Collaboration is the term used to describe loosely affiliated networks as well as more formal partnerships between people working across departments, organizations or sectors. Working groups, professional networks, community-tables and so forth, all represent forms of collaboration. Collaboration signals a commitment to work together. Unlike integration, collaboration does not require formal infrastructure to merge work processes across organizational sites. The goals of collaboration often include: joint problem solving, service coordination and collective planning. Collaboration always involves working together towards a shared goal or common purpose.
Although people use tools such as shared terms of reference, memoranda of understanding, or co-created working principles to solidify a collaborative relationship, collaborations are not associated with the types of formalized structures that promote integration (e.g. universal assessment protocols, shared performance standards, and pooled funding). Unencumbered by these formal structures, collaborative relationships evolve over time, often relative to a particular problem that people are trying to solve. Collaborations can lead to opportunities for “joined up” thinking, planning and working, but they are not – in and of themselves – representative of systems integration. Nimble and responsive, collaborations can contribute to quick fixes, but without the coordinated infrastructure that is a requirement for integration, collaborations will not lead to wide-scale systemic change.
Collaboration and coordination are related. Collaboration refers to links among people. Coordination refers to links among organizations. Collaboration facilitates and is facilitated by coordination.