Lesson Learned: Clarify, clarify, clarify!  My definition of “collaboration” encompasses a collective, mutually-beneficial group of professionals invested in building the capacity of the member organizations.  It’s about transformation.  “Collaborative resources” are products of that capacity-building process and demonstrate something that hadn’t existed prior to the partnership:

  • A child sexual abuse prevention task force creates a set of hiring guidance for all community organizations that creates safe and affirming environments for children in the community.  
  • State-level stakeholders invested in learning more about community-level change draft indicators that can be plotted across funding requirements so organizations can tangibly see how their work is contributing to social change.  

There is a lot of great research about interorganizational relationships and the different iterations of those dynamics.  We also have Social Network Analysis that can assist us in capturing the qualities and characteristics of those relationships and processes.  I’d like to make the case for the role and importance of the other levels of interorganizational relationships (i.e. communication, cooperation, coordination, networking, etc.) and how they support powerful work at organizational and community levels.

Hot Tip:  Approach interorganizational projects and dynamics with a “both/and” mentality.  Rather than “How can we get beyond this coordination stage to something better?”, try a different perspective, “We’re sharing information and communicating regularly, which is something we’ve never done before.  We’re also moving closer to coordinating efforts and services.”  

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