There are many different types of collaborative arrangements, ranging from loose network affiliations to fully collaborative structures with complex and formal relationships. The following is one set of categories used to indicate the nature of the relationship among collaborative members. However, in reality, collaboratives frequently develop a mix of the various attributes outlined in the following descriptions.

(i)  Networks

Members of a network have informal ties to each other and non-hierarchical relationships. There are few expectations of members and no official obligations.  Informal networks may emerge simply due to the clustering of people and activities, but frequently networks are deliberately established to promote the sharing of information, tools and resources among individuals and organizations with similar interests.

Networks have many benefits; they can:

  • enhance communication, co-operation and mutual support among organizations and community members
  • raise the standards and quality of services;
  • encourage the development of new models of service; and
  • provide opportunities to form strategic partnerships.

Networks generally do not carry out work, per se, although members may collaborate on tasks and activities, and so generally require relatively little investment in their development and maintenance. However, successful networks require a certain degree of coordination and management. Communication vehicles must be established and maintained, the network must be promoter to prospective members and members must be engaged.

The Ontario Health Promotion Resource System established a set of indicators of network effectiveness which may have relevance to other types of networks as well. They are:

  • the extent to which the relationships established within the network contribute to the planning and implementation of new programs or activities and take advantage of new opportunities;
  • the extent to which the members actually function as a network; [e.g., share information and resources, use common tools and templates, adopt similar administration and reporting procedures, use each others’ materials, make referrals to each other, link websites and otherwise interact with each other];
  •  the range of services and supports provided by the network as a whole;
  • the strength of the relationships between and among network members
  • the extent to which individual members of the network perceive the benefits of their involvement [1] 

(ii)   Alliances

Alliances involve more formal relationships among organizations and individuals, and usually focused on a particular issue or mission. While it is unlikely that there will be legal obligations in place, there will be clear expectations around task performance, contributions and conduct. Alliances are often formed as a means of influencing policy; either to formulate a strong response to a new policy that is seen as detrimental, or to advocate for the development of a policy.

(iii)   Coalitions

A coalition is formal relationship among more than two organizations and perhaps involving individual members as well, which enables them to work together on a specific issue or project. Quite often the coalition will have its own funds and staff, either allocated from members’ own organizational budgets and human resources, or funded by an external source. 

There are three main types of coalitions [2]: 

  • Grassroots coalitions form in times of crisis to pressure political decision-makers to act. They are usually organized by volunteers and are political, controversial and short-lived.
  •  Professional coalitions may form in time of crisis or as part of a long-term strategy to increase their power and influence. Usually a lead organization is established that contributes significant staff and financial resources.
  • Community-Based coalitions have broad community representation and involve both professionals and volunteers/grassroots leaders. They tend to be focused on positive action to improve conditions in community, worksites, schools or other local institutions. Often one agency takes a lead administrative role and seeks funding to support the coalition and its activities.

(iv)  Partnerships

In business, a partner is someone who shares both the risks and profits of a business venture.  Partnerships between non-profit organizations can be defined in similar terms – it is a relationship in which the organizations share resources and responsibilities to achieve a common objective, as well as any resulting rewards or recognition. Partnerships are formal relationships that are defined through a written agreement or contract. 

The Hamilton Public Library has posted a PowerPoint presentation on their website at
which shows a number of partnerships they have established and gives tips on developing and maintaining successful partnerships. According to the presentation partnership development requires:

  • time            
  • effort       
  • small steps
  • shared success       
  • trust         
  • respect       

(v)    Full Collaboration

When organizations fully collaborate on an initiative, the collaboration takes on its own identity.  In a full collaboration, the new entity will have its own budget, constitution or terms of reference, dedicated human resources and a plan of action. For example, walkON[3] is a community partnership including local Heart Health projects, municipalities, and public health Units formed to promote walkable communities by raising awareness and educating the public. walkON has its own website and produces its materials under the walkON logo. It has its own funding sources separate from those of the collaborating organizations.

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