Tips to help you on your collaborative way

First it was improvement, then it was innovation that we were all doing, now its co-design and co-creation. Specifically, in healthcare it is Experience Based Codesign that everyone is talking about. An enabler for co-design is the practice of genuine collaboration. Interestingly, there are not many people, be it consumers or health staff, who have had the lived experience of true collaboration.

Collaboration is a practice; it is both how we think and how we behave. Over the past two years we have had the privilege of co-facilitating the demonstration trial of the Kings Fund Collaborative Pairs program within the Australian context. Lead by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia and in partnership with sponsoring organisations, we have delivered the program twice in rural and remote NSW and once as a National Registration Program. We are also collaborative pairs ourselves and we would like to share with you our insights and learnings of living and enabling collaborative practices.

When talking to people about collaboration it has not been uncommon to be greeted with, ‘what’s all this fuss about collaborating? I already work with different people all the time, how is it different and why does it matter?’

If you Google ‘collaborate’ you get about 395 000 000 results. So, it would seem there is no single or easy answer to the above questions. We are not promising an answer either, but we do want to offer you a handful of tips, drawn from our experiences that might be helpful to you. As was said before, genuine collaboration is an enabler of co-design, we encourage you to read our words with an open and curious mind, and most importantly to reflect, play and act them out with others.

To help you on your collaborative way, here are our handful of tips

  1. It starts with you. Self-awareness and self-compassion will help you to explore and begin to understand your truth, including your beliefs, assumptions, and biases. Give yourself permission to slow down, to listen inwards, notice feelings and basically just wonder why.
  2. Commit to listen to understand others. Extend your compassion and curiosity to others, listen deeply and openly. Do not just look for your answer, listen to understand. Test your assumptions and learnings out loud. Build shared meaning together. Move away from discussing or debating towards dialogue.
  3. Recognise and balance power. Co-create a safe environment where you give each other permission to say ,‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I have an idea’. It can also be about providing feedback, helping others to see your view and accepting each other’s influence and power. Balancing power will set the scene for you to be courageous or vulnerable together.
  4. Ask great questions & listen. Motivate interest and generate energy through engaging with others. Shape questions that frame your challenge, concern or focus in a way that invites others to contribute their views as well as challenge yours. Try not to only seek out the views of the people you know, or those who are invested, also look for opportunities to engage with people with different perspectives or experiences.
  5. Give it a crack. Maintain a learning mindset, through iterative small tests of change. In the Collaborative Pair’s programs, a consumer and health professional pair-up, and deepen their relationship allowing them to support and challenge each other individually and as a pair.This is a great way to get started.

As a pair, we have established a habit of touching-base once a week for 30 minutes, we use this time to check-in, test out our thinking and share new insights.

We have seen the experience of collaboration, the strengthening of collaborative practices as two people from diverse backgrounds or perspectives genuinely commit to finding a way to relate, respect and empower each other. This deepens the focus of their work together, resulting in changes in how health services and care are delivered, designed, governed, and experienced.

We invite you to enjoy this video  that the consumers and health professionals co-created to communicate their experience of stretching and strengthening as collaborative pairs.

Start co-designing futures through collaborative practice.  Start with five and see it thrive.

Karen Patterson is Director, Capability and Culture, at the Clinical Excellence Commission, NSW Health.

Jane Cockburn is CEO of Kairos Now


About the author

Portrait of a woman

Karen Patterson

Karen Patterson is Director, Capability and Culture, at the Clinical Excellence Commission, NSW Health.

Portrait of a woman

Jane Cockburn

Jane Cockburn is CEO of Kairos Now