Best Practices and Leading Practices in Collaboration
GAO has identified a set of essential and complementary practices that provide a sound foundation for Collaboration. Running through these practices are a number of factors such as leadership, trust, and organizational culture that are necessary elements for a collaborative working relationship.
Achieving important national outcomes, such as food safety, local economic development, environmental restoration, and homeland security, requires coordinated and collaborative efforts of a number of programs spread across the federal government, other levels of government, and private and nonprofit sectors. Agencies face a range of challenges and barriers when they attempt to work collaboratively.
Agencies can enhance and sustain their collaborative efforts by engaging in the eight practices identified below. (GAO-06-15) Agencies should:
- Define and articulate a common outcome.
- Establish mutually reinforcing or joint strategies.
- Identify and address needs by leveraging resources.
- Agree on roles and responsibilities.
- Establish compatible policies, procedures, and other means to operate across agency boundaries.
- Develop mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on results.
- Reinforce agency accountability for collaborative efforts through agency plans and reports.
- Reinforce individual accountability for collaborative efforts through performance management systems.
Federal agencies have used a variety of mechanisms to implement interagency collaborative efforts, such as the President appointing a coordinator, agencies co-locating within one facility, or establishing interagency task forces (GAO-12-1022). These mechanisms can be used to address a range of purposes including policy development; program implementation; oversight and monitoring; information sharing and communication; and building organizational capacity, such as staffing and training. Frequently, agencies use more than one mechanism to address an issue. For example, climate change is a complex, crosscutting issue, which involves many collaborative mechanisms in the Executive Office of the President and interagency groups throughout government.
Although collaborative mechanisms differ in complexity and scope, they all benefit from certain key features, which raise issues to consider when implementing these mechanisms. For example:
- Outcomes and Accountability: Have short-term and long-term outcomes been clearly defined? Is there a way to track and monitor their progress?
- Bridging Organizational Cultures: What are the missions and organizational cultures of the participating agencies? Have agencies agreed on common terminology and definitions?
- Leadership: How will leadership be sustained over the long-term? If leadership is shared, have roles and responsibilities been clearly identified and agreed upon?
- Clarity of Roles and Responsibilities: Have participating agencies clarified roles and responsibilities?
- Participants: Have all relevant participants been included? Do they have the ability to commit resources for their agency?
- Resources: How will the collaborative mechanism be funded and staffed? Have online collaboration tools been developed?
- Written Guidance and Agreements: If appropriate, have participating agencies documented their agreement regarding how they will be collaborating? Have they developed ways to continually update and monitor these agreements?
In order to successfully address the key issues to consider above related to outcomes and accountability, leadership, and resources, agencies have used a range of implementation approaches in select interagency groups. (GAO-14-220).
GAO-16-509: Published: May 20, 2016. Publicly Released: May 20, 2016.
GAO-14-220: Published: Feb 14, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 14, 2014.
GAO-12-1022: Published: Sep 27, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2012.
GAO-09-1011T: Published: Sep 24, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2009.
GAO-06-15: Published: Oct 21, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 2005.