When to collaborate

A small sub-project using a multidisciplinary approaches.

Research goal: to develop better guidance on when regional councils should and shouldn’t use collaborative policy-making processes.

As a part of the Collaboration Lab research programme (a part of Our Land and Water National Science Challenge) a small project was carried out to get better insights into when to use and not use collaboration by gaining insights from those who had experience of collaborations.


The project team brainstormed a wide range of potential participants who had experience in collaboration. They identified: iwi, researchers, agricultural industry representatives, central government and regional council policy makers and planners, regional council politicians, Department of Conservation staff, community members, facilitators, and environmental NGOs. They wanted to ensure that there was good diversity, not only in the participant groups, but within groups as well, and so were attentive to gender, age, area of work, known perspectives when inviting multiple people from the same group.

In order to get people to think differently the project also used a counterfactual approach. All the participants had a lot of experience of different collaborations, and so the project team asked them to think about when they wouldn’t use collaboration. The project was deliberately vague about what was meant by the term collaboration when inviting participants to contribute, they didn’t specify a definition, or the types of collaboration that were being looked at. This was a deliberate device to maximise creativity and the diversity of the responses they got from participants.


The project took a multi-disciplinary approach (Link to when to use IR) for most of the project. They asked each of the participants to produce a 3 page document on when they wouldn’t use collaboration. Some people wrote quite theoretical documents, others talked from experience. Each person was then asked to look at 2 other contributions from other participants and to prepare a short 10 minute presentation on their own ideas, and what they had learned from the other contributions.

All participants came together for a 2-day symposium. This is when the project moved from a multi-disciplinary approach to a more collaborative and transdisciplinary approach. At the symposium all the participants had an opportunity to hear all of the presentations. Several people were unable to attend, so the project team made it possible for people to record a presentation beforehand and show it on the day. Through a structured discussion guided by the facilitators asking questions, the group made sense of what they had heard and multiple factors of when not to use collaboration were discussed and agreed.


During the symposium, the group decided how they wanted to report the findings of the project and the discussed the possibility of a bigger project. They discussed multiple channels of communication and agreed that a journal paper was the first stage, as they thought it would give a future project more credibility. The project team wrote a journal paper based on all of the information and went through 3 rounds of consultation with the workshop participants, who were also co-authors