The collaborative push: moving beyond rhetoric and gaining evidence

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Keast, RL & Mandell, M 2014, 'The collaborative push: moving beyond rhetoric and gaining evidence', Journal of Management & Governance, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 9-28.

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Collaboration has been enacted as a core strategy by both the government and nongovernment sectors to address many of the intractable issues confronting contemporary society. The cult of collaboration has become so pervasive that it is now an elastic term referring generally to any form of ‘working together’. The lack of specificity about collaboration and its practice means that it risks being reduced to mere rhetoric without sustained practice or action. Drawing on an extensive data set (qualitative, quantitative) of broadly collaborative endeavours gathered over 10 years in Queensland, Australia, this paper aims to fill out the black box of collaboration. Specifically it examines the drivers for collaboration, dominant structures and mechanisms adopted, what has worked and unintended consequences. In particular it investigates the skills and competencies required in an embedded collaborative endeavour within and across organisations. Social network analysis is applied to isolate the structural properties of collaborations over other forms of integration as well as highlighting key roles and tasks. Collaboration is found to be a distinctive form of working together, characterised by intense and interdependent relationships and exchanges, higher levels of cohesion (density) and requiring new ways of behaving, working, managing and leading. These elements are configured into a practice framework. Developing an empirical evidence base for collaboration structure, practice and strategy provides a useful foundation for theory extension. The paper concludes that for collaboration, to be successfully employed as a management strategy it must move beyond rhetoric and develop a coherent model for action.

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