So many kinds of partnerships exist that the very definition of the word “collaboration” has been distorted. The following definitions are printed in Karen Ray’s books which have sold over 45,000 copies. Foundations, state departments and federal programs now use these definitions.

[As published by the Wilder Foundation Publishing Center in the books “The Collaboration Handbook, Creating, Sustaining and Enjoying the Journey” Karen Ray with Michael Winer and the A. H. Wilder Foundation and “The Nimble Collaboration” Karen Ray]

DEFINITION: Collaboration is a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve results they are more likely to achieve together than alone.

The organizations believe they are interdependent. Partners agree that each organization has a unique role to play to address the issue. The relationship includes a commitment to mutual relationships and goals; a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility; and sharing of resources and rewards. Partners focus on the way in which the current system can be improved by changing individual organization policies and procedures.

Collaboration is a very intense way of working together while still retaining the separate identities, autonomy, and decision-making authority of the organizations involved. The beauty of collaboration is the acknowledgment that each organization has a separate and special function, a power that it brings to the joint effort. At the same time, each separate organization provides valuable services or products often critical to the health and well-being of their community. When the problems have been addressed, or the system has been improved, the collaboration is over.

COOPERATION is the least complex relationship and is characterized by short term informal relations that exist without any clearly defined mission, structure or planning effort. Information is shared only about the subject at hand and resources are kept separate. Authority is retained by each organization and there is virtually no risk to anyone.

COORDINATION is more complex and is characterized by the sharing of some resources. Interaction is usually longer term, often focused around a specific task or program. Some planning and division of roles is required and enough information is shared about the participants to enable cooperation. Authority still rests primarily with individual organizations, but there is increased risk to all participants.

COLLABORATION connotes a more durable and pervasive relationship. There is a common mission to achieve something greater than a single project or task. Such relationships require comprehensive planning and greater – and sometimes unequal – sharing of resources and power. Authority is determined by the collaborative structure and risk is much greater because each partner is contributing its resources and reputation